Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How much is that cemetery plot overlooking the lake?

As part of our retirement planning during the past year, my wife Maggie and I finally got to the section in the paperwork where we are asked to make decisions about “end of life,” including funeral arrangements.

This type of thinking and planning can be uncomfortable, unsettling and just plain weird. Where I grew up in the South Bronx, in New York City, we lived day-to-day and were considered poor or “ghetto” people.

 Morris Heights, South Bronx circa 1964

No one I knew in the old neighborhood was taught to think about a life span from “cradle to grave,” or as we say in business when referring to the life cycle of a product, from “end-to-end.”  Most of us in the old neighborhood were lucky to get home safely, without being mugged or assaulted.

I’m not a morbid person, but when you have a severe disability, such as a spinal cord injury (SCI), you have to work at leading a relatively healthy life.
With SCI, however, there is always a “voice” in your head that reminds you, nudges you, whispering: “If you don’t take care of yourself, you will die of something, anything.”

To me, the voice keeps repeating the warning similar to the recurring line from one of my favorite movies, “A Christmas Story.” In the movie,  “Ralphie” wants a Red Ryder BB gun for a present, and everyone influential in his life tells him not to ask for the toy. Each person says to him: “You’ll shoot your eye out!” 

Making funeral plans when you’re alive, not dead 

As a couple, we have experienced death on our respective sides of each family and helped make the funeral arrangements. Dealing with the passing of a loved one, planned or unexpected, is never easy. The best way to handle end of life is to plan in advance, which is also not easy. But trust me on this, if you can plan in advance, please do so.   

Our first stop in this process was to meet with a funeral director near our home in Hanson, MA.  We met with Kyle, from Sullivan Funeral Homes, who described the funeral process and outlined all services and prices. 

He recommended cemeteries to visit, including one in our town, discussed grave site and cremation options, as well as where to buy burial monuments to mark the grave. There were many decisions to make and options to think about.

I felt like I was at a one day sale in our favorite department store. Am I cheeky if I say “shopping for a funeral can be similar to shopping on Black Friday, one of the biggest sales days of the retail year?”

Rising above fear and uncertainty

The conversation was surreal as we planned our own funeral arrangements. I was uncomfortable during the first half hour, but as we talked, a different feeling came over me.

I began to feel comfortable and a bit confident because we were making decisions regarding our end of life plans. 

It became apparent to me that once our funeral plans were completed and documented, we would know what to do for each other as “survivors,” when one of us eventually died.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, our arrangements would be conveyed to our designated family members if we died together.   

We left the funeral home full of information and with more clarity than we had before this meeting.  We drove straight to the Fern Hill Cemetery, in the town of Hanson, just five minutes from our home.

Buried with a lakeside view at our feet

We were in a good mood after our meeting, actually kidding each other and laughing in the van. It was about 5 p.m., in the middle of July, and we picked up some iced coffee and headed to the cemetery.

As we turned into the cemetery, we both noticed how beautiful it was. The foliage was lush green, and from the car we could see the lake.  It seemed more like a picnic area rather than a cemetery.
Fern Hill Cemetery.
We drove to a small parking area near the lake and took in the view. We got out of the van, and walked over to a quaint little bench overlooking the lake. The lawn was neat, and well groomed, and we learned that some of the cemetery’s oldest gravestones date back to 1745.

Since we both love the ocean, the lakeside view appealed to us and we drew a quiet comfort from the surroundings; we also believed those mourning for us would feel the same.

When we met with the cemetery director and groundskeeper, Jaimison, that evening, I asked: “Do you have any available plots close to the lake?”  

”Not up front close,” he said, “but close enough so you can see the lake.”  He walked over to the spot. “See?, take a look from right here.”

Maggie and I both laughed and he smiled. “Well, we won’t be
Mags and me
able to see the lake, no matter how close we are,” I said, “but it’s good to know we can see it from a little further back.”

I looked at Maggie and said: “I don’t want to strain my neck, you know.”

Veronique, my service dog, looked up suspiciously. I winked at her, and saw she was smiling too!

We then made arrangements for our eventual resting place.

After that, it was time to go on living, and we went out for an early dinner and drinks at the The Olde Hitching Post, one of our favorite restaurants. 

Welcome to The Olde Hitching Post!



Friday, August 7, 2015

Who Says the Disabled Can’t Rock and Roll?

Last night [August 6], my wife Maggie and I joined thousands of James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt fans at Fenway Park, Boston’s celebrated baseball venue. 
Fenway Park

We didn’t know what to expect at the stadium as this was just the second time we were at the home of the Boston Red Sox. The first visit was about three years ago when I was on a business trip, and we attended a Boston-New York Yankees game at Fenway. The Sox beat the Yankees and a ball girl handed a foul ball to my wife.

Disabled Fans Rocked Too…..

James Taylor
The weather was perfect for a summer evening in Boston, and we were directed to seats close to the front, just on the right side of the stage. We were escorted to a section where ablebodied people, wheelchair riders and other disabled concert fans were seated together. This made the venue seem more natural and inclusive, as the disabled weren’t segregated.

As the evening progressed, the crowd began singing and dancing, as expected. In my section, disabled patrons were doing the same. A disabled gentleman, in a wheelchair next to me who had a tracheotomy, and used a ventilator to help him breathe, was singing along with James Taylor in a barely audible but deliberate voice.
Bonnie Raitt
A second man during the evening was dancing as  Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor went through their sets. The man looked as though he was a double amputee dancing on his prosthetic devices.

The beauty of the evening was that 35,000 people, as reported, were there to enjoy an evening of music and community with fellow fans, including the disabled and their families, aides and service dogs.

Rolling on the waves….

The last time I took a boat ride was about 15 years ago when we treated our children to Disney World in Florida. I was scared to death. The mid-sized Disney power boat would take us from our hotel room to any number of venues in Downtown Disney.  

Although entirely safe, sitting on a wheelchair as a boat rocks and rolls on water is a little unsettling - - especially when paralyzed and you can’t swim! I vowed never to do that again. So for the past decade I refused to go on cruises or boat rides - - until last week. I'm either wiser, or age got the best of me. You decide.

Maggie and I were strolling through Plymouth and enjoying a walk with my service dog Veronica, when we decided to check out the cruises and boat rides. Tours are offered for whale watching in September, daily 90-minute cruises to scenic Provincetown, on Cape Cod, and fishing excursions.   

There is also a two-hour riverboat ride on the Pilgrim Belle, which
tours Plymouth Harbor for 75 minutes.

Somehow, for some reason, I found myself rolling down the gang-plank onto the Pilgrim Belle, assisted by the Captain and a crew member, who were extremely careful as they  guided me safely down the steep ramp and onto the boat. I distinctly recall that I wasn’t blindfolded!

In the Captain's chair (not!), with crew member Veronica.
I sat on deck at the bow of the ship, Veronica and Maggie with me, and I felt liberated - -  a little less disabled; a little more normal.  It was pretty cool to feel a little less paralyzed, even for 75 minutes.

Intent of this Column

None of what I’ve written would be possible without the assistance of family, friends, medical staff, enlightened employers and business
My wife, Maggie, me, Veronica
people, inclusive business practices and responsible government officials and policies. 

Through my column I try to show what can be accomplished when accessibility standards and universal design are applied to create a barrier free environment for individuals who need them.   

Given the progress made by this country since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, disabled individuals must continue to be active and contributing members of society. 

Over the years I have found that the more the general population sees the disabled civilian and veteran populations active in society, the more familiar and comfortable they become with us.

Not all of society may like or tolerate the disabled, but some will, and the others will know that we are here to stay and continue to add value to our country and society.