Conn. — This community laid to rest on Saturday the last of the children killed
in a schoolhouse massacre.
In a town devastated by violence, besieged by worldwide attention from the news
media and struggling to move forward, the burial of Josephine Grace Gay, 7,
brought to an end a bleak procession of funerals that began not long after Adam
Lanza killed 20 children and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“This has been a challenge for us,” Msgr. Robert E. Weiss said during his homily
at Josephine’s funeral Mass at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church.
Funeral after funeral, wake after wake, he said, it had been faith, family and
friendship that held the community together.
He recalled the terrible hours after the shooting stopped on Dec. 14, when he
waited with families at the firehouse near the school, with parents clinging to
the hope that their children had made it out unharmed.
At 3 p.m. that day, he said, Josephine’s parents were told that she had not
“It does not make sense,” Monsignor Weiss said, adding that the children did not
die in vain. “If these 20 cannot change the world, then no one can,” he said.
He added that it was now up to everyone to bring out the best in themselves and
“You should be angry,” Monsignor Weiss said. “But don’t hold onto it.”
The shootings have resonated around the world, and have set off an intense
national discussion on gun control, mental health and other issues.
That discussion continues, yet the focus here Saturday was not on questions of
policy or new laws. It was on a first grader known to family and friends as
Joey, who had turned 7 days before she was killed.
Her father, Bob Gay, noted that though she had autism and was unable to speak,
“you don’t need words to say, ‘I love you.’ ”
Mr. Gay and Josephine’s mother, Michele Gay, shared with the congregation some
of the “life lessons” they learned from their daughter.
“You can’t really appreciate a movie until you have watched it 300 times,” Ms.
Gay said, before mentioning another lesson: “iPhones are not waterproof.”
Josephine’s father said that she had taught him not to “sweat the small stuff;
it’s all small stuff.” And this: “Even the smallest of us can do great things.”
In a town that was plunged into unimaginable shock and sorrow a little more than
a week before, there seemed to be a determination at the funeral to be upbeat.
Many people wore purple, Josephine’s favorite color.
There were two other funerals for children killed at Sandy Hook on Saturday,
both held outside of Newtown.
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, was mourned at a private ceremony in Bloomfield, Conn.
She was the daughter of the jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who posted a short
tribute to his daughter on his Facebook page.
“As much as she is needed here and missed by her mother, her brother and me, Ana
beat us all to paradise,” he wrote the day after the shootings. “I love you,
Her mother, Nelba Marquez-Greene, in a statement, recalled her budding musical
“In a musical family, her gift for melody, pitch and rhythm stood out
remarkably,” she said.
In Ogden, Utah, Robbie and Alyssa Parker buried their 6-year-old daughter,
Mr. Parker was one of the first parents of a child killed at the school to speak
out publicly, at an emotional news conference one week ago.
Choking back tears, he vowed not to let what happened “turn into something that
defines us, but something that inspires us to be better, to be more
compassionate and more humble people.”
Those sentiments were echoed in the notes and posters left at memorials across
The piles of stuffed animals and flowers and toys have grown each day, but there
was a hope that with the final funeral, the people here could begin to grieve
outside of the constant glare of media attention.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who had ordered all flags in the state to be flown at
half-staff after the massacre, said it was time to raise them once again.
Conn. — They were so young that their lives were defined by small, fleeting
James Mattioli liked to sing at the top of his lungs and once asked, “How old do
I have to be to sing on stage?” He was proud that at the age of 6 ¾, he could
ride a bicycle without training wheels.
Jessica Rekos loved reading about horses and learning about orca whales. At 6,
she could be so insistent about what the family ought to be doing that her
parents called her the C.E.O.
The children, 2 of the 20 first-grade victims in one of the nation’s worst
schoolhouse massacres, were eulogized Tuesday in back-to-back rites at the same
Roman Catholic church here, St. Rose of Lima. On a bleak, sometimes drizzly day
that underscored the mood of unendurable pain that gripped so many mourners at
the services, the church’s bell tolled once every 10 seconds as a hearse pulled
up and a coffin of a small child was taken out and carried inside to rest on the
James’s coffin was white and decked with yellow and white carnations; Jessica’s
was also white but it was flowerless. The coffins were not particularly small,
perhaps testimony to the difficulty of finding small coffins when 20 6- and
7-year-olds in one town are killed in a single, sudden and thus-far
At each funeral, a young mother gave a eulogy, a husband standing silently at
her side, a child of theirs in a coffin nearby, and reminisced about the
pleasures and laughter those children gave them in their short lives. Before
each eulogy, a priest, Msgr. Robert Weiss, offered a solemn Mass of Christian
Burial and distributed communion. After Jessica’s Mass, “Silent Night” was
played, the melody particularly haunting just a week before Christmas.
After each service, the doors were opened, the coffin was carried to a hearse,
the parents emerged and were embraced by weeping friends and relatives clustered
near the church’s Christmas Nativity display.
The police allowed only relatives, close friends and a few dignitaries, like
Connecticut’s governor, Dannel P. Malloy, to attend the funerals, but a few
mourners provided accounts of the services afterward and both families wrote
eloquent paid obituaries that summed up their children’s short lives.
Michael Christopher, a longtime friend of Jessica’s father, Richard Rekos, said
Jessica’s mother, Krista, a sixth-grade teacher in Bridgeport, was “surprisingly
composed” as she stood in the vaulted, blond wood sanctuary of the church
recalling her daughter’s life, though after she had finished speaking she broke
down in sobs.
“Jessica always knew what she wanted and she had to get her way,” Mr.
Christopher said, reconstructing the mother’s words. “She loved horseback
riding, and Santa Claus was going to bring her cowboy boots next week. She loved
orca whales so they bought her the movie ‘Free Willy.’ When she got it into her
mind about something she always wanted to learn more.”
She was spiritual at a young age, Monsignor Weiss recalled: she kept a bottle of
holy water next to her bed, where she said her prayers.
Mark and Cindy Mattioli, in an obituary they wrote that was published in local
Connecticut newspapers, remembered their son “as an energetic loving friend to
“He loved to wear shorts and T-shirts in any weather and grab the gel to spike
his hair,” the obituary said. “He often said, ‘I need to go outside, Mom. I need
fresh air.’ ”
They recalled that James was born four weeks early at Bridgeport Hospital.
“It was an ongoing quip that James came early into the world because he was
hungry,” the obituary said. “He loved hamburgers with ketchup, his dad’s egg
omelets with bacon, and his mom’s French toast. He often asked to stop at Subway
for a ham sandwich.”
James, who resembled his father, loved to spend time with him as he did yard
work and barbecued hamburgers.
“Their love of one another was one of a kind,” the obituary said.
Both services drew onlookers, some of whom came from as far away as Queens and
Boston, moved, they said, by the thought of what so many families had to endure.
Radya Martino of Howard Beach, Queens, who teaches Arabic at a Westchester
Islamic center, said she and her husband, George, a retired postal carrier, came
to pray near the church. She said she asked Allah “to please help these parents
and give them the power to continue.”
“I am a mother,” she said. “I don’t see Muslim, Christian or Jew. I see the
parents crying and we pray for them.”
Richard Rosiak, of California, was visiting New York with his wife and young
daughters. He said the family felt a need to be near the funerals because of
their sadness, and the inexplicable nature of the crime.
“You don’t expect funerals with little caskets,” Mr. Rosiak said.
His daughter Charlotte, 10, said she left a message at an impromptu shrine of
flowers and candles outside the church.
“There’s no right of people to do this to little kids,” she said. “They’re
January 5, 2012
The New York Times
By MATT FLEGENHEIMER
Mourners gathered at the august Saint Thomas Church on Fifth
Avenue on Thursday, to remember the three girls killed in the Christmas morning
fire that ravaged the waterfront home in Stamford, Conn., of their mother,
As funeral staff carried flowers and other adornments into the church, attendees
were handed programs with a picture of the girls — each with a wide smile — and
the dates of their births and deaths. Lilian Elizabeth Badger: August 29, 2002 -
December 25, 2011. Sarah Hudson Badger and Grace McCarthy Badger, twin sisters:
October 15, 2004 - December 25, 2011.
Family and friends embraced one another on the church steps, saying little. Some
wore sunglasses to conceal tears; some wore fur coats. When mourners walked into
the sanctuary, attendees were greeted with holiday wreaths along the church
walls. The church was filled to capacity well before the service began.
The program said that three songs would be performed to honor the three sisters:
“Amazing Grace,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Over the Rainbow.”
Members of Stamford’s fire rescue team arrived around 9:45 a.m. Ms. Badger and
the girls’ father, Matthew Badger, and other family members were expected to
arrive shortly before the service was to begin.
