Growing up in the 1990s, with the Internet floating into my home through the dial-up tubes starting in 10th grade, my only exposure to fatal car accidents was the hyper gruesome pictures to be found on websites like the now defunct Ogrish.com.
The pictures were grotesque and horrifying. It was only in college that I became interested in accident photos from the 1950s, usually sourced from newspaper archives. They are almost art, delicate — they indicate horror but don’t actually reveal it.
Traffic accident at Stocker and LaBrea, 1951
Traffic accident (Sepulveda and Montana — West L. A.), 1951
Auto accident at Ocean Boulevard and 4th Street, Ocean Park, 1951
April 25, 1951. Overturned car in traffic accident at Holy Name Church.
Auto accident in Long Beach, teenagers hurt in crash
(5th Street and Cedar Avenue), June 9, 1951.
Auto accident — Arroyo Seco Parkway, June 9, 1951.
May 30, 1951. Automobile through real estate office at Pacific Boulevard and Hope Street in Walnut Park
All photos sourced from the truly incredible USC Digital Library.
Order member Jeff Jorgenson, natural funeral wunderkind behind Elemental Cremation & Burial in Seattle, once again graces us with some straight talk about working in the funeral industry.
A few of you have come to me asking about positions in corporate firms; should you take them, should you apply for them, would it be good for your career, will they steal your soul?
Since we’re on the “path of truth” about the funeral biz, let’s just get it out there about the corporate world, shall we? While we’re at it, let’s steal a glance at the independent homes.
I had the good fortune of working in corporate firms for over five years. I don’t say that with any sarcasm; I really did have some of the best training in the industry, met some of the brightest minds in the funeral world and was afforded the opportunity to do a fair amount of travel. I am the type of person that loathes conforming and detests the notion of working for a nameless corporation, and yet I have to confess that I was fortunate to have some great mentors and direct superiors.
A corporation is run at a critical mass because creativity and innovation is strangled with management by policies. If you’ve worked for a corporation, you know the things that suck about corporate life:
The boss is just trying to hit the numbers.
They don’t care about us.
I’m just a number.
This initiative is stupid.
If the brass only saw what it was like here in the trenches…
I could do their job better.
They have no clue what this market wants…
Uh-huh. And as my grandmother used to say, “It’s always easier to spend someone else’s money and to raise someone else’s kid.” I imagine she probably would have added “and run someone else’s corporation” if she’d had an MBA.
What’s great about corporations is that they come with all of the resources that only a multinational–or, at least, really big company–can afford. Things like training programs from initial to recurrent, development plans, location transfers, broad benefit packages, lateral mobility, upward mobility, expense accounts, travel, perks, and a fair amount of stability all contribute to a pretty content little existence. There is a fair amount to be said about the anonymity of being in a huge organization. So long as you keep your snout clean, do your job and tell them what they want to hear, you have as long as you want to suckle at their teat. They dig suckling.
Independent funeral homes are great if you can find one, but don’t think that they are the last bastion of creative funeral service. They don’t want someone to waltz through the doors to change the way they do business. You aren’t going to reinvent the Porti-Boy embalming machine, nor are you going to tell Mr. Samuelsson and his sons how they can improve their funeral home. Even if you’re the social media maven that can turn things on for them, they don’t want your newfangled crap. They want a removal tech, and they want one that does the same thing that the one before you did, like, oh, I don’t know… pick up the bodies.
There are plenty of stories about cranky old dual licensees (funeral director/embalmers) who own their own funeral homes and treat their staff like Cretin slaves.
Honestly, some of the best stories I’ve heard come from people that have worked for those old bastards. Everything from blackmailing people out of Labor & Industries claims to “just juicing up the head a bit” [injecting embalming fluid into the head to "freshen them up"] to save on embalming fluid costs. These guys (I say guys because there aren’t any old grumpy female owners that I’ve heard of) are legendary for their insanity. They are, without question, why the FTC Funeral Rule was born.
