Monthly Archives: August 2016

Taking The Time To Celebrate A Life!

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I’ve been thinking about death lately. It all started when I found myself reading interesting obituaries that have gone viral. They don’t just state the basic facts: birth, job, children and spouse. They reveal funny and touching anecdotes. They are beautiful, tiny memoirs! Recently there were two obits for Leroy Bill Black, one from his wife and one from his girlfriend right next to each other in the newspaper! Up until recently, funeral home staff or a newspaper reporter usually wrote obituaries but now regular people are taking matters into their own hands.

Tom Varabedian, a newspaper guy from Massachusetts, was recently showcased in The Wall Street Journal. He has written thousand of obituaries and now teaches a class in obituary writing. I recently had an email exchange with him because I was curious as to whether people changed their lives after writing their obituaries, wanting to right wrongs or to pursue unrealized dreams.

“Have your classes opened a can of worms for anyone?”
“No bucket of worms, not even one night crawler.”

I was curious because my family used to give out scholarships to our local high school and we required an essay. My favorite prompts were, “Write Your Obituary” and “Write The Book Jacket Blurb For Your Memoir.” We were hoping the applicants would be able to show some vision as to how they wanted their lives to unfold and perhaps help them, through the process, to set some goals.

The people in his classes clearly want to control how they would be remembered. Perhaps Mr. Black should have taken Mr. Varabedian’s class before he died! I wonder if this trend could be a reaction in part to the quick and tidy way many of us send off our loved ones. I got to thinking about this after the death of a family member.

Last week I went to a funeral of a man named Richard who I didn’t know very well. He was ninety-two and a first cousin once removed of my husband. As with a sudden death, I needed to rearrange my plans to go to his wake. In theory, I think that life should stop when someone dies, so that their life can be properly celebrated, but in practice, I often try to attend these events as expeditiously as possible.

Wakes are easy; you can zip in, give your condolences, and zip out and back to your life. Going to a funeral is an “in for a penny, in for a pound” scenario. Once you make the commitment to go, you dress up, attend the service, travel in a long line to the cemetery, and go to the reception after. If you’re very close to the family you may go back to the house.

In addition to the McDonald’s drive-thru mentality of attending death events, I’ve noticed another interesting trend when someone dies: no funerals or memorials at all. I’ve heard reasons ranging from “she donated her body to science and didn’t want a fuss” to “we couldn’t find an agreeable date for the funeral.” Hypocrite that I am, I hope when I die, my family goes the route of the Homegoing events that black communities create for their dearly departed. Those are fantastic celebrations of life!

I went to Richard’s wake but had not planned on going to the funeral. His widow, Laura, who I like and respect and seemed genuinely glad to see me, looked me in the eye and asked me if I would be attending the service. I was like a deer in the headlights.
“I don’t know.”
“OK, I’ll see you soon then.”

When someone dies whom you didn’t know well, it may seem difficult to know if you should go to the funeral. My seemingly flexible rule of thumb is that if you are wondering whether or not you should go to a funeral, you should go. It means so much to the family when people they don’t expect to come make the effort.

When my dad died some years ago, I was touched when unexpected people attended his funeral. I was chatting with one of these folks in my dad’s office afterwards. He was shocked when he spotted the penny pyramid paperweight that had been on his desk since forever. I learned that he had asked my dad to be his confirmation sponsor when he was a kid, and he’d given my him the paperweight as a thank you. The little stories that are told at funerals and wakes are gifts to the grieving families.

I am so glad that I attended Richard’s funeral. It was truly inspiring to hear the stories of such a wonderful man. At age fifty, he married a young widow with four young boys that he raised as his own, along with the son he had with his new wife. He was an orthodontist who didn’t retire until he was eighty-seven. I can’t even imagine how many beautiful smiles he created over the decades of care. He always followed the rules. I learned that he never exceeded the speed limit, even with his five boys telling him to go faster. Twice he left his orthodontic practice to serve in both WWII and the Korean War. He was truly an officer and a gentleman.

As I listened to the stories and the eulogies that reflected the love for this man, I thought of the phrase, “Begin with the end in mind,” from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I wondered if Richard had planned his life with the end in mind because it certainly seemed he had a plan or perhaps a code of honor that he followed. I am so glad that I accepted the invitation to celebrate his life because he has inspired me to take a closer look at mine. I figure I’d start by writing my obituary.

 

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Wearing A Uniform Can Save You Time, Money And Stress!

b95fe9cee78cb863340e9b27e68e61f4_originalI spent eight years in Catholic school wearing a uniform. I don’t remember it being bad except for the skirt that did not include matching shorts. Some argue that forcing kids to wear uniforms crushes their personal expression. I didn’t find this to be true. Wearing a uniform allowed me to find creative ways to tweak my look and saved me the angst of choosing a new outfit each day.

Uniforms are one of man’s greatest inventions. How would we ever find help in Target if it wasn’t for the red shirt and khaki pants? Who doesn’t love when the UPS guy in his brown shorts and shirt arrives at your front door with a package? Don’t you already start to feel better when you spot the white coat of your doctor walking into the examining room?

In addition to letting you know what job someone does, wearing a uniform can save you time, money and help to cultivate your image. Steve Jobs wore a black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers, Albert Einstein wore a gray suit with no socks, and Hillary Clinton wears a pantsuit with a long jacket, which is a great choice for a post-menopausal woman. Regardless of your politics you have to admit that she looks elegant and professional whenever she is out in public.

In a recent article, “The Case For Uniform Dressing,” in The Wall Street Journal, Christina Binkley points out the benefits of wearing a “uniform” in a work environment. She claims that when you adopt a uniform style, you can shop in bulk and dress faster in the mornings. While your co-workers always notice that you are dressed nicely they don’t necessarily notice what you wear each day.061715-hillary-clinton-pantsuits-lead
I’ve experimented with my own personal uniform in recent years. I spent two years wearing pink every day. It was fun and I felt like a million bucks but I found myself getting caught up in searching for accessories and combing through clothing racks for pink outfits. I’ve now transitioned to a more simple and conventional uniform. It is based on the notion that once you hit menopause you can start wearing maternity clothes again. No one looks at an over-fifty woman and thinks she’s pregnant.

In the summer I wear loose, flowing tops, over shorts or Capris with FitFLops. Once winter comes, you’ll see me in leggings, boots and a long-sleeved tunic and sweater. Dressing in this prescribed manner is quick and easy and I always look put together.

I find that wearing a uniform allows me to buy less clothing but still look nice, which is good for my wallet and the environment. We currently live in a disposable clothing society with retailers like H&M and Forever 21 creating cheap garments that are meant to be washed only ten times before being discarded. How many of you have $10 shirts, with the tags still on, hanging in your closets? The manufacture of clothing requires toxic dyes, chemicals and cheap labor in poor countries.

There is currently a movement in the fashion world to bring attention to the environmental and humanitarian impact of the disposable fashion industry. Two artists, Maura Brewer and Abigail Glaum-Lathbury created The Rational Dress Society and have been protesting at New York Fashion Week and other venues. They’ve also created a line of uniforms under the JUMPSUIT label to combat this waste by wearing and inviting the rest of us to wear these uniforms. What will you get out of wearing a uniform? More time, more money and more room in your closet!

Do you wear a uniform? Are you contemplating creating a uniform for yourself? I’d love to hear! Email me at kathleen.thometz@doodleartanddesign.net

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