No Flowers At My Funeral.

Mi Funeral 2

If you could plan your own funeral, would you? Could you sit down and write out your own eulogy? Could you pick out your own coffin? Or if you dislike coffins, could you pick the place where you want your ashes scattered? If making plans for death sounds like your cup of tea, then Barbara Gibson wants to help you do it.

Barbara Gibson is the founder of ‘Last Wishes.’ According to her website, Last Wishes is the only one-on-one service that helps people decide how they want to be remembered.

Last Wishes is for the “planning generation,” says Barbara Gibson. “We are the savers, the planners of important landmark family events and the organizers of holiday events.  Creating a Last Wishes plan lets us make decisions before there is a crisis and eases the burden for friends and family after we die.”   

I get it. Some people would rather plan all the details of their funeral than have to rely on grieving family members/friends, who most likely (but unintentionally) would muck things up. Like they might select a coffin with a white lining but you prefer purple silk. Or they might scatter your ashes in the ocean when you’d rather be scattered on your favorite golf course. Or they might keep your ashes in an urn on the fireplace mantle when you’d rather be touring the world in a Bodyworlds exhibition.

So it makes sense to think about these important details while you still have time. The problem is, there aren’t very many people out there who can sit down with someone and make plans for death without getting scared. Alas, we are not immortal (at least, not yet) and we tend to fear the unknown. So it can’t be easy to think about death and the changes it will bring to your close ones….the ones that will actually miss you, that is.

Also, there’s the distinct possibility that even after you’ve painstakingly carved out all the details of your ‘death experience’ your instructions won’t be followed. After all, it’s not like you’ll be there to make sure your grieving spouse posts your obituary in the right newspapers and deletes your Facebook and Twitter accounts. You’ll be dead and there’s no coming back from that. So maybe it’s better just to write your will, settle all debts, die and hope for the best!

Would you make a Last Wishes Plan?

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Drought reveals old tombstone

Central Texas is experiencing a drought and lake water levels are receding. The water level at Lake Buchanan has gone down so much that it revealed an old town – people can now walk through the town and see the foundation of the town’s schoolhouse as well as the tombstone of Johnny Parks, a 1-year old who passed away in 1889. As reported by Jacqueline Ingles:

LLANO COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – Drought has Lake Buchanan revealing some of its deepest secrets. The town of Old Bluffton and parts of the cemetery last seen in the 1930s have re-emerged now that water levels have dropped by 30 feet.

This is allowing Alfred Hallmark, a local historian and a descendant of Old Bluffton founders, to walk through the town.

“It is a rare opportunity to see how our ancestors lived,” explained Hallmark, who has visited the site three times since the 1960s.

Extreme drought in Central Texas has actually resulted in this town resurfacing seven times.  Typically, it lies beneath 10 to 20 feet of water.  As of December, Lake Buchanan is down 30 feet — exposing never-before-seen artifacts and ruins.

Old Bluffton was founded in 1853. Ranching and farming was the way of life for the 50 families who called the town home. Then, in 1937, when the Colorado River was dammed, settlers were forced to move.

The latest re-emergence of this town turned up a tombstone belonging to Johnny Parks, a 1-year-old, who passed away in 1889. The last time the tombstone was visible was in 1937.

“You learn something new every time,” Hallmark said.

Parks’ body, along with 394 other bodies in the cemetery, were dug up and relocated to the new Bluffton settlement five miles away. There, all of the deceased were given new tombstones.

Still, the idea of seeing a ghost town and cemetery is drawing spectators.  Vanishing Texas River Cruise tour director Tim Mohan brings tourists to the area by boat three times a week.

“They are so excited,” he said. “There are dozens of things unearthed.”

Mohan said tourists are respectful of not picking up artifacts. The Lower Colorado River Authority has put up signs around the area warning people it is unlawful to take artifacts from the area.

Tourists are currently able to see the foundation of a former school, a water well, cemetery, a cotton gin and the foundation of an old corner store that includes a Texaco gas pump.

I’ve always had trouble with graves of very young children…I always wonder what caused their death? What happened to little Johnny Parks? Does anyone know?

St. Peter’s Cemetery

Established in 1955, St. Peter’s Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in St. Louis, MO. Located at 2101 Lucas and Hunt Road, tall black gates open into 119 acres of well-maintained grounds bordered on one side by a beautiful rock wall. The cemetery is under endowed care (beginning in 1912) and is currently managed by St. Peter’s Evangelical Church.

