In a post on Pub Def, titled Campaign Literature Looks Like Funeral Program, Antonio French discusses the campaign literature of St. Louis City Treasurer Larry Williams.  Mr. French shares:

“Who died?” asked one person who saw the piece on my desk.

While Mr. Williams is not, yet, dead, his campaign flier looks a whole lot like a standard “Homegoing Service” funeral program.

You can see the full campaign literature here.

In my last funeral job, we made a lot of these folders.  Families have specific ideas about the kind of service they want for their loved one, and many fixate on the “program” as a way to control at least something of the death process.

First as the printshop manager for a cluster of SCI funeral homes, then as the administrator of a family firm, I typed a lot of service orders and soloists’ names and pallbearer lists.  I’ve listened as three family members argued the finer points of font selection, mediated a brawl over the use of grandpa’s nickname and fallen asleep as a retired schoolteacher reviewed, red pen in hand, the seventh draft of her husband’s funeral program.

What is it about a printout of a loved one’s vital statistics that means so much to us, as humans?

I’ve met several men who carry 20 year old prayer cards from their fathers’ services in their wallets.  I helped one young woman place a memorial folder from her mother’s funeral into a shadow box filled with other beloved items.  I’ve laminated more prayer cards than I care to discuss and I have probably folded (by hand) more than 100,000 funeral programs/memorial folders.

Editor’s note:  While my high-tech printshop had a folding machine, I spent five years hand-folding programs for a family firm.  If you figure 100 services a year with an average of 200 folders for each funeral, you get at least 100,000.

I think a printed service item can sometimes take on the features of a talisman.  Dictionary.com defines a talisman as “anything whose presence exercises a remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions.”

Which may explain why someone was able to recognize the format of the City Treasurer’s campaign literature as “funeral program-like.”

And it also helps us understand why a mistake in the funeral program can often lead to bruised feelings or outright anger and resentment.

Angry (on black) by Flickr user Onkel_Wart

I once suffered the blind rage of woman who could not believe that we had spelled her husband’s brother’s name wrong in the printed service program.  She fumed, she ranted and she cried.  And that was just when we handed the program to her to review before we printed it.

I figured out then that families who complain about service details are often taking their pain and sorrow out on the staff of the funeral home.  Being bitterly angry at death is an appropriate emotional response, but you can’t attack death; without a physical presence, death becomes an unreachable abstract.

But the funeral home worker accompanied death, or so it seems, and he’s reachable.  The verbally abusive families seem to think:

We can belittle and humiliate him and force him to pay for the horrible pain his arrival (hey, we’re only here because grandpa died) has caused.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all families act this way.  Most families are kind and appreciate the hard work done by funeral professionals.

But when you assist that man who is so angry and confused about his son’s death, try to understand that the hateful words, bullying attitude and rude actions are part of his terrible, terrible grief.

That’s how I made it through those situations.

It’s also why I hate making funeral programs, prayer cards and memorial folders.

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