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The following is an excerpt from a book that is in progress. I hope you enjoy it.
What can you Take with you
Louise and Abby were more like sisters than sister-in-laws. Every week Louise would buy a lottery ticket with their combined funds and Abby would hold it for good luck. I’m not quite sure how they determined that Abby holding the ticket was lucky since they had never won.
I learned of this at Abby’s funeral when Louise sought my assistance in placing the last ticket in Abby’s hand. I asked Louise if she knew what the numbers were. She explained that she made a photocopy of the ticket.
I asked her what she would do if the ticket actually won. Her plan was to bring in the photocopy to the lottery authority. I asked if they would accept that at the lottery office. She replied; “If they don’t what would it cost to dig her up?
The list of things I have seen and heard about people putting into a casket could be a book by itself. I have seen golf clubs, a flashlight for a woman who didn’t like the dark; the list goes on and on. I heard about a woman whose German Sheppard was put to sleep and placed in the casket with her. (Be aware that burial of animals in human cemeteries is illegal.)
There’s a story that I believe is an urban legend. It’s about a Gypsy who was highly respected and during his wake and funeral great amounts of cash were placed in his casket. An unscrupulous funeral director and an equally corrupt cemetery worker supposedly conspired to dig up the casket and take the money.
The morning of the funeral the cemetery worker called the funeral director and said; “We have a problem.” The funeral director asked what the problem was and the cemetery worker said; “You’ll see when you get here.”
When the funeral procession arrived at the cemetery there was a large concrete truck parked beside the grave with its shoot suspended above the opening.
Long ago people were concerned about the possibility of being buried alive. One practice to assure against this was to place a bell above the grave with a string that ran down into the casket.
The thought was if someone awoke to find he/she has been buried alive he/she could tug on the string and summon help. I hope if it happened the poor victim was in a position to borrow the flashlight from the lady previously mentioned.
Dr. Gordon had concerns about the possibility of being buried alive. The fact that a physician could have such concerns is a little scary. To ensure this didn’t happen he left specific instructions with his two sons.
After the funeral, before he was placed in the hearse to go to the cemetery his sons placed a cell phone in their father’s breast pocket. The oldest son explained their father’s concerns to me and said; “Dad left specific instructions that we place his cell phone in this pocket. If he should awaken and find himself buried alive he could take out the phone and call for help.
Apparently no such call was ever received. Even if he did awaken I would imagine that his reception would have been rather poor. (I know mine can’t even get a signal in the basement.) If he was able to make a call from the other side I would have to think the roaming charges would be horrendous.
Unless it violates your religious beliefs I see no reason not to place some personal items inside the casket. Some caskets are made with drawers for this purpose. The most common things I see are personal notes and drawings made by grandchildren. Don’t be afraid to consider items like favorite candies or other foods.
The most unusual request we ever had came from the suicide note that Ron had left behind. Ron was despondent after his wife’s suicide and 6 months later he followed her lead and took his own life.
He left a note behind with a request none of us had ever heard before or since. Fulfilling his request required some creativity and innovative thought.
Ron was placed in a casket with a 48” interior width. This casket was made for a man double Ron’s size. The night before his burial his casket was on display for an evening’s visitation. Ron lay on one side of the casket alone and with no possessions.
Early the next morning I joined a team of our staff along with several workers from the cemetery. Ron’s wife was removed from her grave, taken from her casket and laid to rest beside Ron.
Several hours later they were both buried in a graveside ceremony.
Placing items in the casket is not the only option. Sometimes people will place special things in or on the grave. While placing something in the casket can be done with a measure of privacy, placing remembrances in or on the grave is generally more public.
Many cultures will place earth in the grave. Some groups will actually complete the burial themselves while others only participate symbolically.
One Rabbi I know always insisted the grave not only be filled; he actually wanted it to be overfilled to a mound. He explained we should not leave the graveside as a depression. To do so would mean that we are leaving still owing him more.
On an extremely cold winter day in Chicago I was handling a funeral with Rabbi Goldman. Rabbi Goldman had just graduated as an Orthodox Rabbi and this was his very first funeral. He was anxious to make certain that every detail was done by the book.
When we arrived at the cemetery he announce; “This earth must be hand shoveled into the grave by Jewish hands.” The earth was solid clay and had been sitting in the freezing cold for several days.
The Rabbi and I spent 45 minutes trying to shovel the frozen mound of earth. In that time we only managed to free a few large clumps that fell into the grave with a loud thud.
Finally the Rabbi said that the cemetery workers may shovel the earth but only if they did it by hand. I pointed out that the 2 of us had tried and that the earth was too hard to shovel.
Rabbi Goldman then said to me; “Very well, we will use the tractor but you must drive it.” I explained that I did not know how to drive the tractor and that I was not insured to do so.
He looked at me as if to ask; where do we go from here? I suggested; “We can have this gentleman drive the tractor. You and I will each stand on each side of the blade. We will each place one hand on the blade on our respective side. The symbolically you and I will push the earth into the grave.”
I’m not sure if it was my logic or his discomfort but either way he quickly agreed and the burial was completed in minutes.
In addition to earth, placing flowers in the grave is a common practice at many burials. Over the years I have seen many different objects placed in graves.
It is a good idea to exercise care in the placement of things in the grave. Try to avoid placing them in such a way that they will damage the casket. Also try to think about the nature of what you’re placing. An example of this would be the gentleman who placed golf balls in the grave but neglected to consider the fact that golf balls bounce.
There’s an old story about an Irishman who calls his best friend Paddy to his death bed. He says; “Paddy here is a bottle of 12 year-old scotch whiskey. It is the finest ever brewed. Promise me after I’m buried that you’ll pour the bottle out over m’grave.
Paddy thinks for a moment and answers; “No problem, but would y’mind if I filter it through m’kidneys first?
Lena was devoted to her father. Long after her parents’ divorce she remained “Daddy’s Little Girl.” They spent countless hours together and they shared their innermost desires and interests.
When her father died Lena knew all of her father’s wishes and she made every effort to ensure that her father would leave this world exactly as he wished.
At the graveside Lena took an overstuffed manila envelope from her bag. She opened the envelope and removed a thick stack of photographs. Everyone thought it was lovely that Lena would send her father off with so many family photos surrounding him.
As Lena approached the grave she said; “Dad, I know your one true love.” With those words the photos left her hand and flew about inside the grave.
As those standing around the grave looked down they saw that these were not family photos. They were nude pictures of Marilyn Monroe.
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