Scent of a Woman (or Man!)

So much of the funeral and memorial industry is centered around products and services that will ensure you (or your loved one) continue to live on in the memories of the ones left behind, long after they’ve passed.  Fingerprint jewelry, tattoos (new, done with ashes of the person, or old, preserved from the body of your departed beloved), glass baubles made from ash, paintings and custom urns and trees and interactive websites and memorial Facebook pages, and on and on–there are as many ways as there are deaths, it seems.

Often, I’ve read (and also heard it said) that grieving people become distressed when they lose or forget the smell of their loved one.  Essence on pillows and shirts and such, unless preserved, will likely fade with time;  there may still be many environmental smells (baking, books, BO–in the case of my much-beloved grandparents!) which would trigger memories, but the unique smell of someone’s own body is usually gradually lost once the person has died.

Until now.

If you have $600 to spare, a French start-up company will extract the specific odor of your loved one from an article of their clothing, and use the roughly 100 molecules of information to recreate the smell in a perfume.

In the grand scheme of funeral prices, $600 isn’t out of the ballpark of what people will pay to remember or memorialize their loved ones.  Caskets most always cost more.  Headstones and plots sure do, as can some cremation jewelry and many urns!   Obituaries (at $10/line in my local paper) could add up to $600 rather rapidly.

What do you think?  Eau de Spouse?  L’air Du Temps Maman?  Could you imagine it worth $600 to you to be able to recall the specific smell of someone you loved?

And if so, how would you use it?  Spray it on an object?  Scent yourself with it?

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The Unplanned-for Endings in Pompeii

How had I never heard of these until now?

From Slate.com, portraits of final agony, frozen in time by Mt. Vesuvius, rendered in chilling detail by astute 19th century scientists who realized the ash had preserved the body-space of the disaster’s victims, and sought to capture the human forms left behind in void with plaster.

Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup/Creative Commons

These casts were made mostly in the mid 1800’s, and were on display together until the building housing them was damaged during WWII.  Some casts are now housed in various places around Naples, as well as in an exhibition at the Antiquarium de Boscoreale, near Pompeii.

Visit Atlas Obscura for more information and pictures.

And what does this have to do with funeral planning?   Besides the fact that I thought it was just freaking cool, let it jar your mind a bit out of your usual complacency and comfort.

The citizens of Pompeii and Herculaneum had little warning that their death was coming before Vesuvius blew her top that afternoon.  You may think it’ll never happen that way these days, that you’ll see the end coming and have time to prepare–but strokes, drunk drivers, choking accidents, heart attacks, they all beg to differ.   Don’t let your own Vesuvius catch you unaware!

Insider Secrets about Cemetery Sales

Excerpts from this blog post about the experiences of a former cemetery salesperson:

(I could summarize, but her words are so much more real and powerful.  You need to know this goes on.  You need to realize this truth, and that this is why I want you to start thinking ahead, planning, asking the questions and doing research NOW.)

The truth of her role:

When I got the job, I thought I was going to be helping families and individuals plan their burial.  What I found out was that I was hired for a sales position. I remember vividly the day I was referred to as a sales person at the cemetery by my boss; I realized then that my job was not to get the families what they wanted, but to make a good sale.  I had been trained that my goal was to serve the families, but was reprimanded when I sold a family what they wanted, a modest place to bury their loved one.

Buyer beware:

My experience was that we were not trained in law and family rights, but on how to make the sale and “serve the family”, which I think was to get families to buy something they had not thought of as necessary.  Since federal law does not regulate cemeteries, you must know what rights you have, and rely on your gut instincts when looking for products and services.  Cemeteries are more “buyer beware” than funeral homes.

Ask for prices!

Ask to see a price list in a cemetery.  This might be a tricky thing, but think about what it would be like going to the grocery store and having to ask to buy an orange and the sales crew would present you with the orange they thought would be perfect for you.  It just might be the most expensive orange in the store. You might not be allowed to see the GPL (general price list.).  We were trained to not let consumers see our pricelist.

And still more to ask about–clearly, they’re not giving up information easily, eh?

