Elizabeth Meyer’s “sweet, touching, and funny” (Booklist) memoir reads as if “Carrie Bradshaw worked in a funeral home a la Six Feet Under” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
Good Mourning offers a behind-the-scenes look at a legendary funeral chapel on New York City’s Upper East Side—mixing big money, society drama, and the universal experience of grieving—told from the unique perspective of a fashionista turned funeral planner.
Elizabeth Meyer stumbled upon a career in the midst of planning her own father’s funeral, which she turned into an upbeat party with Rolling Stones music, thousands of dollars worth of her mother’s favorite flowers, and a personalized eulogy. Starting as a receptionist, Meyer quickly found she had a knack for helping people cope with their grief, as well as creating fitting send-offs for some of the city’s most high-powered residents.
Meyer has seen it all: two women who found out their deceased husband (yes, singular) was living a double life, a famous corpse with a missing brain, and funerals that cost more than most weddings. By turns illuminating, emotional, and darkly humorous, Good Mourning is a lesson in how the human heart grieves and grows—whether you’re wearing this season’s couture or drug-store flip-flops.
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About the Author
After working at an elite funeral home in New York City, Elizabeth Meyer became passionate about making death a less taboo and scary topic. She holds a bachelor of arts from New York University’s Gallatin School, an MBA from Cass Business School in London, a certification in thanatology from the Association for Death Education and Counseling, and is a licensed funeral director. Elizabeth regularly contributes to news articles, speaks on nationally syndicated radio programs, and has given guest lectures about death and dying. Currently, she advises private clients and consults for a website that deals with end-of-life issues. Elizabeth was raised and currently resides in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
It Starts with an Ending
You know that feeling when someone tells you bad news, and for a second, it’s like you’re watching someone else’s life happen to your life? And then, after you’ve had a moment to absorb it all, there’s this moment of panic. You realize you can’t fast-forward to the happy scene where all the characters break out in a dance or clink their glasses of wine together over a table because Whew, thank God that’s over. Now somebody roll the freaking credits. That’s how I felt when my dad, whom the rest of the world knew as Brett Meyer, told me he had cancer. If my life had a soundtrack, the music would have stopped in that moment. My dad? Cancer? Impossible.
That’s not my movie—at least, I was naïve enough to think it wasn’t when I was sixteen. Up until then, my life had been about ski vacations to Vail, weekend trips to Palm Beach, and partying with my best friend, Gaby. Know where we had our Sweet Sixteen? At a club in New York’s hip Meatpacking District. It was total excess: bamboo invitations to three hundred friends, Mark Ronson at the turntables, a gaggle of models circling around the dance floor. Gaby and I spent half the night sneaking Long Island Iced Teas and cosmopolitans into the bathroom (those seemed cool to drink at the time) and the other half grinding up against prep-school boys trying to move their Ferragamo loafers to a beat. At that point, the biggest problem in my life was whether we should go with buttercream or fondant for our five-tier birthday cake.
To his credit, my dad didn’t want to make a big deal about the whole cancer thing, and so after the initial shock of his diagnosis, my mom, Francesca; my brother, Max; and I went back to business as usual. Dad occasionally scooted to the hospital for a quick chemo treatment, but we treated it more like he was going to a hair appointment—a weekly “touch-up” to make sure no roots were peeking through. He never acted like he was going to die, or like death was even a possibility, and so we didn’t think that way, either. Even nine years later, my mom can hardly believe that he’s gone. “I never once thought this would happen,” she says. Mom has always been a realist but still thought, as most of us do, that the bad stuff—the cancer, the car accident, the overdose—happened to other people. Not her. Not her family. Not my dad.
