They Care When You Cease
To: After Your Last Breath
In matters of death, we’re pretty much inexperienced. That’s good; we want to keep it that way. And when it strikes, it’s always breaking news, at least to those close by. Being distracted is no excuse; while some ponder; others keep on walking.
The business of death, though, demands timing and compassion. Just ask Peter Stefan, who’s been burying the undesired for ages. Or the Thompson sisters, whose funeral home doubles as a black history vault. And Isaiah Owen, cosmetologist for the deceased.
What they do takes precedence over your latest witty tweet, and it’s more meaningful than your life coaching lessons. So, bid your time before your own autopsy, but pay respects to those who move in when others avert their eyes. For they do so with the dignity death rarely grants anyone.
Who plans to expire amidst a crime scene? Or dictates their own obituary? But we’re always just a few degrees away from each other’s last breath. Even as we won’t care one way or another, our loved ones have the right to first pick over our final picture. May they choose wisely.
To many, it’s an unsavory topic, unworthy talking about. Too morbid, or pointless, they say. But to those left standing, making sure those laying on their backs still got their good looks may be a debt paid forward. And that’s when Peter, Lynda and Vicki, and Isaiah work their magic.
THE UNDERTAKER OF THE REJECTED
Peter Stefan went to work, three years ago, just like we all should: ready for anything. For over four decades, he hosts mourners at his Worcester funeral home, and prepares bodies to be buried. But on that particular day, one of those bodies belonged to one Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
That was the eldest of the brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon, the one who died in a rain of police bullets. A tragic and hated young man, perpetrator of a despicable act, his body was torn into pieces. And yet, Stefan made sure he was well put back together before interment.
Why? Because that’s what he does. Because everyone is equal at birth and death. Because he’d do the same to much worse and much better people, with the same dedication. Not for being a musician, just to serve an undervalued human sentiment: compassion.
BROOKLYN’S SISTERS OF MERCY
Lynda Thompson-Lindsay and Vicki Thompson-Simmons‘ funeral parlor (why this term sounds like an oxymoron?) does everything that most are supposed to, including the combo embalming the deceased and producing their family wake. But it also does something that few can: serve as vault to black history.
For the almost century old home has borne witness to a heartbreaking chapter of American memory which would be, well, forgotten, hadn’t been for its carefully kept records of burials. Many (more)
* Before Afterlife
* Kicking Ash
* Wake Up
a saga of the black experience in the U.S. is recorded in its archives.
To be one of the few female-owned, and mostly black women-staffed, business of its kind, is a distinction the sisters must be proud of, along with servicing a neglected community. They’re traditions given to everyone who may stop by on their way to their final resting place.
A MICHELANGELO FOR YOUR LAST CALL
Isaiah Owens could approach what he does, corpse cosmetology, as an artist. After all, he’s been applying make up to beautify the dead for almost 50 years. Instead, he’s closer to a pastor conjuring a ‘resurrection’ of the departed’s best looks at his Harlem funeral house.
Many may see such extreme care to appearance, the face, clothes, the nails even, in that context, as not just futile, but vain, delusional, slightly creepy. But then they never saw the body of a loved one after it went through the ravages of a terminal disease, a fall, a car crash.
We all know the curve, from birth to ashes. It’s what’s in between these brackets that we may claim as our territory. Life’s final irony is that the two most important moments of our lives don’t really belong to us. We go through them as if they’re happening to somebody else. So let others enjoy, in the best way they see it fit, what could never be ours anyway: our entrance to and exit of this world.