Monday, March 14, 2016

Urns & Outs: The Lesson of Life


(As published in the Dead Beat magazine, Winter, 2016)

I am a fan of opera music. Some people have difficulty listening to the intense vocal expressions offered by the world's great classical writers, but for me, listening to fine classical music often helps me relax or it invigorates. One of my favorite operas that has both effects on me is The Magic Flute, an interesting story by the phenomenal Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
 
I recently came into possession of a unique book by Max Heindel entitled Mysteries of the Great Operas - harkening back to famous works by Richard Wagner. In such operas as The Ring of the Niebelung, Tännhauser, and Lohengrin, Wagner tells the tales of German and Norse history and legend, and along the way gives some of the most beautiful and memorable music ever heard. The Bridal March is from Lohengrin; Ride of the Valkyries is from The Ring Saga, and Pilgrim's Chorus, notably performed in cartoons, is given to us in Tännhauser.
 
In Heindel's book, he correlates the mysteries of life with the symbolism in these great works of musical genius. One of my favorite passages in the book tells of the struggle of life. He writes:
“According to the teaching of the Norsemen, those only who died in Battle were entitled to be taken to Valhalla. [Odin] desires none but the strong and the mighty warriors... In this there is a great lesson, for none but the noble and the fearless who spend their days fighting the battle of life to the very last breath are worthy of advancement... It does not matter where we work or what the line of our experience may be, so long as we faithfully battle with the problems of life as they appear before us... we must keep on working and striving until the day of life is done.”
 
That is quite a lesson to be learned!
 
When I die, I will go to Valhalla. I don't mean that I'm such a hard worker that I deserve the nobility of Odin's Valhalla when I die. I mean I'll literally go to Valhalla: the Valhalla Chapel of Memories in St. Louis. It is an historic crematory and columbarium and its founders were heavily involved with the Cremation Association of North America. That's where my niche is and my urn awaits, and I'll be in good company of the early cremation memorialists.
 
The major decisions in my life are driven by meaning. When I purchased the niche at Valhalla in St. Louis years ago, I thought of the honor it must have been for those who died in battle to be chosen for rest with Odin in Valhalla. Then I thought of the Walküres, those angels of war that carried the fallen ones to their rest in those magnificent halls, and I realized how similar that act is to those of us who care for the dead. It was only when I read the wisdom of Max Heindel that I realized that we are all worthy of that noble rest.
 
I often come into contact with funeral professionals who are facing burn out. We all know that this profession can easily weigh on our minds and bodies so that it makes it difficult to offer empathy and sympathy. I confess that I have felt some tinges of burn out at times as well. I am, however, very encouraged by the words of Max Heindel, and his admonition to carry on the work that we are called to do. I hope you'll find encouragement in these words as I have. There is too much to gain to give up on the care we give those in most need of our support.
 
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge a recent experience I faced in my own life - the passing of one of my most favorite people in the universe, my dear sweet Granny. She played such an instrumental part in my upbringing and her death has truly changed my life. At age 85, in seemingly good health, she passed away unexpectedly after suffering a stroke and from injuries sustained from the subsequent fall. The professionals at Schertz Funeral Home in Schertz, Texas, including long-time friends Tess, Kim, Leonard, and new friends Tudy, Julia, Isaac, and the entire staff, all made her passing more bearable - for my family, and for me personally and professionally.
 
After a beautiful service of remembrance, Granny was cremated, her spirit set free, and her purified remains placed lovingly in a MacKenzie urn, appropriately personalized, and interred by the hands of her loved ones in our family plot. I have such a peaceful remembrance of the entire experience, even though it has been a tumultuous experience going through the grief process. I've lost love, I've lost loved ones, but I couldn't have prepared myself for this loss no matter how hard I could have tried. My Granny spent her life working for the good of others.  Her light shines brightly in me, and in all whose lives and hearts she touched.
 
That brings me back to my story. I know that it can be difficult and trying to face the battle of life. However, encouragement is given by the example of loved ones, fellow professionals, friends; knowing that our future reward is worth the hard work, and especially here and now our hard work makes a difference. I've seen it and felt it, so I know this to be true.
 
Benn Pitman was a 19th century stenographer and phonographer and was the husband of Jane Pitman, who was the second person cremated in the LeMoyne Crematory in Washington, Pennsylvania. Following Mrs. Pitman's cremation, Mr. Pitman wrote Dr. LeMoyne a letter thanking him for his kindness. Encouraging Dr. LeMoyne, who was in ill health at the time, he wrote “Bear the burden of life, if burden it proves at times - for the sake of others and the helpful example it is to us who have some years of work yet to do.”
 
Let us all “keep on working and striving until the day of life is done.” It is worth the effort and worth the example!
 
That's my perspective...