The girls were killed, along with their grandparents, during a Christmas morning
fire that engulfed Ms. Badger’s waterfront home in Stamford, Conn. Ms. Badger
and a family friend, Michael Borcina, escaped the blaze, but the family and
firefighters could not rescue the three sisters.
Mr. Borcina told fire officials he had tried to flee with two of the girls, but
perhaps amid the chaos of the smoke and flames, the girls apparently panicked
and turned around, according to the Stamford fire chief, Antonio J. Conte.
The third child was found sitting atop a stack of books near a window of the
home, Chief Conte said. It is believed that the girls’ grandfather, Lomer
Johnson, may have placed them there to help his granddaughter escape.
The fire began, officials said, after Mr. Borcina removed embers from the
fireplace about two hours before the fire erupted and put them in a bag, which
he then placed in either the house’s mudroom or an adjacent trash enclosure.
Family and close friends attended a private wake on Wednesday at the Frank E.
Campbell funeral chapel, the Upper East Side home that has handled the funeral
Thursday’s memorial was to be followed by a private service at Woodlawn Cemetery
in the Bronx.
The New York Times
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR
and JULIET LINDERMAN
and grief clutching Borough Park in Brooklyn, thousands of mourners and
residents poured into a neighborhood courtyard Wednesday evening for the funeral
of an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy who was abducted and killed this week as he walked
home from camp.
The funeral for the boy, which was held entirely in Yiddish, swelled to capacity
before its scheduled start time at 8:30, prompting many of the thousands who
could not get in to gather behind police barricades, crowding neighborhood
streets as they waited to pay their respects to the young boy, Leiby Kletzky,
whose remains were discovered earlier in the day. Throngs of police officers and
members of a local security patrol group, the shomrim, kept order as a steady
stream of visitors poured into the courtyard, adjacent to a school between 16th
and 17th Avenues, within two blocks of where the boy lived. One shomrim
volunteer estimated that close to 8,000 people were in attendance.
“We need to separate like the Red Sea so the family can get through,” one
Inside, a large gathering of mourners in Orthodox and traditional modest dress —
men and women separated as per custom — clutched leather-bound prayer books and
chanted, some in tears, others stoic. Two elderly women known for their charity
work passed around tins for donations, or tzedakah. Bottles of water and boxes
of tissues were passed through the audience. Upfront, the women in Leiby’s
family sat together, their heads covered in scarves and their faces etched with
The service began shortly before 10 p.m., and was marked by a speech from the
boy’s father, whose voice shook as he stood before the crowd and addressed his
dead son, saying in Yiddish that he was lucky to have had him, if only for nine
“Thank God we had him,” he said, according to a translator.
And then, overcome by emotion, he went silent. A moment later the principal of
Leiby’s school spoke.
“He got lost, he got lost,” he said, according to the translator. “There’s
nothing to say, he got lost. God wanted it.” Several rabbis also spoke in
Yiddish through intermittent tears, repeatedly breaking down. They extolled the
boy’s good qualities, and reminded the community to be careful, urging the
adults to protect their children. At one point the rabbi of the synagogue that
Leiby attended recalled the boy’s devotion to his studies.
“He was such a good learner,” the rabbi said, according to a translation. “He
used to pray all day. It was a pleasure to have him in the class. We’re not the
boss. Everything is as God wanted it.”
The funeral came only hours after the family learned the news that their search
for Leiby, who disappeared on Monday, had come to a devastating end. According
to investigators, the boy — who would have turned 9 this month — was on his way
to meet his parents after leaving the Nechmod Day Camp, at the Yeshiva Boyan at
1205 44th Street, on Monday afternoon when he got lost and asked for directions.
His parents reported him missing, and surveillance footage later showed him in
the company of a man the police identified as Levi Aron, 35, a local supply
store clerk. The police said Mr. Aron took Leiby to his home, killed him, and
cut up his body, parts of which were found in a refrigerator-freezer in Mr.
Aron’s tiny attic apartment, less than two miles from the Kletzky home. He was
charged Wednesday night with second degree murder. The news devastated the
tight-knit community of Borough Park, where residents had raised reward money
for Leiby’s return and formed search parties, scouring the streets in the days
he was missing.
“We feel like we lost one of our own,” said Leah Rosenberg, a resident who
showed up at the funeral. “He was everybody’s child. There was a pregnant woman
dismembered in this neighborhood about 20 years ago. This brings it all back.
It’s like ripping open an old wound. It’s a new pain and an old pain.
“Our hearts convey our condolences,” she added, before bursting into tears.
Some of those in attendance said they had viewed their community as relatively
safe, and noted that a certain level of trust that had been implicit had
suddenly been destroyed.
“I don’t even know the family, but I feel like it’s a community tragedy,” said
Claire Wercberger, 54, a nursery school teacher who attended the funeral. “I’m
devastated, horrified. There are no words. To say it’s a nightmare is an
understatement. Everybody is heartbroken. It’s an unbelievable situation. It
makes me much more on guard as a teacher and as a community member.”
Quinlan and Liz Robbins contributed reporting.
Prices are rising because of increased regulation,
the industry says.
But in the
hard-sell funeral game,
the truth is less savoury
Monday 28 March 2011
his article was published on guardian.co.uk
at 14.02 BST on Monday 28 March
It was last modified at 14.29 BST
on Monday 28 March 2011.
In Germany, Radio Galaxy recently ran a morbid competition:
win, and receive a cheque to cover your funeral costs. The €3,000 (£2,578) prize
money would actually be applied to funeral insurance, not funeral costs directly
– which is probably a good thing, since it's at the low end of the scale when it
comes to paying for a German funeral. The average cost comes in between €2,000
For those who have never had the displeasure of planning a funeral, the shock at
the price tag can be significant. In the last six years, funeral costs in the UK
have risen by 50%. The US National Funeral Directors Association says a funeral
costs, on average, about $8,000 (£5,000). There are a lot of funerals that go
into quintuple digits; a coffin alone can cost upwards of $10,000 (£6,200), with
a myriad of padding and hidden costs thrown in. Refrigeration. Embalming.
Casketing. Preparation of the body. Viewing. Compensation for religious
officiants. Flowers. Vaults. Grave liners. Gaskets and seals. Grave markers.
Opening the grave. Closing the grave. Opening the vault. Closing the vault. The
grave, or cremation. Transport. Administrative fees. Facility rental.
Funeral directors suggest this is the result of increased regulation, causing
higher consumer costs as funeral homes pass on their operating expenses. The
truth is much less savory.
In 1963, Jessica Mitford published The American Way of Death, an exposé of US
funeral practices. Funeral directors were outraged by the book, which covered
the seamy side of the industry with attentive detail. She covered exploitative
sales techniques used by funeral directors, such as the meticulous arrangement
of coffins to exploit the most from consumers. Funeral directors, Mitford
informed readers, would manipulate low-income clients by arranging coffins of
mediocre quality at a roughly affordable price, with a few nicer specimens.
Shocked by the cost, consumers would ask to see less expensive options, and
would be shown to an array of cardboard boxes. "Oh, OK," they would say, taking
the expensive coffin. Because you'd be ashamed to bury a family member in a
cardboard box, wouldn't you?
Mitford didn't stop there, pointing out that funeral directors would look up
benefits due to survivors and carefully pitch the price of the funeral, leaving
survivors penniless after covering the expenses while assuring them that they
were getting a special deal. Mitford also noted the push towards open casket
funerals and other associated expenses, and warned British readers that far from
being a series of curious practices across the pond, the American funeral
industry was working on exporting itself to Britain. Funeral trends tend to
cross from the US to Britain, and those trends can add significantly to the
price at the same time that people come to expect them, and feel like a funeral
is incomplete without them.
Mitford's exposé resulted in radical reforms for the funeral industry in the US,
perhaps most exemplified by the Federal Trade Commission's funeral rule, which
specifically bars many of the practices detailed in her book, which elevated
consumer awareness about the pitfalls of pre-need funeral sales, a growth area
in the worldwide funeral industry.
The industry surrounding death, they say, is structured to provide support and
assistance to people in their time of need so they feel less isolated and alone,
so they can focus on the details of the memorial and grieving rather than having
to handle administrative errata. It's a selfless service, providing care to the
But of course, it's also a for-profit enterprise. Workers do not do this out of
the goodness of their hearts, and the industry is heavily dominated by a handful
of very large corporations interested in bottom lines with vertical monopolies
to make sure they get it – a problem that hasn't gone away in the wake of
Mitford's exposé, as indicated by comments filed by the Funeral Consumer's
Alliance in 1997. You may go through a home, cemetery or crematorium, florist
and so forth, all owned by the same company, all billing at rates that company
likes, with little recourse for you unless you want to care for your own dead,
which a lot of people do not or cannot do, depending on regional laws.
