In 2004, I traveled to Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery to do research for an article I was working on about the place. My trip there was also a pilgrimage of sorts, as the first monument I wanted to see was that of Gone With TheWind author, Margaret Mitchell. As a teen, I had read –and reread—the lengthy novel, enthralled by the tempestuous romance between the fiery beauty, Scarlett O’Hara, and her dashing suitor, Rhett Butler. Mitchell, I soon learned, was more than the author of one of the most lauded books of all time (as if that were not enough), but also a widely-read journalist who had worked for the Atlanta Journal. As a respected writer, she became a role model for me.
As I neared Mitchell’s grave site, I could see her family name, Marsh, prominently etched into the monument. There was no mention of the literary legend she had been. As I knelt before the stone, to lay flowers at her grave, I reached out a hand to trace the letters of her name. Tears welled in my eyes. Mitchell had never seemed as real to me as she did at that moment. The monument was Mitchell’s legacy in tangible form. She was no longer just a name in print. I still count that as one of the most moving experiences of my life. It was a grave site experience shared by countless others who have visited the graves of those they love and admire.
Recently, a friend shared a similar story with me. He told of the satisfaction of traveling to a military cemetery in the Philippines to visit the grave of his uncle. It had been a “lifelong quest” for him. Like my friend, I long to visit the graves of those who meant much in my life. My first fiancé, and my 6th grade teacher are on that list, and a visit to their graves would be a way of saying that to them. So far, I have been unable to locate them. But I am on a mission.
We’d love to hear your own stories about visiting graves. Please share them in the comments section.
In addition to this site,Melissa and I host a Facebook page for The Morte Girls. This group was created as a place for serious funeral directors to come together to discuss issues with colleagues. We invited some of the best licensed funeral directors we knew, intentionally keeping the group small and manageable to avoid what so many of the other Facebook funeral director groups have become: a place for the morbidly curious. Recently, a young woman requested to join. She claimed to have attended a mortuary school, but it was unclear whether or not she had ever become licensed (one can only hope not). Among her likes: death, murder, horror movies, and snakes. Just one more in a string of inappropriate requests from those looking for the “creep factor.”
Unfortunately, we see these types all over social media these days. Facebook, Instagram, and even Twitter are littered with those who believe funeral service is a 24/7 Gothfest. They enroll in mortuary schools around the country for their chance to be near the dead, despite the fact that funeral service is mainly about working with the living.
Each and every time the Press reinforces the “creep factor” with their sensational coverage of those on the fringe, the conversations seem to grow more inane. A recent Instagram post had a young mother asking whether or not a tee shirt with the words “future corpse” came in a onesie for her newborn baby. Just days later, I was bringing a colleague (who eschews social media) up to speed, and mentioned the tee shirt. She told me how she had handled the funeral of a newborn baby who had a surviving twin. “Just think, ” she said, shaking her head with disgust, “about how amusing the mother of that baby, having lost one child already, would find this tee shirt.”
In the month of March, the funerals of two New York firefighters took place just days apart. Michael Davidson, 37, lost his life while battling a blaze in a NYC apartment building. Lt. Christopher Raguso was killed in a helicopter accident in Iraq, one day after his 39th birthday. As I read about, and watched the coverage of the funerals of both men, I could not help but think that there could be no better example of why funerals serve a vital purpose. The naysayers may believe that funerals don’t matter, but by all accounts they mattered a great deal to not only the family and friends of these brave men, but to their colleagues and the community at large. Although hearts were heavy, there was no mistaking how the comforting funeral rituals brought together and enveloped mourners. We would all do well to take a lesson from such public funerals before we go believing the media hype about the demise of funeral service.
Funeral service has come under attack lately. It is being co-opted by a fringe element, unlicensed start-ups, and a media hell bent on turning a solemn industry into entertainment. Like so many of our colleagues, we have worked tirelessly to keep dignity in what we do. To that end, we have created this site. On it, we will highlight the best of funeral service, and call out the worst. We hope you will follow along, and we welcome input by our colleagues.