Calling off a scheduled burial is no easy task. Everything scheduled in addition to the burial – church, minister, flowers – has to be called off as well, and the vital records office has to reissue a new death certificate with the corrected burial date. So if you want to cancel a burial, you need a damn good reason, and YOU can call the rest of your family and other intended guests. Work, flight arrangements and weather are never reasons for which I will cancel a burial.
“It’s my birthday,” the mother of the deceased explained.
OK. Reason good enough. I took care of it and now she won’t have to bury her teenage son on her birthday.
She was the one who made the arrangements and scheduled the burial date, but I get it. Grief does things to you and makes it impossible to think sometimes, and in this case she literally did not remember her own birthday until the day before.
My brother was cremated on my youngest sister’s birthday. Our parents just plain forgot, and my sister came home to a message on the answering machine from the funeral home telling us it had been done. That was the defining moment of her 13th birthday, and it was a horrible oversight. But they forgot her birthday in the middle of everything else they had to deal with, and I understand.
I can usually tell if a family I’m meeting with hasn’t had much experience arranging funerals. It’s not something you’re supposed to do as often as I do, so sometimes I have to explain every little part of the process to them. There is no amount of explaining too great.
I remember one man who came in to bury his mother and he took careful notes on his laptop of everything I said. I reminded him to bring undergarments and stockings, because I prefer to lay people to rest in whatever they typically wore in life. I explained the exact differences between the two caskets he was considering. I suggested he bring in his mother’s own makeup so that I could get the most natural-looking appearance, and I told him the additional pieces of information I would need for the death certificate.
Later that evening, he called the answering service and left a message saying he was very confused about what he had to bring and that I had not explained it to him at all.
Not only did I know I explained everything, I sat there and watched him write it all down. But it doesn’t matter. It didn’t sink in, and in his state of mind, that was to be expected.
I had a planned home birth with my second child, and I started to panic when the due date passed because we were getting close to my brother’s death anniversary. I wanted everything to proceed naturally but decided if another week went by I would have to go to the hospital and be delivered by artificial means, in order that the two days would not coincide.
I never expect a family to be thinking clearly when they meet me. There’s no use saying this woman should have remembered her own birthday when making her son’s funeral arrangements. Should she have? Would you? A grieving person is generally given one day to plan her loved one’s final event, and it’s completely understandable that details will be missed.