Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Tisket. A Tasket. Surprise, An Open Casket!

“I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” 
                                                                       ~Woody Allen

I've made some bad choices in my life, but I can only think of one that repeatedly comes back to “haunt” me.
In the late 1990s I worked at a weekly newspaper in lower Westchester County, NY. It was a small paper, but a formidable one. Indeed, for local news, we couldn’t be beat. If there was something important going locally, we were on top of it.
As the sole reporter for two beats, which in this case meant two towns and all that came with them from schools to crime to town government, human interest and more, if something important happened I was on top of it.
With a writing staff of … hang on… two, I was the consummate “general assignment” reporter. One day I might cover a school board meeting only to find myself writing about a murder trial, a construction project or a wedding the next day.
So, after learning that a dearly beloved local priest had died, I was “on the case” when my editor dispatched me to a funeral home to pick up information for his obituary.
An aside: Strange as it may sound, I've always thought it would be a great honor to write obits. After all, on some level, it’s the last story that’s ever going to be written about the deceased. Wow. And to think that I wrote it… .
Well, I wasn't going to be writing this one, but I liked my editor and always wanted to be involved in “the story,” so I had no problem being the messenger service.
I drove over to the funeral home, went into the office and got the press release announcing Father Attridge’s death.
Whoa. Sorry. Make that Monsignor Attridge. He’d been elevated not long before he passed away.
I was working at the paper when it was announced that he was being made a monsignor. That was big news. I mean this guy had a serious fan base. It’s said that 5,000 people attended his funeral. Wow!
So I’m leaving the funeral home office after picking up his bio and I see this long line snaking around the corner out of some nearby room. I’m not sure how I missed the line when I went in. I must have been pretty focused on picking up the paperwork I was there to get.
Well, I’m curious by nature. That’s why I became a journalist, after all. So I can’t let a question: “What are these people standing in line for?” go unanswered. What harm can it do if I take a peek, eh?
I walked alongside the line up to the point where I saw it disappear and craned my neck around the corner. To my surprise and horror, what did I see? None other than Monsignor Attridge, in full regalia, lying in state.
Though at that point in my life I’d attended a few funerals, I had never seen an open “occupied” casket. Caught completely off guard, it was all I could do not to scream out loud.
Reflecting on the situation later that day, it was all I could do not to laugh out loud. 
After all, what did I think people were lined up for at a funeral home? The refreshment stand, perhaps?

Written for The Writers’ Post weekly blog hop #24. Theme: Your Choice!


  1. Oh Dear Daphne!! My, if you had never seen an occupied casket before--I can only imagine the shock. I didn't get it when I was 8 and I went to my first open casket funeral for my Grandpa--I didn't get he was dead. I really thought he was sleeping through the biggest party ever thrown for him. I figured it out, finally, when they closed the casket at the end to take him to the grave site. Sigh. Well--but at least I didn't scream :) Cheers, Jenn.

  2. I can totally see this happening! Sorry, you were umm...shocked, but how funny!