The plus side to the independent firm is that you probably know the owner and everyone else in the company. It is less likely to be a rule by edict and policy, and more apt to be an amalgamation of best practices that have served the family well. They will bring a fairly deep connection to the community that they are serving, and if they are good people, will make you feel like a family member and not an employee number. If they aren’t one in the small group of nasty old men, you are likely to be very well taken care of and mentored through a traditional, noble funeral director internship. Unfortunately, these independent firms are getting a little sparse in the larger metropolitan areas.
What’s the answer, then?! All funeral homes suck and I need to go get a job in tech? If you were smart, yes.
But you probably won’t be deterred from your “calling” and we all know that funeral starts with FUN. You want to work in a funeral home! My suggestion is this: If you really want to be in this business, you will take any job you’re offered, even the soulless job in the corporate home. The corporations have the bulk of this business figured out, so they have the most comprehensive training. You can learn everything on their dime and get out when you have gleaned all their knowledge. If you end up in a location that you hate, you can transfer, but if you love your team, you’ll have a fantastic run of it. Ultimately, we independents love corporations doing all the training so we can steal the best of the best when they’ve had enough of the publicly traded nonsense.
Working for corporations isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. If you go in knowing that a lot of the strategic direction of corporations is just bat-guano crazy and that upper management is populated with misguided egos, you will have calibrated your expectations accordingly.
Just remember to keep your mouth shut and do what you’re told. If you don’t play their game, you won’t be playing any game. But I suppose that’s no different than any other industry. Just keep your focus on giving families the best service with the utmost professionalism and compassion, and you’re going to be rewarded beyond your imagination, no matter what firm you end up working with.
Sorry guys, my Russian is a little rusty (in that I never spoke it at all).
But this story on tombs of the Russian bourgeois seems to be about the way they spend far too much money on memorializing themselves while others suffer. Although, that could just be failed Google translating on my part. I will share this anyway because the gravestones themselves are fascinating and Eastern Europe-specific.
Jennifer Park-Mustacchio is a funeral director and embalmer in New Jersey. She has written for the Order in the past about her first Buddhist funeral service. Here she writes about a recent client, a young woman who died far too young.
Please note that Jennifer received permission from the family to share this story.
This is Michelle Amber Johnson. She was a bright, radiant, beautiful, and fiercely independent 21-year-old young woman whose life was cut short by a tragic act of violence.
She fled to New Jersey in search of a life free from the pain and the struggles she was facing in her Virginia hometown. She was eagerly awaiting a fresh start in the tri-state area, where she tragically met her end, succumbing to the same situation from which she so bravely escaped.
When Michelle, or “Shelley” arrived in New Jersey, she was hired as a waitress at a local restaurant where her positive attitude and charm won her a legion of friends and loyal customers. Having recently ended an abusive relationship, she was hesitant to begin dating again, and instead chose to immerse herself in work and school for a few years, excelling at both.
Soon she found a man who appeared to have it all–a good job, a decent apartment, and aspirations of becoming a police officer. Shelley thought she was headed in the right direction with this new guy, but she was cautious about jumping into a serious relationship with him.
Shelley and this man began dating. Initially everything seemed to be going well, but over time signs of a controlling and potentially violent nature began to surface. Shelley eventually confessed to friends that her boyfriend was “jealous, possessive and controlling” and said she “wasn’t meant to be in the relationship because he was smothering [her].”
Friends also added that “he was known to exhibit a temper over things that others would let pass by.” Fearing for her own safety, Shelley eventually decided to issue an ultimatum: he would have to seek anger management counseling if he was serious about continuing their relationship or she would be forced to leave him.
As an act of contrition, he offered to buy Shelley gas and a bridge pass to pay for all the trips he anticipated her making to see him at his apartment in the city. Keeping with Shelley’s forgiving nature, she accepted his offer. Little did she know that this seemingly generous act on the part of her boyfriend would eventually lead to tragedy. It was during Shelley’s last trip to visit him that she met her untimely death at the hands of the man who purported to love her.