In addition to numerous graves that showcase gravestone symbolism at its best , St. Peter’s Cemetery also has a chapel, a mausoleum complex with cremation niches, a columbarium and garden crypts. Some famous people interred at St. Peter’s include:

  • James ‘Cool Papa’ Bell – Born: May 17, 1903 | Died: March 7, 1991. Hall of Fame baseball player known for his amazing speed.
  • Wendell Pruitt – Born: June 20, 1920 | Died: April 15, 1945.  A Tuskegee Airman, Pruitt shot down three German airplanes and helped sink an enemy ship – he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with seven clusters. He was killed in a training exercise at Tuskegee Air Force Base.
  • Anna C. White – Born: Unknown | Died: 1996. A Democratic Committeewoman, she was a delegate at the 1960 Democratic Convention where she endorsed John F. Kennedy’s bid for President of the United States.

Here are some pictures I took during a recent visit to St. Peter’s. I apologize for the time-date stamp on the pictures…I couldn’t figure out how to change it on the camera menu and it was getting dark so I just went with it. I’m a gravetender, not a photographer:)

Entrance

An old headstone

An "old" section marker

Garden of the Good Shepherd

Fall in St. Peter's Cemetery

A draped headstone or monument is a symbol of mourning

Old, broken headstone

Broken Columns are a symbol of a life cut short.

The fern represents 'victory over death' and the symbol to the right is associated with members belonging to the Freemasons.

'Cool Papa' Bell's grave

The streets in St. Peter's Cemetery are named after trees

 

Tell the Truth Already!

Truth lies

I ordered dinner the other night from the local pizza joint – they had a coupon for two appetizers for $10 so I picked mozzarella sticks and loaded fries for me (yeah, I know it’s not healthy at all but hey, we can’t all be perfect) and a philly steak sandwich for Gravetender Hubby. Gravetender Baby had already eaten (organic beef and veggie lasagna…that kid eats better than his parents all the time!) and was safely tucked away in his crib.

The delivery guy knocked on the door 20 minutes later and handed me the goodies and the receipt. As he turned to leave I said, “Have a good night” and he said “It’s a little too late for that.” Now I know what you’re thinking…that I didn’t tip him. But if you are thinking that, you are wrong because I surely did tip him, the same amount I always tip him (we order from this place A LOT…like I said, we’re not perfect). Anyway, he said it with a smile and I thought it was hilarious! After all, how often are people honest with their responses to common social greetings/questions/acknowledgments? Isn’t it always the same (often un-true) answer? For example:

Jim: “How are you?”

Bob: “I’m fine, how are you?”

Jim: “Fine.”

Or:

Tasha: “Nice day, isn’t it?”

Amy: “Yes, it is. I hope the sun keeps shining.”

Or:

Pete: “Have a good night!”

Emma: “Thanks – you too!”

Why doesn’t it ever go like this:

Jim: “How are you?”

Bob: “How do you think I am? And why do you even care?”

Jim: Quickly moves away from Bob.

Or:

Tasha: “Nice day, isn’t it?”

Amy: “Look – I didn’t get any sleep last night because my husband snores like a freight train and I got a speeding ticket on my way to work. So no, it’s not a nice day!”

Or:

Pete: “Have a good night!”

Emma: “F*&^ off.”

Why do we (and by we, I mean the 99%) constantly feel the need to be polite? These are the norms ingrained in us by society but by always being polite we are also inherently dishonest. If only we could live like kids again…kids are always honest. To a fault. Like my seven-year old cousin who I hadn’t seen in a while – after giving me a big hug she said, “Auntie, why are you so fat?”

Note to self: Stop eating mozzarella sticks and loaded fries.

Fried mozzarella sticks.

Mozarella Sticks

Anyway, I doubt this habit of answering dishonestly when someone asks how you are doing will ever go away. At least in our minds we can conjure up creative responses that we only wish we could say without fear of becoming a social pariah. Henceforth, the next time someone tells me, “Have a good night,” I will smile and think, “It’s a little too late for that.”

Some Gave All.

Veterans Day

This year Veterans Day falls on 11/11/11. If you know a veteran, go visit them, shake their hand and thank them for their service. It takes a lot of courage to do what they have done and I have a great amount of respect and admiration for all veterans as well as current members of the armed forces.

Sometimes I try to put myself in their shoes…but it’s difficult to do. I try to imagine what it must have been like to storm the beaches of Normandy, battle in the jungles of Vietnam and brave the dust storms of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s difficult to do.

A couple of months ago ‘The Moving Wall’ made a stop in Granite City, IL, which isn’t too far from St. Louis. ‘The Moving Wall’ is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial located in Washington DC and the structure has been displayed all over the nation for more than 20 years. It was built by Vietnam veteran volunteers and made its first debut in Tyler, TX in 1984. I went to see ‘The Moving Wall’ and it is hard to describe what the experience was like…I took some pictures that I hope portray the emotional intensity of the structure.

To all veterans, thank you for your service – you are appreciated.

