Robert Webster: The TNB Self-InterviewBy Robert Webster
June 04, 2011
What motivated you to write Does This Mean You’ll See Me Naked?
The original premise of my book was to be a primer for consumers to understand that funeral arrangements are not to be taken lightly. Whether someone is arranging for funeral services and disposition for a loved one, or for themselves, one should be more prepared in order to make good, and not hasty, decisions. For most of us, we are all ill prepared for death; we are conditioned to be afraid of death and we deny death in our society. My objective was to inform consumers what they may expect and to provide ammunition to make good decisions, whether it concerns the type and price of caskets; how and why the funeral director charges for certain services and specific funeral etiquette.
Why did you decide to become an embalmer and funeral director?
My older brother was serving his apprenticeship at a funeral home and as fourteen-year-old I tagged along with him at night and on the weekends. My brother and the other gentleman employees were all like big brothers to me- punching each other in the arm, making fun of each other’s mothers- yet when it was time for work, these young men were all business. I was impressed and even touched by the way these men would be so compassionate and helpful to the bereaved family members and friends of the deceased in their care. It seemed to me that such a vocation was truly a gift and perhaps a calling.
What is the most annoying or ridiculous question you are asked about your business?
Ever since I became involved in the funeral business I constantly am asked if dead bodies raise up, make sounds, or do fingernails and hair grow after death. Such inquiries materialize because of the ignorance of death in our death denying society. Most folks know so very little, and probably do not wish to know much, about death and its associated processes. By applying a small bit of thought to the idea, one should realize that since death is the cessation of life, no life sustaining events can possibly occur after death.
Give an example of a humorous or odd occurrence that has been encountered lately.
For obvious reasons, we always retain any clothing items or other belongings of a deceased loved one in our care. Keeping and bagging someone’s clothing came to light recently after we removed an elderly lady from her home after her death. After we brought her body back to the funeral home, we removed all clothing and placed the items in bag to retain for her family. The next day her daughters came in to make the funeral arrangements and at the point of discussing the financial obligations, one of the daughters mentioned that I already had her mother’s funeral money. I wondered if her mother had pre-arranged and paid for her funeral expenses, and the daughter said, “didn’t you take Mom’s clothes off last night?” I told her that I did, and she said, “Well, her funeral money is in her bra.” I excused myself and went to the preparation room and opened the lady’s bag of clothing, fished out the bra, and lo and behold, three thousand dollars cash was inserted in each cup of the bra. The late lady had sewn a small pocket inside each cup of her bra and stashed her funeral money there. Needless to say, that was a great example of why we never dispose of a decedent’s clothing right away.
What would you like to accomplish with your book?
I would like the reader and or consumer to be educated about the funeral business. Hopefully, the reader will come away with knowledge of certain funeral etiquette, such as refraining from using the word “coffin”, an outdated term. A coffin was narrow at the hips and wide at the shoulders–the box that Dracula slept in. A casket is the box that the deceased reposes in today. Ceremonial terms, such as “funeral service”, which is a liturgical rite conducted with the deceased human body present. A “memorial service” is a funeral ceremony in which the body is not present. “Interment” in the burial of the body in the grave–not “internment”. Japanese Americans were placed into internment camps during World War II. And, of course, I would especially desire that the reader would pay attention to the descriptions in my book detailing costs, be it the funeral home’s service charge or the prices of funeral merchandise. By merely digesting the cost information the reader could acquire some needed “ammunition” that would come in very handy should funeral arrangements be on their mind.