Conversations with Carlton
by Carlton Shamburger

Embalming facts and fiction
  əmˈbä(l)m/  verb, gerund or present participle: embalming; noun: embalming to preserve (a corpse) from decay, originally with spices and now usually by arterial injection of a preservative.  The “Egyptian method of embalming" involved surgically removing organs and tissues for preservation.  Their belief was the dead would travel around Ra the sun god which would take 2,000 years so preservation was highly prized to keep the body preserved to be re-inhabited upon return.  Now you understand the importance of preservation in that day.  Much expense was given due to the importance of having remains to come home to.  Arterial embalming as we know it today was the work of Dr. William J. Bunnell.  A Civil War surgeon, Dr. Bunnell used the existing arterial system to distribute arsenic throughout the body stopping the purification process and making it more bearable to get soldiers who perished in the battle fields home for burial in the family cemetery.  This process and the chemicals used were perfected leading to a more natural appearance of the deceased and allowed for more delayed times for burial and viewings.  Many believe embalming is required by law; this is a myth.  Laws do not require embalming but many other factors require it.  For public visitations in funeral homes embalming is required for the public’s protection.  Travel on public means of transport such as airlines require embalming the deceased.  But there is not an actual law requiring all bodies to be embalmed.  Embalming is a needed skill set offered by funeral directors across the globe.  Embalming above all else allows a final goodbye to be more meaningful and pleasant for the family.  As a licensed funeral director and embalmer, I can testify to the importance this skill set has given my career.  I have found nothing positively facilitates grief as well as the family gathering for the viewing.  

Hope you learned a thing or two,

The difference between coffin and casket

Words and terms…where do they come from?

Learning the origins of words leads to a whole new understanding of their meaning.  The term Coffin, (Middle English coffin, basket, from Old French, from Latin cophinus, from Greek kophinos) termed this since the 16th Century, describes a wooden box for burial or cremation.  Generally it is cruciform in shape (hexagonal or octagonal much as the body inside).  I feel this to be a more “Halloween” description when used today.  It is the word Casket we use today that has the intended meaning given to it as early as 1475.  Casket from the French word Casset means a box for precious jewels.  Why would the term for a burial box be about precious things?  Because there is a tradition of placing our most precious possessions away for safe keeping.  That sounds pretty sweet to me.  The word Cemetery from the Greek koimeterion, from koiman, means ‘put to sleep.’  These two terms together explain how we place our most precious possessions away for safe keeping as they peacefully sleep.  When we understand a word’s origin, we understand even better what the intentions of our forefathers were in using these words.  And it places the emphasis on the word “Precious,” and what is contained in this casket is most valued to me.

Until they wake again upon Gabriel’s horn,


The art of acknowledgement: The Thank You Card
Well, I’ve seen it done many ways, pre-printed from the funeral home stationary, a bought Hallmark greeting, a mimeographed letter of overall thank you for what all have done, and an acknowledgement in the local papers.  People have tried it all…even Facebook postings!  But you will never top the effect of a handwritten thank you.

They say the art is dying, even cursive writing…but nothing means more to me than a handwritten note.  Yes, I know it takes time.  Each year at Christmas I sit in my Study by the fireplace hand writing notes to all our friends in the Ministry of Panola County and praying over their ministries.  Each card is handwritten in my psychotic handwriting, but it is from my heart and hand.  Do they appreciate them? I don’t know.  But I know my heart is in each one.  That is what personalization does; it transforms a mundane thing into a meaningful gesture or experience.

So pop those knuckles, grab a favorite pen, and send some roses to those you love and loved you enough to remember you and yours during some of the hardest days of your life.

They will always remember your effort.


Should I take my child to a funeral?
First, let’s establish age.  A newborn or infant will not receive anything from attending a funeral.  In fact they might disrupt the service if crying.  If the service is at a church and the baby begins to cry, there is usually a Cry room you can use, if at the funeral home dismiss yourself to an outer hall or lounge to hear the service there.  What ages should attend?  I think if your child knows who Nanna is then she or he should be there at the visitation or funeral.  Remember children are also learning how to grieve in the right way from you.  We tend to shelter children from truths, but they need to grieve a loss just as you do.  Otherwise Nanna just disappears and nobody talks about her anymore, which is not a healthy situation.  Viewing the deceased is no different for a child than it is for you, it gives a final realization that a death has occurred and becomes a great teaching opportunity and allows the grief to flow as needed.  Think about a physical interaction for the child.  It could be a colored picture to place with Nanna or just your child’s photo to stay with Nanna to keep company.  Remember the relationship between the child and Nanna and encourage talking about her to remember her in the days to come.  Explain why we are doing these things, to always remember her and make a  special place for her always.  Your child should see the memorialization of her or his Nanna and know where her final resting place is and that she still remains in our hearts and a part of us in our everyday lives.  I dedicate my life to these final moments and believe to my core the value in the viewing and the expressions of grief needed in these things.  I know this to be a certain truth by witnessing the complicated grief in situations where viewings are not possible or someone does just “go away”.  In these days the family will view, grieve, tell stories, laugh and more and nothing will bond your child to the family more than a funeral.  Funerals are Love. “That’s the whole point of’em”.

Thanks for listening.

Do I have to attend both visitation and funeral?

Wow! At least one guy is reading my column.  I got my first question. It’s from Bro. David Yarbrough, my music minister at the First Baptist Church.  David asks, “If I go to the visitation do I still have to go to the funeral service?”  Well David, tell me this: “Do I have to sing in the choir Sunday if I was at the practice Wednesday?” (Just kidding.) Truth is, businesses seldom let employees off to attend a funeral, unless you are family or a pallbearer, which generally leaves most of us attending the visitation only.  The truth is I think you know when you are close enough to the family and called to be there for both.  Just remember this, your presence is everything.  And even if you miss both the visitation and service, never forget the days following where a presence is even more supportive and needed.  Personally, when my father died I remembered the faces of all the friends and family in attendance.  I remembered because it meant so much to me for them to be there and think of my family, but I could not recite whether I saw them at either the visitation or funeral.  But they were there, and I remember.  I also remember my good friend and music minister David was there for both.  And I have no doubt he felt called to be there because I do think that much of him and his.

Keep singing for Jesus, David.

Pallbearers. What to Wear?
When asked to be a pallbearer, one might wonder what to wear, and the answer is to dress accordingly for a funeral or to meet the family’s expectations.  Families often have no expectations, but sometimes they wish for the pallbearers to wear certain things to honor the deceased.  For example, if the deceased was a banker or professional then the family may wish you to wear a suit and tie.  Professional men  will know how to adorn a suit.  If the deceased did not wear a suit in the course of the day, the family might inform you to wear white shirts, ties, slacks, or white shirts and dark pants, etc.  The point is to keep some young man with little means from feeling as though he has to purchase a suit and take time off to find it just for this purpose.  So, if the family has a preference of what they want pallbearers to wear, they should let pallbearers know when they are asked to serve; otherwise, pallbearers are expected to dress a notch above their daily dress.  This will keep stress levels low and avoid someone feeling less than adequately dressed for the occasion. The family will appreciate it.

Good talking to you.