As funeral costs continue to rise, poor communities are hit the hardest. Funeral
homes claim to provide funerals to everyone who needs them at prices they can
afford, but "afford" is a nebulous term, and what people can literally bear may
not necessarily be what they can "afford". Life insurance settlements and
pensions are quickly eaten through by funeral costs, and people end up in the
same position they were in before the funeral. In many communities, deaths,
particularly of young people, are followed by community fundraisers to cover
funeral costs – because their families would be bankrupted by the expense.
People want to do the right thing by the people they lose, want to care for
their dead, want them to go out in style, and of course they are going to be
susceptible to suggestion; sure, you could use that cheap casket. If you wanted.
I'm sure it would be fine for your mother. She wasn't picky about her
The New York Times
By LAURA M. HOLSON
In an age
of commemorating birthdays, weddings and anniversaries on Facebook and Twitter,
it was perhaps inevitable that live Web-streaming funerals for friends and loved
ones would be next.
It is no surprise that the deaths of celebrities, like Michael Jackson, or
honored political figures, like the United States diplomat Richard Holbrooke,
are promoted as international Web events. So, too, was the memorial service for
the six people killed Jan. 8 in Tucson, which had thousands of viewers on the
But now the once-private funerals and memorials of less-noted citizens are also
Several software companies have created easy-to-use programs to help funeral
homes cater to bereaved families. FuneralOne a one-stop shop for online
memorials that is based in St. Clair, Mich., has seen the number of funeral
homes offering Webcasts increase to 1,053 in 2010, from 126 in 2008 (it also
sells digital tribute DVDs).
During that same period, Event by Wire, a competitor in Half Moon Bay, Calif.,
watched the number of funeral homes live-streaming services jump to 300 from 80.
And this month, the Service Corporation International in Houston, which owns
2,000 funeral homes and cemeteries, including the venerable Frank E. Campbell
funeral chapel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, said it was conducting a
pilot Webcasting program at 16 of its funeral homes.
Traveling to funerals was once an important family rite, but with greater
secularity and a mobile population increasingly disconnected from original
hometowns, watching a funeral online can seem better than not going to a funeral
at all. Social media, too, have redrawn the communal barriers of what is
acceptable when relating to parents, siblings, friends and acquaintances.
“We are in a YouTube society now,” said H. Joseph Joachim IV, founder of
FuneralOne. “People are living more than ever online, and this reflects that.”
Some of the Web-streamed funerals reflect the large followings gathered by
individuals. On Jan. 11, more than 7,000 people watched the Santa Ana, Calif.,
funeral of Debbie Friedman, an iconic singer whose music combined Jewish text
with folk rhythm. It was seen on Ustream, a Web video service, with more than
20,000 viewing it on-demand in the days that followed.
“We intended to watch a few minutes, but ended up watching almost the whole
thing,” said Noa Kushner, a rabbi in San Anselmo, Calif., and a fan of Ms.
Friedman’s music, who watched the service with a friend at his office. “I was so
After Stefanie Spielman, a breast cancer activist and the wife of the popular
National Football League player Chris Spielman, died in 2009, the Spielmans
wanted a private ceremony attended by 900 friends and family members, said Lajos
Szabo, the chief strategy officer at Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service
in Columbus, Ohio, which arranged the funeral. But they also hoped to
accommodate members of the public, who wanted to support the family in its
grief. Streamed live and posted online, Ms. Spielman’s funeral has been viewed
4,663 times by 2,989 visitors since November 2009, according to FuneralOne.
Other Webcasts are more obscure, but no less appreciated. Two weeks ago, a
friend of Ronald Rich, a volunteer firefighter in Wallace, N.C., died
unexpectedly. When Mr. Rich called the mother of his friend to say he could not
make the eight-hour drive to the funeral because a snowstorm threatened to close
roads, he said the mother offered to send an e-mail invitation so he could watch
the service online. Mr. Rich said he watched the funeral: first by himself and a
second time with his girlfriend.
“It was comforting to me,” he said, adding that he planned to watch it again
with fellow firefighters.
The technology to put funerals online has been around for a decade but was slow
to catch on with an industry understandably sensitive to questions of etiquette.
Some funeral directors eschew streaming funerals live because they do not want
to replace a communal human experience with a solitary digital one, said John
Reed, a past president of the National Funeral Directors Association. Other
funeral directors worry that if the quality of the video is poor, it will
reflect badly on the funeral home.
And the conversation about whether to stream a funeral online can be awkward,
particularly if a grief-stricken family is wary of technology. Funeral directors
are conservative, Mr. Reed said; privacy, even for the Facebook generation, is
paramount. “We don’t jump on the first thing that comes along,” he said.
Still, some funeral directors offer the service for free (Mr. Reed is one of
them) while others charge $100 to $300. If a family wants to keep the online
service private, those invited get a password that allows access. (Mr. Joachim
said 94 percent of the funerals his company Webcast were not
Not all real-life funeral attendees want their images captured online. Irene
Dahl, an owner of Dahl Funeral Chapel in Bozeman, Mont., said a young man went
to a funeral last year dressed as a woman and asked not to be filmed. “He did
not want his mother to know,” Ms. Dahl said. “So we did not face the camera in
Ms. Dahl said that nearly one-third of the ceremonies arranged by her funeral
home last year — about 60 — were streamed live, at no extra charge. She became
interested in this option after Dan Grumley, the chief executive of Event by
Wire, visited her in 2008 and showed her how it worked.
“Being a funeral director is about helping people with their grief,” she said.
Russell Witek, the 14-year-old son of Karen Witek of Geneva, Ill., died of a
brain tumor in 2009. The Conley Funeral Home in Elburn, Ill., offered to stream
the funeral live to friends and family members. “We said, ‘Why not?’ ” Ms. Witek
said. Her brother-in-law was working in the Middle East and could not attend.
Russell’s home health nurse was out of town. “It was spring break,” Ms. Witek
She had met a number of friends on social media sites, including a patient-care
support group and another for parents who home-schooled their children, and they
could not attend, either. “I wanted them to experience it,” Ms. Witek said.
According to Conley Funeral Home, 186 people watched the funeral live on April
3, 2009, with an additional 511 watching it on-demand through Jan. 15.
Ms. Witek said her husband had watched the funeral more than once, “because he
wanted to hear what was said that day,” but said she couldn’t bring herself to
view it, except in parts. “After a child dies, you go into a fog.”
But for William Uzenski, the father of Nicholas Uzenski, a Marine serving in
Afghanistan who was killed on Jan. 11, 2010, live Web-streaming has provided
much comfort. Mr. Uzenski’s body was transported to his home, Bozeman, 10 days
later. William Uzenski, himself a former Marine, said he wanted Nicholas’s
military colleagues in Afghanistan to be able to watch the funeral. So Ms. Dahl
arranged it through a military liaison who was assisting the family.
Ms. Dahl said that, unlike many streamed funerals, Nicholas Uzenski’s had three
separate Webcasts and was invitation-only. The Webcasts included the arrival of
his coffin at a local airport, the funeral and a graveside ceremony that his
family said included a 21-gun salute. Ms. Dahl tracked virtual attendees. The
funeral and the graveside ceremony were watched by 124 and 39 people,
respectively, with the funeral viewed in 80 cities and 4 countries, including
“Some e-mailed me,” Mr. Uzenski said. “Friends thanked us for sharing it with
them. I do watch it again sometimes. I don’t know why, but I guess it’s
January 13, 2011
The New York Times
By SAM DOLNICK and MARC LACEY
TUCSON — The first funeral in the aftermath of Saturday’s
shooting rampage might turn out to be the most heart-wrenching.
Christina-Taylor Green, age 9, was wheeled from church in a child-size coffin to
the mournful strain of bagpipes on Thursday, having become the focus for much of
the grief that has enveloped this community — and the nation — since the
shootings that left 6 dead and 14 injured.
Christina’s clear-eyed gaze, her enthusiasm — baseball, dance and student
council were all passions — and the randomness in which she was killed made her
death particularly devastating, for grown-ups, President Obama among them, and
for her contemporaries.
As the president noted, she was attending the event at which she was shot
because of a blossoming interest in politics and American democracy. “I want us
to live up to her expectations,” Mr. Obama said at a memorial service for the
victims Wednesday evening at the University of Arizona. “I want our democracy to
be as good as she imagined it.”
Christina’s Little League baseball team, the Pirates, will wear patches on its
uniforms honoring Christina. The league is trying to get players across the
country, from T-ball to the major leagues, to consider doing the same. Teams in
California, Colorado and Florida have already bought patches.
Oro Valley, a Tucson suburb, is considering naming a baseball field where she
played after her, city officials said.
The raw emotion was on display inside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic
Church on Thursday, where more than 1,500 mourners of all ages were packed in
tight; and outside, where there were more mourners; and down the winding road,
where hundreds more waited and watched; and across the city. Some dressed in
white, others in baseball uniforms. Some wore angel wings. Others carried teddy
bears or bouquets of flowers.