Part of what made Dad seem so untouchable was his personality—you just couldn’t shake him. One of my favorite stories is from early in my parents’ marriage when they took a trip to Key Biscayne, Florida. Dad got this idea to rent a catamaran, even though my mom thought they should play it safe on the beach. (This was a common theme in their marriage: Dad was the adventurer, Mom was the voice of reason . . . or at least practicality.) “Something always goes wrong,” she said to him. But Dad was all, “No, no, it’ll be great!” and—thanks to his lawyer skills and a smile that always got her—they went. A couple of hours later, there they were on the catamaran, watching the sunset, when the thing split in half. Mom wasn’t a great swimmer, so she hung on to a piece of the broken boat, bobbing up and down in the water, as the sky grew darker and darker. “Are there sharks?” she asked my dad, terrified. He looked around, treading water. “Probably,” he said, as if he were talking about guppies. A couple of hours later—yes, hours—a boat finally noticed them and came to the rescue. Know what Dad wanted to do the next day? Go sailing.
Mom settled into the Upper East Side well, but she grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Queens—the type of place where big Italian families got together after church every week for macaroni and Sunday sauce. While Dad studied at an expensive private university in New England, she was keeping it real living at home while going to college in the city. In fact, they probably wouldn’t have met—Lord knows their social circles never overlapped—if my mom hadn’t randomly befriended an acquaintance of my father’s while she was on vacation. By the time her plane landed back in New York, she already had a missed call from my dad. She only called him back because her mom insisted it was rude not to at least respond, and she eventually agreed to go out with him for the sole reason that he asked her out for a Tuesday. Mom had other options, and she was not keen on giving up a Saturday night for some what’s-his-face on the other side of the river.
Dad, on the other hand, grew up in a mansion in Scarsdale—an affluent New York suburb where extravagant homes line the streets and people have pool houses and gardeners. His mom, Elaine, was less than welcoming when Dad brought home a girl from Queens. My mom still talks about the horror of their first dinner: Elaine kept kicking under the table, shouting, “It’s not working! It’s not working!” Only later did Mom realize that the “it” was a bell attached to a wire used to signal the help, either to clear a plate or fetch her something from the kitchen because God forbid she get up. Dad, who had cut the wire, laughed off his crazy mother’s behavior—something he was always able to do. (Me? Not as much. Elaine—yes, I called my grandmother by her first name—was the epitome of a society snob.) Even at stuffy charity dinners and black-tie parties, Dad was always able to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing—the money, the people, the scene. He used to say, “Never own something you can’t afford to lose, Lizzie.” I never forgot it.
So when it became clear that, after he’d been fighting cancer for five years, I might actually lose my dad—the one thing I couldn’t imagine living without—I struggled to wrap my head around it. I started to treat Dad’s hospital stay like he was shacking up at a nearby hotel. After a night clubbing with friends from New York University (where I went to college so that I could stay close to my father), I’d head to a bagel shop at five a.m., pick up a half dozen soft, doughy pieces of heaven and a tub of cream cheese to share with the nurses, and head to Dad’s hospital room for breakfast. He never said a word about my probably too-short skirts or probably too-high heels. We’d just talk about how the Giants played last weekend and if they had a shot in hell on Sunday.
Then one morning before a major surgery—one that he might not make it out of, the doctors told us—my father finally admitted that there was a chance, a slight chance, that he wasn’t going to be there to do all the things we’d planned. There might not be another trip up to our country house in the Berkshires, where Dad used to pull my friends and me on an inflatable tube around a frozen lake from the back of a four-wheeler. There might not be another family trip to Europe, or sail up the Hudson, or even early-morning bagel breakfast; no more father-daughter dates to the Met Ball or summertime canoe races. There might not be more of our favorite things, because time might be up.
And then, just like that, it was.