Ask to see a variety of products at different price points.  Make sure that you know what kinds of markers are acceptable in their “memorial park” or cemetery. Ask about vaults.  More importantly, ask about their minimum requirement for a vault…If you are doing cremation, ask about their policy on cremation vaults. Ask about the open and close price.

Are all cemeteries as painfully profit-driven as the author experienced?  Perhaps not, probably not, but you’ll never know which one is right for you if you don’t go out and research it ahead of time.  If you think you might want use of a cemetery, plan now.  Consider buying your plot ahead of time if the numbers make sense, although realize that it can be tough to get rid of a plot if your plans or wishes end up changing.

Most of all, as the author so wisely states:

Feel free to shop around and leave any establishment, cemetery or funeral home that you do not want to work with.  You know it when something does not feel right.  Trust yourself to know what it is that you want.

Dean Smith and the Legacy of Dinner

Dean Smith was a legendary basketball coach for the University of North Carolina for over 35 years before he died in early 2015.

In that time, he left his mark on many young lives, men passing through college on their way to superstardom (Michael Jordan) and largely-unknown walk-ons to his team alike.   And, now, thanks to some well-done preplanning, he’s left one final statement of self to his players, one that says these men were important enough in his life that he took the extra time to set up something for them.

From Mental Floss:

Your estate may not be able to support gifts to everyone who added meaning to your life.  But you, and everyone, can do the work ahead of time to document your wishes and leave a clean, well-organized dossier as your legacy–and how much will that say to your loved ones about the love you had for them, and the care with which you tried to make their grief easier?!.

Consider the following:

  • Document your final wishes–for free at www.everplans.com or www.mywonderfullife.com, or with the help of a consultant (like me!)
  • Get all your important documents in order–again, for free at www.getyourshittogether.org, among many others.  This MUST include any wills and advanced directives, which should be crafted legally, reviewed with family, and made instantly accessible for maximum effect.
  • Plan for your digital legacy–make sure others have access to the accounts that you created, from email to picture storage to Facebook/Twitter/Instagram and the like.  (Find out more here.)
  • Document dispersal of(or begin to disperse) your physical treasures.  This too often leads to spats and hurt feelings once the loved one is gone, so taking care of it up front may head off some family pain, and may be an opportunity to connect and share special moments with the giver as well.

The focus of my passion and my work is the funeral/final wishes aspect, but really–it’s all one big package.  One big IMPORTANT package, which most would rather neglect until it’s ‘needed’.

Making sure your end-of-life packet is ready is a gift, one that will reach far beyond the inherited jewelry and last letters.   If it’s not in you to do the prep work independently, call me–we can do the work together.

Plain Old Scattering is so 2000.

As the cremation rates skyrocket in the US, it’s encouraging to see people opening their minds to the myriad of possibilities for final disposition of the ashes.  I don’t know about you, but the idea of being saddled with one more ‘what do I do with this?’ item is discouraging, and even moreso when it’s not even something you could donate (like the gawdy porcelain bald-eagle-with-flags statuette that still lives in our house 20 years after being lovingly bequeathed to us by a dying relative.)

And there are so many good options surfacing!

There’s jewelry made from ash, and beautiful urns to contain the ashes if you want to hold on to them.  Or urns that will honor the surroundings you place them in, from water soluble urns for a sea interment or ones that will help you grow into a tree.

If you choose scattering, you can easily find services for sea scattering in any major seaside town.  Scattering, as an official practice, isn’t condoned in many locations (state and national parks, for example), but there are many locations that do welcome your ashes, at times for free (like Eloise Woods, near Austin).    Of course, many folks act under the old “it’s only illegal if you get caught” adage and scatter in off-limits areas anyway–not that I condone that, mind you!

The most fascinating option for ashes that I’ve seen in a while:  Mesoloft.   This company offers to launch ashes 17 miles up into near space, and then release them to return to earth–possibly joining in the upper atmosphere to orbit the earth on winds, or come back down as rain or snow.   And they’ll video the release with GoPro cameras on the weather balloon as well.

What do you think?  Look like a cool option?  One you’d choose?