Consumer Info

Resting in Peace Through Hurricane Season

Once while giving an exam on disaster management I asked my students to number in importance, 1-5 the steps that should be taken after a disaster. I wanted to know that they understood the concept that number one is take care of the injured and living, and number 5 is take care of the dead. Not surprisingly, one student, (not destined for public office obviously), chose the most important task as taking care of the dead!

While most people understand the dead will be cared for after a hurricane such as Ike, most don’t think of the task of taking care of the dead who were dead before the storm. What a horrific and grim task to enter your local cemetery and see caskets stacked on top of each other above ground. But that is just the task many communities face in the aftermath of a hurricane. You don’t hear about it much, but it is an issue. Imagine part of your life returning to normal being re-burying your previously dead.

One story documents Clarence Brown, a blues musician and Grammy Award Winner in 1982. He fled Hurricane Katrina in 2005 seeking refuge in Orange, Texas but died 2 weeks after the storm. Now Hurricane Ike has disinterred him from his final hometown resting place. My favorite quote in this story is from Wayne Sparrow, third generation funeral director from Orange, Texas and Sparrow Funeral Home. After looking at the damage to the historic cemetery he said, "These are somebody's somebodies, and it needs to be taken care of as quickly as possible.” He’s the kind of funeral director I would want in my community. Here’s a link to the story, and here’s a 90 second video of the cemetery. The narrator of the video is a city worker; you won’t see him until the end of the clip.

Remember to keep these hard working people in your thoughts and prayers too, lest they think their work is not important to restoring their communities.

Is Nothing Sacred Anymore

The short answer to the question, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” is a sad, “No.” Not even our dead are sacred.

In the 1800’s doctors and anatomists stole bodies from graves to learn more about the human body and diseases. Today, most States have a regulated Anatomical Board to receive bodies which have been donated to science, so thankfully we don’t hear about old fashioned body snatching anymore. But that might in part because the thing of perceived value isn’t buried; it’s above ground, decorating the grave of the deceased.

I’ve seen multiple news stories lately about the number of people stealing bronze markers and flower vases and selling it as scrap metal. I don’t know who is worse, the person who does the stealing, or the scrap recycling centers that are actually paying the thieves! If a bronze vase only brings about $10 then one would have to steal a lot of vases to even buy a tank of gas. This is not worth it on so many levels. There’s no money, it’s disrespecting the dead, it’s disrespecting the living, and it’s a crime!

In March there was a documented theft of 40 bronze vases in a Wisconsin cemetery. And in June the States of Illinois, West Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Maryland, Michigan, and North Carolina all had vases or markers stolen from one or more of their cemeteries.

Illinois and Missouri have recently passed laws to help stop this crime of stealing bronze and brass vases and markers. Scrap metal dealers are now required to keep detailed paperwork and even get a copy of a photo ID for people who aren’t regular customers. You can click here to see an example of modern grave robbing, sent to me by a reader of the End of Life Insights Monthly Newsletter.

We have been on a slippery slope of disrespecting our dead for a long time now. People don’t pull over when a funeral hearse (also known as a Coach) goes by. People don’t respect the police escorts hired to stop the traffic light for the funeral procession. We are increasingly burning our dead with instructions to the funeral director to, “please dispose of the ashes for us.” Now people are stealing from graves to make a quick buck; literally, it’s not much more than that! What’s next? I cringe to think of possibilities. When the mentality of respecting the dead is that of a burden rather than a privilege, anything can happen.