I remember getting the call: I was out walking our black Lab, Maggie, and didn’t have my phone on me, but I just got this feeling in the pit of my stomach—something told me to get home, and fast. When I ran through the door, I grabbed my cell phone without so much as taking off my coat and saw that I had ten missed calls from Max and my mom. I didn’t check the messages. I didn’t have to. I knew what this meant. The only person I did reach out to was Elaine. I knew she was on her way to the airport, eager to get back to her bridge games and Russian wolfhounds, affectionately and ridiculously named Smirnoff One and Smirnoff Two. (For all her fantastic taste in designer clothes and vintage cars, Elaine had terrible taste in booze.) I figured she’d want to have the car swing back around ASAP to the hospital—this was her son, after all. But instead she just sighed into the phone. “Lovey girl, I have to get back.” Elaine had never been maternal—I’d never once seen her even hug my dad, and the only way she ever showed me affection (if you can call it that) was by tapping on her nose and demanding a kiss. On her nose. Although, what can you expect from a woman who hid a bell under the table to summon her staff?
When I returned to the hospital, Dad was lying in his bed, with Max standing behind him and my mom at his side. My uncle—Dad’s brother—was also there with his wife. The doctors explained what was about to happen: Dad needed to be put into an induced coma so that they could try to elevate his white blood cell count. First, they would need to stick a tube down this throat. After that, he would be on a ventilator and would soon be completely unresponsive. They were clear that the odds were stacked against us, and there was a good chance Dad might not wake up—ever. But they were also clear that there was no other option except to take no chances—very unlike Dad—and lose him anyway within days, even hours.
I walked around to the other side of the bed, opposite from where my mom was standing, and held my dad’s other hand. He looked up at me calmly, even though he knew exactly what was going on. “I love you,” I said, somehow managing to stick to the group’s code of not crying, not even now. “It’ll be fine,” Dad replied.
I stroked his hand while a nurse pushed the breathing tube down his throat and then as they wheeled him away. For the next two days, Max and I swapped turns sitting by Dad’s side in the ICU. Max read him short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, and I talked to him about nothing in particular—although I did ask him, beg him, a few times not to leave me. “What would I do without you?” I asked, sometimes jokingly, other times desperately. I wondered if it was true what they say about people in comas being able to hear and feel you. Staring at my father lying there, hooked up to a gazillion machines, it was hard to imagine that was possible. In a lot of ways, I wished that he had already gone somewhere else. If he’d been able to speak, I’m sure he would have said something like, “This place sucks. I mean, talk about a bunch of stiffs. Let’s get out of here.”
Finally the doctors told us what we already knew—Dad wasn’t coming out of it. So we once again gathered around his bed, my mom and I each taking one of his hands, and prepared ourselves for another good-bye . . . this time, the final one. The machine with Dad’s vitals went from beep-beep-beep to beep . . . beep . . . to one long, steady beep, just the way you think it does. And while my heart was aching, the scene itself lacked much drama.
Before we headed out to the garage to get the car, I grabbed Dad’s cell phone—which was still ringing with calls from clients and friends, many of whom he had never even told he was sick. Up until his death, Dad had still been holding meetings in his hospital room, where a bunch of associates from his office (they of course knew he was sick, but not that sick) would stand around and debrief him on this case or that case, while Dad told them how to handle things. He had never let on that he might not make it—and so there it was, a cell phone filled with missed calls and voice mails, going off once again.
“Hello, this is Elizabeth speaking,” I answered, trying to keep my voice steady even though my mind was spinning. Is this really happening? I thought. Am I really answering Dad’s phone, because Dad is gone?
“Hi there, Elizabeth. Can you put Brett on? We have a question and I think he—”
“I’m so sorry, but my father isn’t available.”
“Oh. Okay. Well, just tell him tha—”
“He passed away,” I said, blurting the words out, getting them over with.
I took a deep breath, willing myself to say it again. The room spun faster. “He passed away. It just happened.”
“Oh my God.”
“We’ll be in touch with the firm as soon as we’ve made arrangements,” I said, a weird numbness setting in.
There was another missed call—several, actually—from Elaine. She’d been dialing me, Max, and Mom, one after the other, for the past few hours, and we’d all been hitting “ignore.” I listened to her voice mail, which said, and I kid you not: “Lovey girl. It’s Nanny calling. I’ve started running a bath. I’d like to know how your father is before I get in. And you know nobody likes to soak in cold water. Call me.”