The funeral felt almost like a state affair, with rows of politicians, officers
in dress uniforms and the bagpipes. It was the biggest service anyone in Tucson
Toward the end, her father, John Green, rose to speak. He looked out at the
crowd. He swallowed. And then, in a scratchy, baritone voice he said her name,
slowly: “Christina-Taylor Green.”
He described a girl who picked blackberries in the summer and went sledding in
the winter. Most times, she was the one directing the other kids in their
adventures. He told of her and her mother, Roxanna, dressing up “to the nines”
and dancing around the house.
At one of the roadside memorials that have popped up around Tucson for Christina
and the other victims, a somber Mary Palma and her two grandchildren, Isaac and
Eva, stopped to pay their respects, and to grapple with the recent events. “It’s
hard for kids to understand that something like this could happen, and it’s hard
for me,” said Ms. Palma. “They didn’t know Christina, but they know her now.
Everyone knows her.”
Christina was born on Sept. 11, 2001. A flag from the World Trade Center,
brought to Tucson by representatives of the New York City Fire Department, flew
outside the church for the funeral.
Mr. Green said his daughter’s birthday had given her an understanding of
tragedy, and it sparked an interest in civic affairs that brought her to meet
Representative Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday.
She had a younger brother, Dallas, and she loved to swim. She was the hero of
Mailey Moser, the 5-year-old little sister of one of her baseball teammates.
Mailey would wriggle from her mother’s grasp to sneak into the dugout and sit
next to Christina.
At Christina’s school, Mesa Verde Elementary, where students have been holding
difficult discussions about death this week, it was quieter than usual as many
students, teachers and administrators left to spend the day at the funeral. Out
front was a memorial with messages to Christina. There was a photograph of her
hugging her friend Serenity, who wrote, “Christina remember this photo, it was
our first sleepover.”
During lunch this week, Kayley Clark, 9, called her mother at home to say that
she did not want to eat the school meal of turkey tacos. She has never done that
before, her mother said. Getting dressed in the morning, she has been unusually
picky about what colors to wear, as if the decision might be her last.
“You know that could have been your kid there outside the supermarket standing
right where Christina was standing, when the shooting broke out,” said Leah
Simmers, 30, a mother of three. “This hit close to home for every mother I
And for every child, including her son, Dillon, 8, a second grader. “A girl like
that should not be shot,” he said, noting that she was just a year older than he
Suzi Hileman, the neighbor who brought Christina to meet Ms. Giffords, is still
at the hospital recovering from her gunshot wounds and struggling with feelings
of guilt. As soon as Mrs. Hileman’s ventilator was removed for the first time
Saturday night, she turned to her husband, Bill, and asked, “What about
Christina?” In her foggy morphine haze, Mr. Hileman said, she has screamed out,
Baseball was in Christina’s blood. Her father is a scout for the Los Angeles
Dodgers and her grandfather, Dallas Green, managed the 1980 World Series
champion Philadelphia Phillies.
She was the only girl on the Pirates, the only one with shoulder-length hair
peeking from the green and yellow cap. She brought a mix of playfulness and grit
to the team. She spent a week negotiating the terms of a race in the outfield
between the players and the coach: kids run forward, coach runs backward, winner
gets ice cream. The kids won.
She climbed mesquite trees after practice. While playing second base during
warm-ups on a hot desert day, she sang a pop song to herself, and quickly
brought in the first baseman and right fielder into her chorus.
But she was a tough player, too. Once, with the bases loaded, she drove a hard
line drive up the middle, bringing in two runs.
Another time, after a dispute at second base on whether the runner was out, she
stepped in and settled things. And then there was the time when, after getting
hit by a pitch, she had the option of taking the base or staying at bat. She
stayed to hit — and she did, on the very next pitch.
During his eulogy, Mr. Green delivered a message, inspired by Christina’s life,
to everyone who had been touched by her.
“Everybody’s going to be O.K.,” he said. “She would want that.”
Carli Brousseau, Jennifer Medina and Anissa Tanweer
It is a president’s responsibility to salve a national wound.
President Obama did that on Wednesday evening at the memorial service in Tucson
for the six people who died in last weekend’s terrible shooting. It was one of
his most powerful and uplifting speeches.
Mr. Obama called on ideological campaigners to stop vilifying their opponents.
The only way to move forward after such a tragedy, he said, is to cast aside
“point-scoring and pettiness.” He rightly focused primarily on the lives of
those who died and the heroism of those who tried to stop the shooter and save
the victims. He urged prayers for the 14 wounded, including Representative
Gabrielle Giffords, the target of the rampage. Their stories needed to be told,
their lives celebrated and mourned.
It was important that Mr. Obama transcend the debate about whose partisanship
has been excessive and whose words have sown the most division and dread. This
page and many others have identified those voices and called on them to stop
demonizing their political opponents. The president’s role in Tucson was to
comfort and honor, and instill hope.
This horrific event, he said, should be a turning point for everyone — “not
because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a
more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as
He also said that after a senseless tragedy it is natural to try to impose some
meaning. Wisely, he did not try. But he was right to warn that any proposals to
reduce this kind of bloodshed will remain out of reach if political discourse
remains deeply polarized. Two of those essential proposals, we believe, are gun
safety laws and improvement to the mental health system, and it was heartening
to hear the president bring them up.
Mr. Obama noted that several of Saturday’s victims were struck down as they
performed public service. Ms. Giffords was engaging in the most fundamental act
of a representative: meeting with her constituents to hear their concerns.
Gabriel Zimmerman, her murdered aide, had set up the “Congress on Your Corner”
event. John Roll, the murdered federal judge who lived nearby, came into the
line of fire while thanking Ms. Giffords for helping to ease his court’s crowded
Many of the other victims were performing one of citizenship’s most basic
duties: listening to and questioning one of their political representatives.
Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old student council president who was killed,
was brought there by a neighbor because of her interest in politics.
The president’s words were an important contrast to the ugliness that continues
to swirl in some parts of the country. The accusation by Sarah Palin that
“journalists and pundits” had committed a “blood libel” when they raised
questions about overheated rhetoric was especially disturbing, given the grave
meaning of that phrase in the history of the Jewish people.
Earlier in the day, the speaker of the House, John Boehner, and the minority
leader, Nancy Pelosi, issued their own, very welcome, calls to rise above
partisanship. It is in that arena where Wednesday’s high-minded pledges will be
Mr. Obama said that it must be possible for Americans to question each other’s
ideas without questioning their love of country. We hope all of America’s
leaders, and all Americans, will take that to heart.
September 4, 2009
The New York Times
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
GLENDALE, Calif. — More than two months after he died, and following a steady
trickle of gossip over how and where he would be laid to rest, family members
and friends gathered Thursday night for a private entombment of Michael Jackson
at a highly guarded mausoleum in a Los Angeles suburb.
With closed streets, nervous guards and restricted airspace over the grounds,
the proceedings were taking on the feel of a presidential visit at the cemetery,
Forest Lawn Glendale, where guests began arriving for an evening service.
Only a smattering of fans of Mr. Jackson, one the biggest-selling entertainers
of all time, gathered at blockaded streets around the cemetery, with one group
unfurling a large white banner that read in part “Gone too Soon.”
Members of the news media — 460 people from the around the world received
credentials — far outnumbered the fans, and they greeted every car turning into
the gated grounds with a bouquet of camera flashes and quizzical looks. Was that
Elizabeth Taylor? Joe Jackson?
The police had the streets and airspace around Forest Lawn virtually locked
down, in keeping with the family’s wishes that the service be invitation only.
A memorial service attended by several thousand fans, family members and friends
had already been held for Mr. Jackson, 50, who died June 25. The memorial, on
July 7 at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, took place in the arena
where he had been rehearsing for a series of London concerts expected to revive
But the family never announced burial plans, and news station helicopters lost
track of the hearse carrying his gleaming gold coffin after it left the arena.
Representatives of Mr. Jackson inquired about a burial at the Neverland Ranch he
lived in for several years until after his acquittal on child molesting charges
in 2005, but that proposal would entail months of red tape, local and state
A couple of weeks ago, his family announced he would be entombed at Forest Lawn
Glendale, joining Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, W. C. Fields and
many other famed Hollywood figures.
The cemetery, about eight miles north of downtown Los Angeles, covers 300
verdant acres and includes the statue-studded, castle-like Great Mausoleum that
was chosen as Mr. Jackson’s final resting place.
The cemetery prides itself on a high level of security, with guards shooing away
loiterers and restricting mausoleum visits largely to people authorized by the
family of the deceased.
Mark Masek, who maintains cemeteryguide.com, which tracks entertainers’ graves,
said that a couple of weeks ago guards stopped him from taking pictures outside
the mausoleum and forced him to delete the images.