To those who gave the ultimate sacrifice – you will never be forgotten.

Preamble of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: “IN HONOR OF THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES WHO SERVED IN THE VIETNAM WAR. THE NAMES OF THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES AND OF THOSE WHO REMAIN MISSING ARE INSCRIBED IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THEY WERE TAKEN FROM US.”

Sculpture

Some Gave All

Names on The Wall

Quad CIty Names & Locations

POW-MIA Flag

Walking towards The Wall

This bench wasn't part of The Wall but was located near by. The inscription on it is appropriate, don't you think?

Even The Dead Get Evicted

Eviction Notice

Sometimes a final resting place isn’t final. Check out this story reported on FoxNews Latino:

Pushed for space, a Spanish cemetery has begun placing stickers on thousands of burial sites with lapsed leases as a warning to relatives that their ancestors face possible eviction.

Jose Abadia, deputy urban planning manager for Zaragoza in Spain’s northeast, said Monday that the city’s Torrero graveyard had already removed remains from some 420 crypts, and reburied them in common ground.

He said the cases involved graves whose leases had not been renewed for 15 years or more. Torrero, like many Spanish cemeteries, no longer allows people to buy grave sites, instead leasing them out for periods of five or 49 years.

Abadia said the cemetery began stepping up its search for defaulters around two years ago, with relatives or caretakers given six months to respond.

The stickering campaign was planned to coincide with the Nov. 1 Roman Catholic holiday, on which people customary visit graveyards.

He said that since then hundreds of people had rang to make inquiries about the status of their relatives’ burial sites.

It’s a case of cemetery management, “not to make money” as graveyards have limited space, he said.

“If we keep on building spaces for human remains, where are we going to end up? … It’s a problem that is affecting big city cemeteries more and more.”

Where are we going to end up indeed? Stories like this are why I believe that eventually cremation will be the way to go. It seems only logical…if there’s no more space underground, then build up. I see a profitable future for columbarium architects.

Death Certificates

The human skull is a universal symbol for death.

Have you ever had to fill out a death certificate? You’d be surprised how much information is required. A death certificate is a legal document that contains the deceased person’s vital statistics and cause of death. It is usually signed by a medical examiner, a physician or a coroner and is commonly used to satisfy inquiries by creditors and insurance companies.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has a standard death certificate that comes with three pages worth of instructions. Apart from the obvious information  (such as name, address and social security number), some of the other stuff that is recorded on the form is rather surprising and also a little bit depressing:

#4a Age – Last Birthday (Years)

#4b Under 1 Year (Months & Days)

#4c Under 1 Day (Hours & Minutes) – this is just heartbreaking.

#18 Method of Disposition (Burial, Cremation, Donation, Entombment, Removal from State (Huh?), Other)

#35 Did Tobacco Use Contribute to Death? (Yes, No, Probably, Unknown)

#37 Manner of Death (Natural, Homicide, Accident, Suicide, Pending Investigation, Could Not Be Determined)

#40 Place of Injury (e.g., Decedent’s Home; Construction Site; Restaurant; Wooded Area) – I guess the ‘wooded area’ refers to death by hunting or perhaps a falling tree?

These questions are supposed to be completed by the Funeral Director:

#51 Decedent’s Education (8th grade or less, 9th – 12th grade; no diploma, high school graduate/GED completed, some college credit but no degree, Associate degree, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, Doctorate)

#52 Decedent of Hispanic Origin? (per the instructions, “Information in this section will not appear on the certified copy of the death certificate. This information is needed to identify health problems in a large minority population in the United States. Identifying health problems will make it possible to target public health resources to this important segment of our population.” Hmm. Right.).

#54 Decedent’s Usual Occupation (Indicate type of work done during most of working life. DO NOT USE RETIRED).

That’s a lot on information, don’t you think? But I suppose it’s helpful to have the decedent’s vital statistics recorded for genealogy and historical purposes. Death certificates weren’t even used back in the day (in the early 1800’s), so think of all the information that could have been written about our ancestors.

You can request a copy of a death certificate from your vital records office. Missouri provides easy access to millions of Missourian death certificates online, courtesy of the Missouri State Archives. I did a random search for decedents named ‘John Smith’ and it resulted in 993 records! I looked at two of them – the first was of a John Smith who died on June 28, 1931. His date of birth was unknown and he was colored (I detest this word), single and a laborer. The cause of death was Cerebro-Spinal something (I couldn’t make out the last word). His parents were Richard Smith and Joily Adkins.

The other certificate was of a John Smith who died on November 18, 1913. He was born “about 1858” and was white and married. His occupation was “Teamster” and the cause of death was pnuemonia. Under the ‘Parents’ section were the words “Dont Know.”

I stopped my search after that. It was starting to get depressing.