I felt a wave of rage come over me. She knew damn well when she strapped her tweed-covered ass into her first-class seat on the plane that she was never going to see her son again. How is he doing?? Are you fucking kidding me?? I picked up the phone, dialed her number, and barely let her voice ring in my ear before opening my mouth:
“He’s dead,” I said. Then I hung up.
When I got back to my parents’ Fifth Avenue apartment, it occurred to me that everything should be different—and yet everything was the same. Maggie wiggled to greet us at the door, unaware of what we’d all just lost. A copy of the New York Times from that morning remained on the entrance table, unread. The silver picture frames on the living room mantel tilted just so—each filled with images of my father and my whole family in happier times, staring back at me as if to ask, Why so sad, Lizzie?
I grabbed my phone, wrapped myself in a yellow cashmere blanket, and slumped onto the edge of the couch. Then I looked up the number for Crawford Funeral Home, just a couple of blocks away, to schedule an appointment. It might sound weird that at twenty-one, I was the one who took on the responsibility of arranging my father’s funeral. But to be honest, I didn’t trust anyone else to get it right. Besides, unlike my mom and brother, who were being comforted by adoring friends and family in the next room and noshing on some of the pounds and pounds of catered food our family had ordered (Italians grieve with carbs), I preferred to be alone. A few minutes later, I had an appointment scheduled with the funeral director for the next morning.
I didn’t sleep. I’m not sure anybody did. For one thing, our apartment was buzzing with people well past midnight—I couldn’t tell if they were grieving and wanted to connect to Dad, through us, or if they felt bad and didn’t want to leave Mom, Max, and me alone. Normally, I would be the one walking around filling people’s drinks and turning up the music, but I couldn’t will myself off that couch. I had even hoisted poor Maggie onto it with me, using her as a pillow. It wasn’t until Gaby—fresh off a plane from Los Angeles—rushed through the door and threw her arms around me that I finally felt a sense of calm. While most people wouldn’t put their thousand-dollar vicuña shawl anywhere near someone’s teary, snot-covered face, she pulled me in as close to her as I could get. Gaby was the one person who didn’t ask me if I was okay. She knew I wasn’t. She wasn’t really, either. We both loved my dad.
At seven a.m., I took Maggie out to Central Park, her absolute favorite time to go for a walk since dogs are allowed to roam off-leash early in the morning. Afterward, I took off my clothes—the same ones I had been wearing for more than twenty-four hours—and dragged myself into the shower. I let the hot water run over me and again fell into a deep cry, this time with no one to comfort me. Dad was gone. He wasn’t on a business trip. He wasn’t at the hospital. Yesterday, with its quiet beginning and hectic ending, was not a dream. A heavy weight built up in my chest until I let out a deep sob—the kind of cry that starts way down inside of you and comes out like a gasp of air. My tears mixed with the water pouring down from the showerhead, and for twenty minutes, I sat on the floor, too exhausted to hold myself up. After I physically couldn’t cry anymore, I took a deep breath, toweled myself off, and looked in the mirror. “Okay, Lizzie, get it together,” I said to myself, channeling as much of my father’s strength as I could.
“ELIZABETH, WELCOME. We’re so sorry for your loss,” said a woman in a black suit standing in the Crawford foyer. I felt like I had walked right into a mausoleum—the outside of the building was smooth brown stone, and the inside, at least upon entering, wasn’t much more inviting. “Tony, our funeral director, will be with you in a moment.”
She left me standing on the ornate green rug, staring up at the absolutely huge chandelier that hung from the twenty-foot ceiling like a spider from a web. I was immediately overwhelmed with the smell of lilies. If you’ve ever been to a wake, you know why: florists love to put lilies in floral arrangements for funerals. It’s like the unofficial death flower. I decided then that I would not let lilies invade Dad’s service.