“They are not kidding,” he said, predicting fans would have trouble finding and
documenting Mr. Jackson’s crypt.
“If they wanted to restrict access and keep people out, they could not have
picked a better place,” he said.
William Martin, a spokesman for the cemetery, declined to discuss security
arrangements for Mr. Jackson’s crypt or what steps might be taken to keep out
“We are very cognizant of what may happen in the near future, and we are taking
the necessary steps,” he said.
The Glendale police have said the family will pay for the costs of security for
the event. The police asked for and received a restriction on the airspace to
safeguard helicopter patrols, a police spokesman said.
A judge Wednesday approved Mr. Jackson’s estate paying the costs, with the total
described in court papers as “extraordinary,” but the actual amount blacked out.
A Glendale police spokesman, Tom Lorenz, said police costs would be no more than
The family bought a bloc of 12 spaces in the mausoleum as a single unit.
“Mrs. Jackson and her family wish to honor her son by a funeral that seeks to
offer solace to his multitude of fans and by which the family also may be
comforted,” Burt Levitch, a lawyer for the singer’s mother, Katherine Jackson,
wrote in a court declaration.
The investigation into Mr. Jackson’s death continues. The coroner has ruled he
died from a mix of the anesthetic propofol and another sedative, injected by
Mr. Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, has told investigators he
gave Mr. Jackson a mix of drugs, including propofol, to help him sleep, but it
is unclear whether he will face criminal charges. Dr. Murray’s lawyer has said
he did not cause Mr. Jackson’s death.
June 5, 2009
The New York Times
By N. R. KLEINFIELD
The men and women in blue scuffed their feet and chatted quietly, spread out
in spidery tangles. There were police officers everywhere, outside Al’s Food
Market and One Mary Nails and El Pancho Grocery.
The officers had not yet tugged on their white dress gloves, and many of them
had tucked them under their shoulder straps. One of the men brushed a wrinkle
from his jacket.
Rain dripped from the skies. No one wanted to be here. Everyone wanted to be
The elegant Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church on Throop Avenue in
Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, was where thousands of officers converged on
Thursday morning for the funeral of Officer Omar J. Edwards. He was only 25, a
man who had been one of them for not even two years and whose life was ended by
police bullets. If there was no expectation of meaningful understanding in one
two-hour service, there was at least hope of catharsis.
Some of the thousands of officers had come off shifts that had wound up only
hours before, and were rubbing sleep out of tired eyes. They slid into muffled,
random conversations. Some had come a long distance, because of the limitless
bond of a profession. Officer Brian Glover stood alone, because he knew no one.
He had driven up the night before from Washington, where he works. Originally
from Brooklyn, he stayed overnight with his parents.
“I had to be here,” he said. “We all wear a similar uniform. We do the same
Few of the New York officers knew the man they came to mourn either, and his
résumé was slim. That was not the point. You wanted to be here.
These sorts of funerals are always echoes, the recurring full police ceremony
known as the inspector’s funeral. It is how the Police Department buries
officers who die in the line of duty.
But every funeral is also its own, belonging to a single officer who led his own
life. This was the funeral of N.Y.P.D. Shield No. 12734.
He died while doing a job that does not always bestow second chances, and in the
worst way possible. On Thursday night last week, according to the police, he was
in plain clothes, gun drawn, chasing a man in Harlem who had broken into his
car. Mistaken for a criminal himself, he was shot three times by a fellow
officer, Andrew P. Dunton. It was the first time Officer Dunton had fired his
Fraternal shootings are extremely rare, and some think they should never happen.
But those were the circumstances that this was about.
It was also about this: Officer Edwards was black; Officer Dunton is white. Did
race matter? That combustible question was an inescapable undercurrent of the
funeral and remains lingering for the formal investigation. For now it had
unknown importance, and emotions about it, while evident on Throop Avenue, were
largely muted, conclusions hesitant to be drawn.
“You hope to never come to these things,” said Detective Robert Hood, who works
in the Bronx. “Today we just talked about how sad the situation was. You
wouldn’t have your deeper conversations at a funeral.”
The rows of officers, outfitted in their meticulous navy blue uniforms, swiveled
their heads, looking for what they knew had to come.
Led by pipers and drummers beating black-draped drums, the hearse crawled past
the long blue line, and with gripping sadness they all saluted.
Six officers carried the coffin inside. A piper played “Amazing Grace.”
The majority could not nearly squeeze into the sanctuary, and so they remained
huddled outside, listening with damp eyes to the proceedings over loudspeakers.
The officer’s wife, Danielle, sat weeping up front, with their two sleeping
young sons, Xavier, 1 ½, and Keanu, 7 months. Some mourners wore T-shirts with
Officer Edwards’s picture emblazoned on them.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told of how Officer Edwards had wanted to be on the
police force since he was 5, and how his allegiance to the New York Giants was
so intense that when the team lost, “he refused to take phone calls for the rest
of the day, especially from William, his father-in-law, who for some reason
roots for the Dallas Cowboys.”
Officer Edwards was still a rookie, his probation not scheduled to be up until
next month. But the mayor announced his posthumous promotion to detective,
retroactive for a year, allowing more generous death benefits for his family.
“He protected our city,” the mayor said, “and he built a better city.”
The Rev. Paul W. Jervis, the church’s pastor, was the only eulogizer who
mentioned Officer Dunton, saying that he “now lives to regret the fatal results
from what he did in the line of duty.” He added: “He too needs compassion.
Officer Dunton needs our prayers.”
Officer Dunton did not attend, according to a person familiar with his plans,
because he did not want to be a distraction. While the funeral was going on,
both he and members of the 25th Precinct anticrime team attended a church
service near his home in Suffolk County.
Father Jervis said, “Officer Omar Edwards would not have died in vain if the
circumstances of his death could teach our policemen and women of all races to
avoid similar experiences in the future.”
In his eulogy, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly drew laughter when he said,
“I’ve heard that after Omar graduated from the academy he was so proud of his
police shield that he wore it around the apartment.”
When his locker was opened, Mr. Kelly said, they found a photo of his sons
inside his police cap.
Of his death, he said: “We owe Omar’s family our deepest sympathy, our
everlasting loyalty and a total accounting of the facts. We owe it to Omar to
learn from this tragic event and to remember him as he was in life.”
The coffin, covered with the green-and-white police flag, was hoisted into the
hearse a final time. A bugler played taps. Police helicopters thundered overhead
in missing-man formation. The hearse was to carry the coffin containing the dead
police officer to St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, on Long Island, where it
would go into the ground.
The silent officers watched it gently accelerate into the lengthening distance,
and the exodus began. The weather had turned better, and the skies had cleared.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A week or so ago, Duane Marsh noticed an elderly couple
from Iowa standing hesitantly at the door of the Museum of Funeral Customs, a
shrine here to embalming tools, coffins and other artifacts of the rites of
“This is his idea, not mine,” Mr. Marsh recalled the woman saying, as she
pointed at her husband. “I’m not sure I want to go in.”
Mr. Marsh, the executive director of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association,
which operates the museum, was able to convince the woman that it was really not
such a ghoulish place, and then led the couple on a tour.
A stone’s throw from Lincoln’s tomb, this unusual cultural repository is an
unmistakable reminder that everyone’s days are numbered. Now it seems the same
might be true of the museum itself.
Unable to attract enough visitors — the Iowa woman is apparently not the only
one who gets the creeps about this place — the museum is struggling to stay
alive. The curator position has been eliminated, and the museum’s hours have
been cut to appointments only.
These have been difficult days in Springfield, the Illinois capital, as the
economy has nose-dived and many people have lost their jobs. Not even funeral
parlors are immune, Mr. Marsh said, as survivors sometimes choose thriftier ways
to pay respects.
The association of funeral directors has had other problems, too. A trust it
once managed — focused on “pre-need” funeral planning — declined sharply in
value, prompting a handful of civil lawsuits alleging financial mismanagement.
Although the museum used no money from the trust, Mr. Marsh said, the
association’s budget took a hit.
But the museum’s problems are more basic: Since its founding in 1999, it has
failed to become a destination. In recent years, the museum has attracted about
8,000 customers annually; tickets for adults are $4 and those for children are
$2. It has not been nearly enough to cover expenses.
“The original idea was that we’d get enough spillover from people visiting the
Lincoln sites,” Mr. Marsh said. “But for whatever reason, that just hasn’t
happened. When a business isn’t paying its way, as everyone knows, you have
Smack in the center of Illinois, surrounded by corn and soybean fields, this
city is mostly known for colorful politicians (prosecutors have used the word
corrupt) and tourism ventures that almost invariably make some tie to Honest
The funeral museum has a replica of the coffin that carried Lincoln from
Washington to Springfield in 1865. It also features embalming equipment, a
horse-drawn hearse from the 1920s, a long black Cadillac that carried the dead
in the 1970s and black mourning clothes worn in the Victorian era. The museum
explores the differences among religions and cultures in marking death, pointing
out that slaves held funerals deep into the night because many plantation owners
refused to give them a break from work during the day.