I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Shelley in life, but became acquainted with her friends and family after her death. I was Shelley’s funeral director.
I had to prepare her for her funeral and repair the damage from the gun shot wound to her young, beautiful face.
Dress her in the clothing her friends bought for her to be buried in.
Watch her mother be taken away from her viewing by ambulance because she became sick and distraught from looking at her daughter as she lay motionless in the casket.
I watched her father put on a brave face as he greeted her friends and I saw her best friends cry inconsolably as they approached the casket and touched her hand.
Never again will her family get to see Shelley’s smiling face or see her toss her wavy waist-length brown hair. They’ll never see her open that restaurant she dreamed of owning. Their daughter, sister, and friend is gone. The victim of domestic violence, at the hands of her boyfriend, who shot her and turned the gun on himself.
After the beautiful tribute to her life, which included a white casket, a plethora of roses, pictures, and scented candles, her friends immediately went to task to raise the funds to pay for Shelley’s funeral. A local flower shop donated arrangements, the cemetery donated a plot for Shelley’s final place of rest and a benefit was held in Shelley’s honor to raise the remainder of the funds. Her friends were determined to help the family of their fallen friend and keep her memory alive by raising awareness about domestic violence.
They brought an entire community together to help Shelley’s family and renew their faith in humanity. Sharing Shelley’s story and raising awareness for domestic violence is a way to honor her memory and help those suffering abuse in silence. If you would like to make a donation in Shelley’s memory you can do so here. Proceeds benefit victims of domestic violence and their families.
On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. Jealousy and control should not be mistaken for love. These and other behaviors are neither healthy nor part of a loving relationship and can be a precursor to a far more damaging, possibly deadly, situation.
It is the wish of Shelley’s friends that people become acquainted with her story, and her face, and that at least one person will take heed and seek help if they or someone they know is in an abusive situation.
If you or someone you know are the victim of abuse, please tell a trusted friend or family member or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224.
I was thrilled to receive this story from Michelle O’Leary-Sherman about her recent trip to Ireland to attend a funeral. Not because it’s a funeral–I’m very sorry that her aunt died so young–but because it’s an excellent story about how adaptive children are and how much of our death fears are created (or not created) when we are young.
Last week, I traveled with my 6-year-old son to Ireland to attend the funeral of my Auntie who had died of cancer. It was the first time my son had attended a funeral and quite frankly as first times go it couldn’t have been a healthier, more life-affirming funeral experience for a child.
First of all, my cousins and uncle opted for a traditional Irish wake. Let me take care of a little misconception you might have about Irish wakes–the drinking. Yes, drinking is part of the experience, but getting plastered at someone’s wake is considered really, really bad form.
My Auntie was laid out in a coffin in one of the front parlors, with candles and holy water on a table next to her. The purpose was so that those coming to pay their respects could both bless themselves and my Auntie’s remains. I don’t know what, if any, embalming was done (it seemed a little insensitive to ask) but they did not put makeup on her or do any of those things that morticians do to make her look like she was “just sleeping.” She had obviously been washed, groomed and things had been done to prevent the less pleasant aspects of having a deceased person hanging around the house, but the ravages of her illness were immediately obvious. She looked like a dead person.
I did not make my son go up to the coffin and touch her (why oh why do people do that to little kids) but he did see me and other people touch her and kiss her. I told him that it was okay to be scared, but that Auntie wasn’t actually there and what he was seeing was like an old sweater that he had outgrown. Auntie didn’t need her body anymore and had left it behind. I also told him that he didn’t have to go in that room if he didn’t want to.
It took him about a day but after seeing hordes of people go in the room, sit, have a cup of tea or a glass of whiskey, chat with one another and occasionally laugh, he lost his fear of my Auntie’s body. He started to hang out in there with other people. I actually had to shoo him out a couple of times for jumping on the chairs. I could go on forever about the wake and the funeral, but I don’t want to take up too much space. Just sharing an experience that confirms to me that I am definitely in the “I want an old-school home wake like the ones my grandparent use to have” category of deathlings.