My first impression of Tony was that he looked like Tony Soprano—just with gelled-back, prematurely gray hair. He was smartly dressed in a black suit and red tie, although the poor stitching and slightly shiny fabric were a dead giveaway that he was not in designer duds. But, he had the right smile for the occasion: friendly, but not happy. I mean, any time someone walked through Crawford’s door, it was because they were experiencing one of the worst moments in their lives. He couldn’t exactly greet them with a wide grin and a kiss on both cheeks.
Tony led me to his office, which looked like it hadn’t been updated in decades. All the furniture was a dark wood, and the drapes, the rugs, the oil paintings—they all just looked so . . . heavy. It was kind of how I felt; even though I’d lost ten pounds in the past month, I was weighed down with grief. “We’ve got floral arrangements you can choose from, and I’ll take you to the casket room,” he said, pushing a book with photos of—you guessed it—lilies across the desk. I shuddered a little looking at a giant baseball made of white carnations and red roses and pushed the book back across the table.
“No,” I said. “But thank you.”
“No? I mean, we have other options, we can do whatever you—”
“I have my own plans for Dad’s funeral, and what I want is for this not to feel like a funeral at all. For starters, I don’t want any flowers like this. I want peonies.” (Peonies are my mom’s favorite flower, and while I knew Dad wouldn’t care about the blooms, I was sure he’d be happy for her to have that little piece of comfort.)
“Peonies are out of season,” said Tony, shaking his head. “Most people couldn’t get them for you, but I can. They’ll have to be flown in from Brazil. It will be expensive, but it will be great.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “Just get white peonies.”
Tony sat up straighter in his chair.
Our next stop was the casket room. Dad was going to be cremated, but thanks to my pricey floral selection, Tony was onto my affinity for luxury. Rather than just suggest a standard poplar-wood casket, Tony led me toward a white casket lined in powder-blue velvet, a mahogany casket with pops of gold on the handles, and the pièce de résistance, a casket made entirely from bronze. “This is a beauty,” he said, running his hands along the edges. “Of course, it’s metal, so it can’t be used for a cremation.”
“How much?” I asked.
“This one is ninety thousand.”
Even in my grief, or maybe especially because I was grieving, I was annoyed that Tony would even show me such a ridiculously priced casket. What kind of insane person would spend that much money on a box, especially for someone who wasn’t even going to be buried in it?
I spent hours walking Tony through my vision for Dad’s funeral. There would be no boring hymns. No tragic eulogies. If there was one thing I knew for certain, it was that Dad would want us to celebrate his life with a party, not some sob fest. And if there was anyone who could give him that, it was me. I’d spent years planning events for friends. Granted, they were usually to celebrate a grand opening or a significant birthday, but this wouldn’t be that different. Trade out a hip-hop DJ for a jazz ensemble, centerpieces for a casket spray, and invitations for prayer cards, and boom, the perfect send-off.
The night before the service, I called Gaby and asked her to pick out a black dress for me. She came over with two Fendi sheath dresses—one for me, and one for her. “It’s the same dress,” I said, stating the obvious. It was so Gaby to do something like that. Everyone always assumed when they met her that, since she was the daughter of a famous rock star, she would be some ditzy, spoiled brat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. She had a huge heart—and great taste. I gave her a hug, thankful for her sign of solidarity.
I wanted to get to Crawford right when it opened at eight a.m. to make sure that Tony had set everything up exactly as I had asked, so I jumped out of bed even before my alarm went off at seven and slipped into the Fendi dress and a pair of Jimmy Choos. I looked out the window onto the mostly empty sidewalks, the rest of the Upper East Side still sipping their lattes or under their pressed Egyptian-cotton sheets. For them, this would be just another day. I turned from the window and clasped on my dad’s Rolex. He hadn’t officially left it to me, but there was an unspoken understanding that I would be the one to wear it. There had always been alliances in our house: Mom and Max were a team, feeding off of each other’s practicality and general anxiety, and then there was me and Dad, always up to something fabulous and fun. While I love my mother—she’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever met—Dad was my person. I always knew he had my back. Even my mom seemed to recognize that Dad’s death would affect me in a different way than my brother. She certainly wasn’t going to say anything when I grabbed his watch. Nobody was.