Plenty of people in Springfield say they would lament the passing of the funeral
museum. Sarah Vaughn, an assistant manager at the Feed Store, a restaurant
across from the Old State Capitol, said that it had been several years since she
had visited the museum, but that she would never forget it.
“It’s really quite a cool place,” Ms. Vaughn said. “I know that sounds macabre
to say. But it’s very interesting. I remember learning about Native American
burials when I went there. It’ll be sad for Springfield if it closes.”
Mr. Marsh, a second-generation mortician who lived in a funeral home until he
was 6, said the museum helped “demystify” notions about what happens to the body
after death. He recalled some difficult moments when he worked as a funeral
director, especially the times he had to prepare the body of a child. “I
remember one time I got so tearful,” he said, “that I just had to get up and
walk away for a while.”
But he said a wake can be a heartening experience, too, a chance for people to
tell stories and laugh and share their fondness for a lost loved one. “I’m
telling you,” he said, “there were times when you couldn’t tell if it was a
funeral or a wedding.”
A gift shop at the funeral museum includes key chains and paper weights that
look like little coffins, and books on funeral customs like “Do It Yourself
Tombstone.” There are coffin-shaped chocolates and even T-shirts emblazoned with
the words “Everybody’s Gotta Go Sometime.”
Mr. Marsh said he was working on a plan to keep the museum from closing, but he
would not disclose details. He said a decision would be made soon.
“This is valuable history,” he said. “Can we save the museum? I’m determined to
find a way to make it work.”
Sunday, 13 July 2008
The New York Times
By Paul Bignell
Increasing numbers of people are choosing coffins that reflect their idea of a
beautiful final resting place. From Rolls-Royce cars and ballet shoes to
environmentally friendly wicker casks, people are spending more time planning
for their time six feet under.
The latest company to join the market is Guernsey-based Creative Coffins, which
has turned to biodegradable cardboard to provide a green alternative to wooden
coffins. The firm, originally a design agency, also saw a market for printing on
"As far as we're concerned, it's just packaging," said Geed Kelly, co-founder of
The company began producing coffins in May, and its website has been inundated
with requests. "We get hundreds of enquiries every week," said Mr Kelly. "We've
had interest from Hollywood to Australia, and South Africa to Indonesia. We've
had very positive feedback from funeral directors."
Creative Coffins started after a simple request from a friend who was planning
his funeral but couldn't find an environmentally friendly coffin. It is now
producing caskets that range from £295 off-the-shelf to £1,250 bespoke. Designs
vary from garden sheds with the words "gone to seed" to wine-bottle motifs.
Other companies have likewise seen an increase in sales of alternative funeral
supplies. Mary Tomes, founder of Colourful Coffins, said: "Since we started
about five years ago, it's really begun gaining in popularity.
"We've sold over 2,500 coffins since we started and we're trebling the number we
sell each year. We've just done one with a painted aquarium on it with the
gentleman's favourite fish."
Dr Bill Webster, a bereavement counsellor, said: "It's a symbolic act to have
this personalised colourful coffin. They are saying their loved one was
Dr Webster, whose wife died in 1983, says people do not talk about death enough,
or their plans for when it happens: "We avoid it as much as we can. When death
happens, we wonder: 'What would they want?' I believe a good funeral is the
beginning of a healthy grief process."
However, Adam Heath, spokesman for the National Association of Funeral
Directors, warns that the business of selecting coffins needs to be taken
seriously: "I'm slightly reserved about some of the more wacky ones – you don't
want people regretting the choice of design years later."
March 12, 2007
The New York Times
By FERNANDA SANTOS
Francisco’s Funeraria in East Harlem is not a large operation; when someone
calls about a body in the middle of the night, the phone rings at the home of
Elefterios Filipoussis, the funeral director.
Since early Thursday, Mr. Filipoussis has barely slept. Four days of near
incessant work was evident in the dark circles under his eyes. It also was
evident in the meticulous display prepared yesterday in a bare-walled viewing
Nine unvarnished boxes were aligned at the far end of the room, the heads of
each pointed east, toward Mecca. On the lids were the names of the dead scrawled
in thick black ink, in English and in Arabic.
Some of the boxes lay on gurneys; others rested on dark pedestals, including the
one that held the 7-month-old twins. The smallest, just under 3 feet long, for a
1-year-old boy, was propped on two foldout chairs.
The room held a faint scent of pine, the wood of which the boxes were made. The
boxes bore nine children and one adult who perished in an unforgiving fire on
Wednesday in the narrow house they shared in the Bronx, a household of
immigrants from Mali and their American-born children.
“We had never cared for so many people from the same family at the same time,”
Mr. Filipoussis said.
Funeral homes frequently cater to a specific population, whether based on the
color of their skin, the country of their birth or the name of their God. But in
a city of intertwined cultures, overlapping religions and blurred ethnicities,
such divisions are not easy to maintain.
So it was that the Magassas and the Soumares were taken to a funeral home in a
Hispanic neighborhood run by the son of Greek immigrants and owned by a man with
an Irish name.
From a nondescript storefront on First Avenue, between a florist and a nail
salon, the funeral home has made it its business to serve whoever needs it, Mr.
Filipoussis said — the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans who make up the bulk of East
Harlem’s Hispanic residents, the area’s dwindling Italian population, the Irish
and blacks from adjoining neighborhoods. But Francisco’s also has a reputation
as a preferred mortuary for sub-Saharan immigrants from New York City and
“We don’t differentiate,” a weary Mr. Filipoussis said yesterday from behind the
front desk. “We never turn away a family.”
Just after noon on Thursday, he said, the bodies of the five Magassa children
began to arrive: Bilaly, 1; Djama, 3; Abudubary, 5; Mahamadou, 8; and
Bandiougou, 11. Then, on Friday, came the Soumares: the twins, Harouma and Sisi;
Djibril, 3; and their mother, Fatoumata, 42.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Filipoussis received the blaze’s latest fatality,
Hassing Soumare, 6. She died on Friday night, about 48 hours after the first
firefighters arrived at her home on Woodycrest Avenue in the Bronx.
Mr. Filipoussis said African Muslims had come from as far as Virginia to seek
his services. And the family of Amadou Diallo, the Guinean immigrant who died in
a barrage of police bullets in 1999, also sought the funeral home’s services.
The funeral parlor has always been a mirror of its neighborhood; in the 1950s it
was called the Ralph Giordano Funeral Chapel and in the 1970s the D. Grimaldi
Funeral Home. Mr. Filipoussis, 32, stocky and with a goatee, said he was not
quite sure how the funeral home came to attract so many Muslim families from
Africa; the owner, Timothy O’Brien, was away yesterday and unavailable to
But among Muslims, Francisco’s Funeraria has become known for its attention to
the painstaking rituals of Islamic burial.
Behind a thick door in Chapel A, where the pine boxes holding the Magassas and
the Soumares sat yesterday, is a tiled room with pale Formica cabinets along the
side walls. In the center is a steel bed where the bodies were laid one after
the other and washed with oils, warm water and clean cloths, Mr. Filipoussis
explained. The bed — shiny, cold to the touch — is slightly angled toward a sink
that collects the runoff.
Once the bodies were cleaned, they were wrapped in cotton shrouds and placed in
the boxes. “They’re ready to rest,” Mr. Filipoussis said.
The boxes will leave the funeral home today in eight hearses, bound for the
Islamic Cultural Center on East 166th Street in the Bronx, where services are
scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., after the noon prayers. If the weather allows, the
boxes will be carried outside and each will be assigned an imam, who will recite
the burial prayers over the coffins.
At the Islamic center yesterday, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Mali’s minister of
foreign affairs, Moctar Ouane, joined the grieving fathers, Moussa Magassa and
Mamadou Soumare, pledging to aid them however necessary. Inside the mosque,
Muslim men wept when Mr. Soumare recited in Arabic a verse from the Koran.
“Guide us to the straight way,” he said. “The way of those on whom you have
bestowed your grace, not the way of those who earn your anger nor those who went
Women and children listened from a back room, where they had met with Governor
Spitzer moments earlier. “It is one thing to read about it; it is another to see
in the eyes of children the loss that they have suffered,” the governor said
afterward. “It is very, very difficult.”
At a house across the street from the home that burned, Manthia Magassa, the
mother of five of the fire victims, sat on the edge of a bed on the first floor,
hugging visitors who came by to show their respects, while a group of women
cooked fish with spiced rice. Upstairs, children chased one another in a game of
Two of Mr. Magassa’s children and another wife remained hospitalized yesterday.
