The squirrel in the lavender casket was the first thing I noticed about the cover of Over Our Dead Bodies: Undertakers Lift the Lid. Did this mean the book was meant for those with short attention spans? (“Squirrel!”)
No, it relates to one of the behind-the-scenes at the funeral home stories you’ll read in this lively collection by Kenneth McKenzie and Todd Harra. They are the funeral director duo who authored an earlier collection of true life tales, Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt.
But if your attention span is short, this collection of funeral tales will not strain your capacity to finish a story in one sitting. The book provides glimpses into the life of death – moving stories of unexpected send-offs, family feuds in the funeral home, and disasters that happen to the people who work to make funerals run smoothly.
They write about how they got into the business. McKenzie discovered his call to be a mortician at the age of 12 when his father committed suicide. He has been a California-based funeral director for 26 years and a funeral home owner for 18 years. He won California’s Outstanding Funeral Director of the Year award in 2007. Harra is a fourth-generation funeral director who works for the family business in Wilmington, Delaware.
McKenzie and Harra are not your ordinary undertakers. McKenzie created and published the “Men of Mortuaries” calendar in 2007, 2008 and 2009 as a fundraiser for KAMMCares, a nonprofit he founded which assists women going through breast cancer treatment. In the book he also writes about being filmed for a Swedish television reality show and an American television production.
McKenzie and Harra met through the calendar project. Harra’s uncle paid the entrance fee for Todd to be one of the models. A whole chapter is devoted to the epic saga of the creation of the “Men of Mortuaries” calendar.
The collection of stories in Over Our Dead Bodies includes contributions by others who go under pen names such as “a basement beer brewer,” “a camping enthusiast,” “an antique collector,” and “a former track runner.”
The former track runner contributed a touching tale about a woman who crashed funerals for the food served afterward. She was homeless, and this was a dignified way for her to get a good meal. She chose which funeral to attend by looking for a long obituary, which probably meant the funeral would be well attended and she wouldn’t stand out in the crowd.
It never ceases to amaze me how much funeral directors are the consummate event planners and party hosts. These stories detail how they vacuum, clean the bathrooms, tidy up the public areas and make sure their funeral homes are ready for guests, every single day.
What some of the bereaved families do in these stories is amazing – and sometimes appalling. One chapter heading states it all: There’s No Such Thing as a Normal Day. The book even dips into a bit of the supernatural, with stories of Ouija boards and messages from those who have crossed over to the afterlife.
And it’s all true! Right after the chapter listing is this statement: “The following collection of stories contained within this work are based on actual events; details, names, and events have been altered and/or fictionalized to protect confidentialities.”
Truth is stranger than fiction. Over Our Dead Bodies is a fun read that provides a detailed look behind the curtains in the funeral business. Consider adding it to your funeral home’s lending library as an education tool.
Listen to Gail Rubin’s interview with authors Todd Harra and Ken McKenzie on FuneralRadio.com. FBA
Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®, brings a light touch to serious subjects as a speaker using humor and funny films to attract people to discuss mortality, end-of-life, estate and funeral planning issues. She is a Certified Thanatologist – a death educator – and Certified Celebrant. A pioneering Death Café hostess, she is author and host of the award-winning book, TV and radio programs A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and Mortality Minute radio spots. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.