“Are you ready?” Mom asked from the hallway. Turns out, she and Max hadn’t gotten much sleep either. Since we were all ready to go, we decided to walk over to Crawford together.
Tony was the first person to greet us. He paid special attention to my mother, carefully directing her into the room where my father’s casket was displayed, along with framed photos of him from different points of his life. There it was: Dad on a sailboat, Dad with his best friend, Dad piling sand onto the yard at our country house to create a “beach.” A whole life laid out in still images, which I had delivered in a box the day before. Mom saw the white peonies and put her hands over her mouth. “Oh,” she said, holding her hand to her chest, her eyes filling with tears.
“Where’s the restroom?” I asked, needing a minute to myself. Tony directed me down the hall. Just as I turned the corner toward the ladies’ room, I bumped into another man in a black suit holding a large makeup bag.
“You have more makeup than I do,” I said, smiling.
The man smiled back softly. “Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t mean to get in your way.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “I’m Liz, Brett’s daughter.”
“So sorry for your loss, Elizabeth,” said the man. He had an accent similar to Tony’s, but more wrinkles than him and warm blue eyes. “I’m Bill.”
I thought I had heard Tony mention his name. “Are you the embalmer?” I asked.
Bill looked uncomfortable, shifting from one foot to the other. “That would be me,” he said. “Again, so sorry about your dad.”
What else can you say to someone who just lost their favorite person?
When I got back to the chapel, I noticed that all of the additional chairs the staff had brought in for overflow guests were going to create a traffic jam near the casket. “They all need to go to the back of the room,” I said out loud, looking around to see if I could find Tony. I’d planned enough events to know that if things got really crowded, as I suspected they might, we’d need the space for standing room.
Mom shook her head. “There’s no need. This service is just for family and very close friends. There will only be a small group of us,” she said.
An hour later, more than five hundred people were lined up out the door of the funeral home. There were, of course, old friends and neighbors, family members and colleagues from the law firm. There were also Dad’s clients—rap stars and fashion moguls, famous entertainers and their entourages. (Only in Manhattan can a funeral double as a place to see and be seen.)
I wasn’t surprised by the diverse crowd. That was the thing about Dad—he made everyone feel like a close friend.
I busied myself greeting people as they entered the room. Instead of boring hymns, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones buzzed from the speakers. I hugged everyone at the door, trying to signal that this was an upbeat affair—it was okay to laugh and share stories. Once traffic was moving steadily to the front of the room, I ran over to find Max, who was nervously holding a copy of the eulogy we had written together. “You about ready?” I said. Don’t get me wrong—I was nervous too. But Max and I had spent hours deciding which details of Dad’s life to share with a room full of people who loved him. I had a feeling we’d bring the house down. And if not, well, what kind of terrible person is going to criticize a eulogy?
“Thank you all for coming today,” I said, looking at the rows and rows of faces. So many people were crowded into the room that even those lined up against the wall were standing four rows deep. I saw my mom clutch the tissues in her hand and take a deep breath. Max and I then proceeded to tell our favorite stories about Dad. It had been hard to narrow them down, but I took special joy in telling everyone about the time Dad was asked to bring the “gifts” up to the altar at Christmas mass. Dad was Jewish—he only went to midnight mass with my mom every year because it meant a lot to her. After more than two decades of marriage, Mom decided to kick things up a notch and volunteered herself and my dad to walk the wine and Eucharist down the aisle to the priest. Dad was excited to have a special part in the ceremony—he’d been passively participating for years, sitting, then standing; standing, then kneeling; up and down, up and down. He couldn’t wait to bring the gifts to the altar, because who doesn’t love presents? On the night of the mass, just seconds before they walked down the aisle, Dad looked puzzled as they handed him a metal bowl with a cloth over it. “Ohhh,” he said, slightly disappointed. “These gifts.” He recovered from the disappointment that his role was not to play Santa Claus, and after he deposited the bowl of wafers with the priest, he gave a thumbs-up on his way back to the pew while the other churchgoers looked on. Many of them knew my dad and that he was Jewish and playing along for his family.