The condition of one of the children, a 7-year-old girl, was upgraded from
critical to stable, according to Hannah Nelson, a spokeswoman for Jacobi Medical
Center. The other child and the wife, Aisse, who are at Lincoln Medical and
Mental Health Center, were in fair condition and showing signs of improvement,
said Jill Brooker, a spokeswoman at the hospital.
Donations for the families continued to come in, including a $21,000 check from
the office of the Bronx borough president, Adolfo Carrión Jr., and 30 boxes of
clothing from a synagogue. On Friday, the New York Yankees offered to pay for
funeral expenses in the United States. A Long Island contractor said he would
rebuild the home ravaged by the fire, which is owned by Mr. Magassa. The
Metropolitan Transportation Authority is providing the families with four buses
to take mourners to Jersey State Memorial Park, a Muslim cemetery in Millstone
Township, in Monmouth County, N.J., where the Magassas will be buried this
The Soumares are to be buried in Mali, although it remained unclear whether Mr.
Soumare would have trouble returning to the United States afterward. City
officials said he was denied asylum in 1998 after immigration officials said he
failed to file the proper paperwork and missed a court appearance.
Francisco’s Funeraria plans to take his wife’s and children’s coffins to the
airport tomorrow; Air France will fly them free.
Mr. Filipoussis joined Francisco’s Funeraria when he was 24, drawn by the idea
of helping families in mourning, much as his own family received help after his
father died of skin cancer 16 years ago and was buried in the Greek island of
Tinos, where he grew up.
“I remember how distraught we were and how the funeral home made it easier for
us by being there for us, by not having us have to think about what we had to do
to bring my father home,” Mr. Filipoussis said. “That’s what I hope to do for
these two families who have lost so much.”
Just then, a white woman with green eyes and short gray hair walked in. He shook
her hand, offered his condolences and led her into his office.
September 16, 2006
The New York Times
By COREY KILGANNON
Juliet the carriage horse held forth for about
two decades on the south end of Central Park taking tourists on slow romantic
rides through the park. She was the cute white horse whose owner outfitted her
head with the elegant white tassel that bobbed as she clip-clopped ahead of her
carriage on loops from the Plaza Hotel to Tavern on the Green and other
But as elegant as Juliet was in life, she was undeniably inelegant in death on a
rainy morning yesterday, lying flat on her back on the dungy concrete floor of a
Hell’s Kitchen stable, her legs stiff in the air.
“I can’t believe this is my baby, Juliet,” said her owner, Antonio Provenzano,
47, of Brooklyn as he lifted a blue tarp off the horse. “For a million tourists,
she was what they remember of Manhattan. Her picture is all over the world. And
look at her now.”
She lay lifeless as the day shift of carriage drivers hitched up their horses
and clopped out to work. Only Mr. Provenzano and a coterie of skinny cats seemed
interested in her at the West Side Livery stable on West 38th Street near 11th
Avenue. Never again would she come home to her third floor stall, with the
window looking out on Midtown’s skyscrapers and high rises, and enjoy her hay
and salt lick.
But Mr. Provenzano had more than his grief to deal with yesterday. Enforcement
officers from the A.S.P.C.A. arrived at the stable and took Juliet’s body away
for a necropsy and opened an investigation into her death based upon an incident
Thursday night that attracted an angry crowd and the police.
Juliet collapsed in Central Park about 9:30 and Mr. Provenzano, who said he was
acting on telephone orders from his veterinarian, began striking her repeatedly
in the flank with his thin five-foot whip to get her to her feet again,
prompting a crowd of onlookers to begin yelling at him.
“I’m trying to save my horse’s life and all of a sudden, everyone’s yelling,
‘Stop beating that horse; you’re going to kill it,’ ” he said. “Some big guy
told me to stop or he would punch me. Then a cop showed up and said to stop or
he’d arrest me. He was about to pull his gun out. All this while I have the vet
on the phone telling me to keep hitting her to get her up.”
He said that Juliet probably had colic and he was told to get her to walk to rid
herself of gas and waste.
“I’ve been around horses 30 years and I love my horse,” he said. “They think I
want to hurt her?” When the veterinarian and officers from the mounted unit
showed up at the park Thursday night, Mr. Provenzano was told he could resume
Juliet climbed to her feet several times but promptly collapsed again. An
employee from the Ritz Carlton nearby brought over a rug for the horse, and with
great effort Juliet was placed on it, dragged into a police trailer and taken to
the stable on 38th Street. After several hours of treatment by Mr. Provenzano
and his veterinarian, Juliet died about 5 a.m. Her owner curled up in his
carriage and tried to sleep.
Juliet was well-known among the carriage horses that are a staple of southern
Central Park and are kept in stables in the area of westernmost Midtown that
still has the feel of the old Hell’s Kitchen.
Part Percheron, part American draft, she was likely a former farm horse in her
20’s bought at auction in Pennsylvania and had begun pulling a carriage at least
17 years ago, Mr. Provenzano said. He said she quickly adapted to her urban
environment, ignoring horns and sirens and avoiding potholes.
“She was called Juliet because everybody fell in love with her, like ‘Romeo and
Juliet,’ ” Mr. Provenzano said. “Think about all the people this horse gave
Mr. Provenzano said Juliet had had several owners over the years before he
bought her last year for $1,700. He used her to work nights, pulling his green
cab, six nights a week ever since.
“That horse was a member of my family,” he said. “I told my mother she died and
my mom started crying.”
“I have no money to get another horse,” he said. “I have a wife and two sons to
support. Two things I can do: make pizza and drive a horse.”
It is the end of the line in every sense.
Among the large buildings with beautiful walled gardens across the road from
Beckton station in London is Thomas Cribb and Sons, which was founded in 1881.
Inside the high-ceilinged reception, only the boxes of tissues left discreetly
on the tables and a black-and-white photograph of a horse-drawn hearse gives
away the nature of the family business.
Becoming a funeral director is not an obvious
upbeat career choice, but employees at this funeral parlour seem cheerful, not
least the assured and polite great-great-great granddaughter of its founder. "To
me it's completely normal, I've grown up with it," says Sarah Harris, 26,
smartly dressed in a black skirt, white shirt and chic black ribbon belt. "It's
a 24-hour service, so when my father and mother used to come home from the
office they'd divert the phones and me or my sisters would have to pick it up."
The siblings would have to take the information down, finding out what the
bereaved family wanted. "That's how it started," she adds. Yet, Harris never
imagined she would have a career in her family's funeral parlour. "But when I
worked here after A-levels I realised I really enjoyed it," she says. "And
there's not too many jobs you can do where you are making a difference to people
when they really need you."
Harris organises the funerals, sorting out everything from collecting the body
from the hospital to booking the priest. It takes a special kind of person to do
her job. "Confident is not quite the word, but you do almost have to be a
figurehead - people need that, they need someone that they can literally lean
on," she says. "They also deal with grief so very differently, and you just have
to adapt the minute they walk in the door. And when so many people are at war
with their family, there's always going to be friction."
The work can be emotionally taxing, especially when a child has died. "You feel
so helpless," says Harris. "You'd do anything for the parents, but it can never
be enough. But it's your job not to get upset - you simply have to be there for
Harris's outlet is being a member of the Territorial Army. "I joined the TA
because it's the only hobby where you don't have time to worry about all the
things you have to do," she says.
Just as we are speaking, a middle-aged man and woman walk into reception, and
Harris goes to meet them. They are obviously upset, but she takes it in her
stride, settling them down on the sofa, offering them a cup of tea and then
coming back with a book to start making the arrangements.
With Harris busy, it is left to her 78-year-old grandfather to give me a tour of
the family business. Behind the reception area, Stan Cribb leads me past the
freezer where they keep the bodies, through the coffin display room and into the
coffin workshop, where one of the carpenters is working on a tiny coffin for a
Cribb has seen the East End and the funeral business change dramatically since
he first started working with the firm's horses just before the second world
war. Then every family went to the same funeral director, with whom they had
become well acquainted.
Today, the Cribbs are experts on the burial rites of numerous religions,
organise repatriations and are to open a branch in Ghana. And his son (Harris's
dad), John Cribb has an MA from Reading University in death and society.
"Someone once said to me that at least I would never be out of business," Stan
Cribb says, "but with that attitude you'd be out of business in no time. Whoever
it is, you treat their funeral like your first. It's all about dignity. It's the
last thing you can do for them."
Fashions change and can come full circle, even in death. Demand has led to the
revival of horse-drawn hearses. Thomas Cribb and Sons has responded and now has
a stable of 14 horses that go all over the country.
A walk into the mortuary reminds me why working at an undertaker's may not
appeal to all. The embalmer has a body laid out on her table. Being very
squeamish, I was dreading seeing a dead body - but this is totally removed from
the gore and high drama of CSI.
