NEW YORK FUNERAL STORIES
All of the funerals here are described with family permission.
A beloved elderly grandmother died in Manhattan in the presence of a loving family so besotted with grief that they hadn't made any funeral plans. But strength can gather at the most stressful times. They called us, an old fashioned home funeral with clergy in the Manhattan apartment was arranged. The grandson drove to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York, to select a burial plot in the green section of the cemetery. We brought the shroud and the wicker tray to the apartment, and we set out with hearse and four limousines a day later, in lovely light snow, for this most gorgeous and tender green burial. Moments like these are unforgettable for families, and of course, for us, as well.
A three-generation Tibetan family, living in Brooklyn, was interested in giving its ailing grandfather the funeral he was requesting--an authentic Tibetan ritual that would allow the dead man to stay in the bed in the home he died in for at least two days after death--an unusual request to us in the United States, but something that happens all the time in Nepal, Tibet, and India. Fitting Tribute Funeral Services and the greater Tibetan community facilitated the entire event from home lay-out to Green-Wood cremation. We got to the chapel so early on a Saturday morning that we were allowed to serve Tibetan tea to the grieving family on the lawn outside the crematory.
New York City environmentalist Adam Purple was respectfully buried in a simple, biodegradable shroud (no casket at all) by Amy and the staff of Greenwood Heights Funeral & Cremation Services, along with a devoted team of green burial advocates at Greensprings Natural Burial Preserve. Mr. Purple, a leading activist within the New York City community garden movement, had sent an email indicating his wish for a old-fashioned, all-natural burial (that opened "Bro--For future reference...") years before his death of a heart attack at age 84 while riding his bicycle across the Williamsburg Bridge. As luck would have it, the wild, open fields of Greensprings were alive with blooming PURPLE aster flowers. We surrounded Adam's shrouded body with the stems, read poems, and told stories before lowering him into the natural grave on a re-purposed board donated by Big ReUse Brooklyn.
The family of Leon Zuckrow was fortunate enough to own a plot in a picturesque Jewish cemetery down the road from the old Nevele Resort in the Catskills. And a snow storm was no impediment to what became an incredibly memorable and gorgeously simple funeral service with plenty of hands-on family involvement. Leon now rests next to his beloved first wife Naomi, who died much too soon more than 50 years ago. “The main thing to have in life is love,” Leon told The New York Daily News when the paper noted how beautiful it was that he'd spent so many years writing poetry to Naomi, even after he'd remarried someone he also loved very much. “The rest of it is important, but if you have love, you have enough.”
Children need outlets and something to do when tragedy strikes. Decorating a pine box is one way they can connect with their emotions and feel useful. This gorgeous family wanted a green burial in keeping with Mommy's high regard for the planet we share. The eulogies were unforgettable.
Fitting Tribute helped a family create an old fashioned home funeral in Queens this past December. The deceased man we were honoring died in a Nassau County hospital and was brought back home, bathed, anointed with essential oils and dressed in a military uniform. By next morning, friends descended to comfort the family, bringing sandwiches, salads, and cakes. We kept soft music going, candles lit in the evening, and accompanied the family on the drive to Green-Wood.
A great newspaper editor is entitled to a family-decorated casket with newspaper front pages all over it. And the act of lovingly crafting this vessel for cremation became therapeutic for a family blindsided by sudden death. We played Mozart's Requiem in D Minor at the crematory.
No one can understand why some little babies make it, and others don't. We coordinate our infant funerals with the all-volunteer group "Little Angel Gowns," which makes prenatal, stillborn, and tiny infant burial garments out of donated wedding dresses (some with beaded or lace detail). We drove a gown to a family recently and delivered at no fee. Tiny clothes for pre-term deceased babies are hard to find and we are available to help out in sad times.
A thoughtful adult daughter wanted the right memorial service for her deeply intellectual mom, a outspoken activist and closet poet. We helped her arrange a lovely service for 40 people at the Felix Adler Study of the Manhattan Society for Ethical Culture, 64th Street and Central Park West. Cued classical music, Otis Redding, and a stirring rendition of "This Land is Your Land," as well as some vivid remembrances and butterfly cookies rounded out the service.
Renowned film director William Greaves died in his Manhattan apartment while I was on my way to meet with his wife Louise to complete funeral arrangements. When she greeted me at the door and told me Bill had just died, I hugged her and slowly went inside. He was as dignified and elegant in death as he had been in life, and it was Louise's ultimate request, after we sat and talked awhile, to spend one additional night with Bill's slender body in the apartment with her, in the company of her daughter and brother-in-law there to keep vigil. When I returned the next morning with a colleague, our rolling cot and a van to make the transfer, Louise was more ready to say goodbye, and expressed to us the kind of gracious appreciation that makes being a funeral director truly worthwhile. We met at Green-Wood's Crematory chapels one day later to decorate William's simple casket in poetry and love notes. A memorial service with film clips and friends followed in Manhattan several months later at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.