Laughter echoed through the room as Max and I took turns, growing more confident in our eulogizing abilities with each crazy story. It gave me a thrill to see people crying from laughter—those were the tears Dad would have wanted. When Max and I finished our speech, a friend of mine from high school, Jen, threw her arms around me. Like plenty of people I grew up with, Jen’s parents were almost entirely absent from her life. A nanny had raised her. A chauffeur had driven her to school and ballet class. Her father, a big-time financier, stopped by our high school graduation but left before she even walked the stage to get her diploma because he “had a meeting.” “It should have been my dad,” she said. “It’s not fair.” (Before you judge her for saying something so awful, let me vouch for Jen and say her dad really was a trash can.)
I gave Jen a squeeze and told her to look around. There were wet eyes here and there, but for the most part, people were talking, hugging, even dancing. “Dad would have been proud of you,” Max said as the last of the visitors filed out of the room. I waited for his typical sarcasm to follow, but it never did.
By the time I got back to the apartment, most of the people who had come to grieve my father were standing in the grand foyer, sipping Lillet and Macallan 18 and pillaging a table topped with so much food, you would have thought we were holding a charity gala. Everyone wanted to hug me. Some of the hugs were warm and comforting, others were tense and awkward. Even though the party was going strong, I was starting to feel the fatigue of the previous few days weighing down on me. I retreated to the formal living room—one of the places in the house I never typically hung out—and hoped nobody would notice.
“Lizzie, why are you crying?” asked Elaine. She had graced us all with her presence, able to leave her hectic schedule of bridge tournaments and dinners on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. I couldn’t believe it; she legitimately looked puzzled.
“I’m just tired,” I said, barely able to look at her. We’d never been close, and I was always fine with that. But I’d never actually hated her until now. She was wearing an all-white pantsuit that matched her hair. You’d have thought she was going to a summer party in the Hamptons instead of, oh, I don’t know . . . her son’s funeral.
Elaine shrugged, and after telling me about all the fabulous people she got to catch up with at Dad’s service, she finally left me alone. The only people I wanted near me were Gaby and my friend Ben, who had grown up in the same building as me. Ben loved my dad and was especially a fan of his blueberry pancakes. Even when we were teenagers, Ben would stop by in the morning before school just to have breakfast with Dad and me. “Mr. Meyer,” he would say, plopping his backpack on one of the dining room chairs and taking a seat without having to be asked, “pass the syrup!”
When eleven o’clock came around, Gaby pulled me off the couch. “It’s safe, mostly everybody has left,” she said. I hadn’t eaten real food in several days, and I could see Ben was already making a plate for me. A few stragglers—mostly my mom’s friends who were too nervous to leave her side—came over just as I was about to attempt a bite. “Elizabeth! Oh! You did such a wonderful job,” said Mrs. Mullen, a woman my mom had met at Christie’s auction house. “I want you to plan my funeral! But, you know, not for a long time. Ha!” I slapped on a fake smile and nodded. It was the only reaction I had left.
Finally, the apartment was empty. Max had gone out with a group of friends—his method of grieving was to surround himself with people and talk about anything except the thing. The distraction technique. Mom busied herself with paperwork. She had stacks of hospital bills to deal with, but even more, she had all of Dad’s investments. On her side of the family, stock portfolios looked after by private wealth managers did not exist. “How am I going to figure this out?” I heard her mutter from the other end of the dining table, her head resting on her left hand, and Dad’s heavy, monogrammed silver Montblanc pen in her right. She looked so small sitting there alone at a table that sat sixteen. I should have comforted her, but I didn’t. I’d always had an easy relationship with Dad, but with Mom, things were more complicated. Now she was all I had left, and even though it sounds unfair, part of me resented her for it. She had willingly dedicated her whole life to caring for my father when he needed it the most, but he was dead. It wasn’t rational, but I felt that she had failed. She had let him die. She had promised things would be okay, and they weren’t.