The embalmer is working on the body of an elderly black man, and Stan Cribb
looks at me nervously to see if I am OK. But it does not feel like being in the
presence of death. If anything, it feels like he is not there at all and I begin
to realise that the really hard part of this job is dealing with the people who
are left behind.
In fact, despite his calmness around dead bodies, Cribb says that he has never
done the embalming himself. "Obviously I've seen it done, many times. I can tell
you if it's a good embalming or not, and what needs to be done, but I've never
wanted to do it and I've never wanted the family to do it. There's a place for
everybody and everything."
By now we have toured the garage containing a magnificent fleet of vintage
vehicles, and walked through the gardens. The horses, Stan Cribb's pride and
joy, are stabled in Essex.
Back at reception, his granddaughter is in the office, sorting out the schedule
for the cars so that they arrive on time - not too early and never too late. I
ask her whether dealing with death every day has made her more aware of her own
"I was thinking about this the other day, and I suppose it has," says Harris.
"I'm not worried about myself - but knowing what it's like when you lose someone
you love scares the life out of me."
As for Stan Cribb, he is certainly not going to get a pre-paid plan. "I'm not
going to pay for it, they can pay for it," he says. "I think I'll have the
horses. My first wife was buried, but I prefer cremation. And I shall go from
the old office in Rathbone Street."
ROBERT TISCH, who ran the Loews Corporation,
had a marching band at his memorial service and a packed house at Avery Fisher
Hall, all orchestrated by one of New York’s most prominent party planners. Estée
Lauder’s had waiters passing out chocolate-covered marshmallows on silver trays.
At Nan Kempner’s memorial, at Christie’s auction house, guests received a CD of
Mozart’s Requiem. Ms. Kempner had wanted a live performance of the Requiem, but
the logistics — full orchestra, chorus and soloists — were too much.
At a time when Americans hire coaches to guide their careers and retirements,
tutors for their children, personal shoppers for their wardrobes, trainers for
their abs, whisperers for their pets and — oh, yes — wedding planners for their
nuptials, it makes sense that some funerals are also starting to benefit from
the personal touch. As members of the baby boom generation plan final services
for their parents or themselves, they bring new consumer expectations and fewer
attachments to churches, traditions or organ music — forcing funeral directors
to be more like party planners, and inviting some party planners to test the
The planning for most funerals still falls to the nation’s 22,000 funeral homes,
which bury more than 2 million Americans each year, at a price tag of $13
billion. But some families are beginning to think outside the box-provider, said
Mark Duffey of Houston, who last year began what he calls the first nationwide
funeral concierge service. For $995 or a monthly subscription fee, his company,
Everest Funeral Package, has helped several hundred families plan their final
rites, providing concierge services that range from writing obituaries to
negotiating prices with undertakers.
“Baby boomers are all about being in control,” said Mr. Duffey, who started his
company after running a chain of funeral homes. “This generation wants to
control everything, from the food to the words to the order of the service. And
this is one area where consumers feel out of control.”
What they want, he said, are services that reflect their lives and tastes. One
family asked for a memorial service on the 18th green of their father’s favorite
golf course, “because that’s where dad was instead of church on Sunday mornings,
so why are we going to church,” Mr. Duffey said. “Line up his buddies, and hit
balls.” Another wanted his friends to ride Harleys down his favorite road,
scattering his ashes.
The biggest change, Mr. Duffey said, is that as more families choose cremation —
close to 70 percent in some parts of the West — services have become less somber
because there is not a dead body present. “The body’s a downer, especially for
boomers,” Mr. Duffey said. “If the body doesn’t have to be there, it frees us up
to do what we want. They may want to have it in a country club or bar or their
favorite restaurant. That’s where consumers want to go.”
Mr. Duffey has a suggested time limit for speeches: five minutes. “We urge them,
‘Don’t ad-lib. Get up and read it. It’s O.K., people expect it.’ ”
Requests for unusual services, while still in the minority, have stretched the
creativity of funeral directors, said Ron Hast, the publisher of the trade
journals Mortuary Management and Funeral Monitor. As funerals move away from
traditional settings like churches or funeral homes, he said: “we’re heading in
the direction of event planners. Forward-thinking funeral directors are bringing
in hospitality like food.” This can pose a challenge, especially for businesses
that have done things the same way for generations, he added. “In New York and
New Jersey, it’s illegal to serve even coffee or any food in a funeral home,”
Mr. Hast said. “So they don’t have the comfort foods that people expect.”
Funeral homes do not always appreciate competition from entrepreneurs, whom they
may consider interlopers, said Bob Biggins, the president of the National
Funeral Directors Association.
“It’s not like planning a wedding or helping out with a reception,” Mr. Biggins
said. “Funeral directors respond to families’ needs at any hour of the day in a
short period of time.”
Mr. Biggins said funeral homes can do anything that party planners can do. At
his own funeral home in Rockland, Mass., Mr. Biggins arranged a service for
Harry Ewell, a man who had been an ice cream vendor. Mr. Ewell’s old ice cream
truck led the funeral procession and dispensed Popsicles at the end. “If you
call that over the top, then I guess I’m guilty,” Mr. Biggins said. “But our
business reflects society as a whole. Today’s consumer wants things personal,
specific to their lifestyle, whether it’s highlighting a person’s passion for
golf or celebrating someone’s deep devotion to knitting or needlepoint.”
In the two years since he designed his first service, David E. Monn said he has
discovered the biggest threat to a well-orchestrated event: the long speech. Mr.
Monn’s business is organizing high-end events like museum galas or society
benefits, but recently he has planned eight or nine funerals at the request of
friends, including those of Henry A. Grunwald, the former editor of Time
magazine, and A. M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of The New York
Times. Funerals, he said, require a firm hand.
“I have a pet peeve,” he said. “No more than three minutes. It doesn’t matter
how much you loved someone, after you’ve heard someone drone on for five minutes
you’re annoyed. It’s about poignant moments. Maudlin is not poignant.”
Mr. Monn said that another challenge with funerals is that attendance can be
unpredictable, especially those open to the public. “You never know if it’s
going to be 20 people or 2,000,” he said. “Last year I did a funeral for a very
young man on July 4th. It was a guessing game, would anyone come? Lo and behold,
close to 1,500 people showed up. The church was packed.”
The matter of seating arrangements can also be sticky, he said. “People feel
their place in life means where they sit at someone’s funeral,” he said. “It’s
staggering to me, actually.”
Lynn Isenberg, a writer and entrepreneur, had never heard of funeral planners or
concierges when she attended funerals for her father and brother in 1998 and
1999. But the different experiences of the two funerals gave her an idea for a
novel. She called it “The Funeral Planner,” and it was about a young woman who
found a niche doing you know what.
Ms. Isenberg is now developing a television pilot based on the book for the
Lifetime channel, she said, and is under contract to write two more novels using
the funeral planner character.
The book, in turn, gave her another idea: to start her own business, Lights Out
Enterprises, in Venice Beach, Calif., which helps people plan their own
funerals, with emphasis on the tribute video, which she calls a “spiritual
“I’m not talking about doing away with the grieving process, but I do think, why
not experience a funeral service where you get to really know a person?” she
Though most clients want simple services, she said, one asked her for “an
all-out disco party on top of their favorite mountain, with 360-degree views,”
in order to remind friends of a happy period in their lives together. “And they
want everyone to come dressed up in disco outfits.” For a former auctioneer, she
recommended printing select words from the eulogy on auction paddles, so people
could hold them up during the service.
“I see the day where our mainstream celebrities would make appearances at
funerals to enhance the service,” she said.
Joshua Slocum, the executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance
(www.funerals.org), a nonprofit group, said that though people have more choices
than ever, they often end up paying more than necessary for things they don’t
want or could do themselves. “This isn’t rocket science,” he said. “It’s less
expensive and more satisfying if you do it yourself rather than write a check to
a third party.”
He added, “I’ve seen places advertise that they do Webcasts of the funeral. We
get 10,000 calls a year from people, and no one’s ever said they wanted that.”
But for some, including Jack Susser, a real estate agent in Santa Monica,
Calif., the sendoff can have benefits now. Mr. Susser, who is 57 and healthy,
hired Ms. Isenberg to create a tribute video so that his future grandchildren
and great-grandchildren could know his life in ways he’d never known his
grandparents’. Ms. Isenberg developed a 20-minute video called “Jack the
Mensch,” with an original script, professional actors, animation and a $75,000
budget. The lead characters are Mr. Susser and a talking fish.
“At first I felt the title made me out to be too good,” Mr. Susser said. But
creating the video helped him appreciate his life, he said. And as a former
actor, he saw a surprising upside to the death business.
“I’m going to use it not only for my passing, but at my 60th birthday party,” he
said. “I may even send it to agents, because I think there’s good work on it.
This is professionally done.”
Christopher Mason contributed reporting for this article.