Tag Archive for: #death

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What I’ve Learned about
Death Services

by Saralyn Richard

When I was a senior in high school, I had an English teacher who moonlighted as a mortician. I don’t remember much about the course curriculum, but I have vivid memories of his stories about dead bodies, sitting up while he worked on them. Mr. M., as I’ll call him, thrived on telling grotesque tales and watching our reactions.

            Aside from those stories, I can’t remember the topic of funerals coming up much. No one likes to talk about caskets or embalming fluid over lunch or on a date. In the few instances where I’ve been responsible for arranging funerals, I’ve worked with experienced people whose calm, tact, and caring attitude helped block out the grief, and I’ve never asked too many questions.

            Fast forward to the past several years, when I’ve been writing mysteries. Mysteries often have dead bodies. Dead bodies require death services. To get the details right, I began interviewing morticians, and I learned a lot.

                                                                           One of my sources, Jay Carnes of Carnes Funeral Home, Texas City, Texas

are a few salient facts:

1.          People who work in death services are
people just like you and me. They have the same hopes and fears and dreads, the
same olfactory sensibilities, the same tastes and distastes. They generally
don’t engage in discussions about them, though. If you complain about a bad day
at the office, they might sympathize, but they won’t tell you about theirs.

     When death is your business, and you’re
around dead bodies every day, you become immune to the drama and/or horror that
others may associate with corpses. You might even share inside jokes with
colleagues, like, “Want to have a couple of cool ones from the fridge?” This
kind of levity is never expressed in front of outsiders, though.

    There’s a tiny bit of guilt when business
is good, like when we have a pandemic. Some of the joy of a robust end-of-year
bottom line is mitigated by the fact that the income was derived from people’s
hardships, sorrows, or tragedies.


                                        James J. Terry Funeral Home in Downington, PA, where Lee Walasavage has graciously answered my questions.

upcoming release, BAD BLOOD SISTERS, centers around a woman who’s grown up in
this business.

Quinn McFarland has grown up around dead bodies…

always joked about death, but this summer, death stops being funny. For one
thing, her brother finally undergoes transplant surgery. For another, Quinn’s
estranged BFF, her “blood” sister, is brought into the family mortuary,
bludgeoned to death.

            Quinn’s haunted by the past, her friendship gone awry,
and the blood oath she’s sworn to keep secret. The police consider her a person
of interest, and someone threatens her not to talk. Quinn is the only one who
knows enough to bring the killer to justice, but what she’s buried puts her in
extreme danger.

Bad Blood Sisters will be released March 9, 2022. My other mysteries, Murder in the One Percent, A Palette for Love and Murder, and A Murder of Principal can be found here. Sign up for my monthly newsletter with special offers, news, surveys, and more at http://saralynrichard.com


The Meaning of Life

The Meaning of Life by Debra H. Goldstein

One of
the first songs I remember learning as a child was Que Sera SeraWhat Will Be
Will Be.
I always accepted it as the explanation for life. Today, three
things made me reflect upon its application to what some may term “the long

received word a friend died last night. She was ninety-eight. The person who
called hastened to note my friend lived a good life. That’s true, but I doubt
in retrospect my friend would have fully agreed. She took pride in the
education she received from Northwestern, in a time when women often didn’t
have an opportunity to receive a college degree; the job she landed out of
school; her marriage to the love of her life; her children and her
grandchildren; and the volunteer activities that let her use her mind to
advance the causes she loved.  But, there
also was dismay that marriage meant the end of her professional career;
volunteer activities filled her time but weren’t considered as important as
moves for her husband’s profession nor could they conflict with the ideology of
his company; unable to do anything, she watched her oldest daughter fight, win,
fight and lose a battle with cancer; and for the past two years, a series of
strokes robbed her of her ability to read and then the detailed brain function
she cherished.  

Facebook today, I came across an article about scientist David Goodall, who
recently celebrated his hundred and fourth birthday by blowing out his candles
and expressing his special birthday wish is to die. Believing he has lived long
enough, Goodall plans to effectuate his wish in Switzerland, where euthanasia
is permitted, in May. Some question why a man of his stature who devoted his
life to science started a GoFundMe campaign to pay for his and a helper’s
travel expenses, but he notes he isn’t happy watching his body deteriorate and
would be glad to die with dignity in his native Australia, but the laws don’t
permit it. He acknowledges that at his age, even without euthanasia, his time
is limited, but he doesn’t want to continue going downhill becoming more
dependent on others while allowing nature to take its course.

article discussing choosing between self-publishing and traditional publishing
surprisingly made me reflect on this topic, too. The article, written by a
writer who I am familiar with, noted that she began her career traditionally
published, but that nearing age eighty and with a following of her works, she’s
opted for self-publishing because of the timetables involved with dealing with
agents, editors, and publishing house schedules. She made me think of the
cartoon/joke that periodically goes around about the golden years when she
observed she can no longer get around easily, do radio interviews because of
her hearing loss, or spend years waiting for her books to become final

because I am significantly younger, I understand the frustration delays,
infirmities, and losses generate, but I can’t help but wonder why?  What purpose, perhaps unknown to them or the
rest of us, exists for their continued existence? I believe life is cyclic with
moments of joy and of sorrow, with good and with bad, but does its meaning
change at different points over the long run? Is What Will Be Will Be too simplistic? I don’t know. But as I observe
different people’s reactions, I wonder. 
Do you?

Words of Death by Debra H. Goldstein

Words of Death by Debra H. Goldstein
When I was a child and read book titles like A Death in the Family, Death of a Salesman, Death Be Not Proud, they didn’t have much impact except to foreshadow an event that would probably impact the author’s story.  It wasn’t a big deal that so much of literature includes scenes of death.  Rather, death created drama or conflict – something important in good storytelling.

Now that I am older, I realize there was more than conflict or sappy sentiment being expressed by the writers.  For the most part, each author had reached a point in life where friends and relatives die, where chronic illness and pills are standard fare for many, and where mortality is a topic thought about and just as quickly avoided. 

The problem is that whether one stares death down or pretends it doesn’t exist, death eventually has the final say.  During the past weeks, friends have lost parents, children and spouses. The funeral tributes have been lovely and varied, but all share the inevitable fact that the person now is but a memory.

We build upon the shoulders of those who came before us, but the memory of those individuals is only as good as how much we share our memories of them. A single heart and mind can retain the essence of someone for a lifetime, while a community, through named donations like a statute, park, or scholarship can help perpetuate an individual’s name for longer.  It is the author who can remember a friend, a lover, a child into perpetuity. 

The writer uses words to catch the meaning of one’s life, the individual’s characteristics, the smell of one’s cologne, and all the little details that comprise the person.  These written word descriptions long bring to life Jay Follet, Willy Loman and Johnny Gunther as new generations meet them for the first time.  Thank goodness.