Finally alone in my bedroom, I kicked off my Jimmy Choos, unzipped my dress and let it fall to the floor, and threw on a massive sweatshirt. It felt good to wipe off the waterproof mascara and unclip my pearl necklace. I didn’t have to put on a face anymore. I crawled into bed and pulled the comforter up to my chest. The room was totally dark, except for the city streetlights glowing through the curtains. There was one thing I had kept on: Dad’s Rolex. I looked down at the red face and felt a wave of panic rush from my stomach to my chest and back again.
“Dad,” I whispered, practically choking on the hurt. “What am I supposed to do now?” I lay there, numb, for what could have been minutes or hours. My only comfort was knowing I had thrown my father the best send-off I possibly could. Mulling that over, I somehow finally, finally drifted off to sleep.
When I woke up, I had the craziest idea.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is like nothing I've ever read before. And I mean that in the best way. It will inspire you and satisfy your morbid curiosity at the same time.
Highly recommend this book to everyone who has lost a loved one. Upbeat, interesting, informative, this book gives the reader a peek behind the scenes at an upscale funeral home...as well as the author's desire to greatly improve one of life's most traumatic events. Life lessons are also learned concerning patience, positivity, and compassion. Can't wait to read it again!!
Having worked for four years in a funeral home as a "receptionist" like the author, I was amazed to see how much I interacted with families. This book brought back memories of why that was one of my favorite jobs.
Funny as well as informative re: the behind the scenes happenings of an upscale funeral home.
Enjoyed this book a lot! Recommended!
When I opened this book I was not sure what I would find inside. Was I going to cry for the next few days or was just sadness waiting in the pages? I was wonderfully surprised at the content; witty, clever, humorous, yes, sad at times, eye-opening, irreverent, and tongue in check with quite a different formula for funerals that I found I quite liked. In the Southern Bible Belt a funeral is almost a religious experience; Ms. Meyers ideas of the send off were so different from we have, I found myself saying, yes, why not! What a wonderful idea to have all the things that person loved and valued placed at the funeral. I found this a wonderful idea. The portrayals of the ultra rich as pampered, spoiled, selfish, royalty were educational as I did not realize the rich expected so much to be done for and given to them as a course of life, a product of their privileges. As Ms. Meyers says in this book, death is the one thing that unites all of us, rich or poor. I enjoyed this book from the first paragraph to last sentence as Ms. Meyers and Ms Moscatello entertained and kept my interest as they documented Ms. Meyers travels from an ultra rich privileged spoiled party planning young woman grieving for her father to a savvy, professional, successive, business woman with a knack for fulfilling the human need at the time of grief in her own unique way; I learned more about the mortuary business than I hope I will ever need to know. I will admit I have often wondered how they did this or that, and Ms. Meyers answered those questions and more in a most entertaining way. I think I fell a little into envy with Bill, the ultimate surgeon, beautician, makeup artist, and all on dead bodies. I hope the person that does me up is as talented as Bill. From the hilarity of missing brains, mourning the Cardinal, mob funerals, friends dying of OD’s, Ms. Meyers seeing spirits, inter-office bickering and jealousy at the premier Crawford Mortuary, or Ms. Meyers just helping someone thru the death of their loved one with genuine caring, the book is a gem! I am so glad I did not pass up this book. I would give this book 5 stars. Thank you Ms. Meyers and Ms. Moscatello for this entertaining and informative book. I loved reading every word, and I want my funeral to be a party/celebration. In the South we have a saying, “when someone’s dies, we immediately have the frying pan in one hand and the chicken in the other,”, I am going to ask for them to grab the guitars, banjo’s, and BBQ grills, let’s have a party. I received this book from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an honest opinion.