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Humor October 2017

Vintage Vibes

Wanted: Wisdom and Maturity

By Elaine Marze

Unfortunately one of the staff was walking by and nearly had a conniption fit. Apparently, asking callers if people are “dead or alive” is not considered good funeral home etiquette.

As I’ve aged I’ve been asked to work in positions where wisdom and maturity are considered extremely valuable. Occasionally I take one of these employment opportunities where they appreciate age. Meeting new people and having different experiences appeals to me although I was reluctant to get a call from a funeral home manager who said a mutual friend recommended me for a position. I was hesitant about working at a funeral home, but he talked me into coming in the following Monday to “try it.”

When I got to the funeral home Monday morning I was told that they had an influx of clients (dead folks) so nobody would be available to train me that day. “We have three services scheduled today so we’re really busy. Just sit at the front desk, greet people and answer the phone. And don’t look too happy.”

Considering the setting, I figured I could do the “don’t look too happy” part so I settled in at the front desk and prepared to greet incoming people.

The funeral parlor was pretty full when the phone rang. A woman asked, “Is Ezra Young there?”

“What does he look like,” I asked?

There was a pause, and then she said, “Well, he’s nice looking for a man in his 80s. White hair. Sharp dresser.”

“I think I see him,” I said. “Hold a minute and I’ll go ask him his name.”

“Well, honey, if he answers you, then you have a big problem because he’s supposed to be buried today. I’m trying to find out which funeral home he’s laid out at.”

Okay, that didn’t go well.

The next time the phone rang a lady asked, “Is Henry Moore there?”

I’m getting the hang of this thing now so I asked her politely, “Do you want to know what time his funeral service is?”

“Oh, my gracious!” she screeched. “He just left the office this morning coming over to check on your air-conditioning! What happened?”

Well, it took a few minutes to calm her down while I explained that this was my first day, etc. A while later the phone rang again. A man asked for Mrs. Elliot. Ha! I had this figured out now and promptly inquired, “Is she dead or alive?”

Unfortunately one of the staff was walking by and nearly had a conniption fit. Apparently, asking callers if people are “dead or alive” is not considered good funeral home etiquette.

But I’d about got the “tricky” lingo worked out when a man walked in with a large, paper grocery bag. He indicated I was to take the bag so I stood to take it. It was pretty heavy. Then he said, “This is my daddy. They need him for the service tomorrow.”

I let go of the bag! His daddy bounced off the desk and rolled across the floor. I hate to admit it but I wasn’t even chasing him, thankfully the son recovered his daddy when he stopped rolling. In my defense, not being acclimated to funeral home policies, I didn’t think of “Daddy” in terms of “ashes”; I thought in terms of (CSI TV shows) “pieces” – considering the size and weight of the bag and all.

Oh, and dropping clients, even if they are in an urn, is also considered bad funeral home etiquette.

Later, it was explained that part of my job would be to “straighten up” the dearly departed’s clothing after rambunctious loved ones got carried away in their sorrowful final farewells. Then there are the family members who can’t agree on whether “Mama’s” collar should be standing up or laying down, or if her hair should be behind her ears or in front and other issues until there’s almost a free-for-all among relatives determined to have their way. Trying to referee family feuds over bodies can be rather stressful, and even wisdom and maturity can’t fix that kind of drama.

I resigned at the end of the day.


Elaine Marze is a newspaper and magazine journalist who has also authored three non-fiction books, Hello Darling and Widowhood: I Didn’t Ask for This, inspirational humor written about the traditionally non-humorous subjects of cancer and widowhood.

Meet Elaine