Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Parking Lot: Dedication to Larry Burman

death ritual
On August 30th, we held a ceremony dedicating the new parking lot at the Olson-Holzhuter-Cress Funeral Home in Stoughton, in the memory of a beloved employee and friend, Larry Burman. A parking lot may seem like an odd thing to dedicate, but as Pastor Richard Halom noted in his opening address, a well constructed parking lot may not be a glamorous thing like a bridge or an ocean liner, but it makes life nicer for everyone, and welcomes them in to where they are going. Larry was like that. He wasn't flashy and didn't need to be the center of attention, but his smile, wit and gentle helpfulness made difficult days easier for his co-workers and the families we serve.
death ceremony
The Rev. Richard Halom addresses the gathering of Larry's friends and family

In this business, there are many stressful deadlines and concerns, but nothing like that ever seemed to phase Larry. He was always smiling and in a good mood, and usually had some choice wise-cracks along the way. He took care of everything that needed to be done even before any of us thought to do it. We knew that if Larry was on the job, everything would go well, and we’d have a good time too. Larry wasn’t a funeral director, but he could certainly run a funeral better than most of the funeral directors out there. What always amazed me about Larry was how fast he moved - even though he suffered from arthritis. When he came to work in the morning it seemed like he was hopping out of his car and ready to go - even before the car came to a full stop. The only time I ever saw Larry upset was when he came in one day to tell us about the seriousness of his illness. He wanted so much to be around long enough to hold his new grandchild.
death ritual memorial

Following Pastor, I shared some memories of Larry and performed the dedication

Larry had a wonderful and humorous take on everything, and he referred to everything as a ‘doo-hinkus’. Larry had a sharp wit- he didn’t suffer foolishness, and you always knew how he felt about something, but it was always good natured, and he was willing to laugh at himself as well. One night, we were working a visitation, standing to the side and visiting, and Larry looked down towards the floor and started laughing. It seems that when he got up in the morning it must have still been dark, and he put on one brown shoe and one black one. He laughed about that for a long time and he even made a point to tell the family about it –which I know brightened up the evening for them.

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Larry's Plaque and Monument sit in a garden planter in the parking lot

Larry had a great love for his family. He was always talking about them, and you could tell that he cared deeply for them. Larry’s wife Pat, and their children and grandchildren are wonderful people just like Larry. When Larry died, I can only imagine what his family was going through, but when we got out to his house, I’m not sure if I was helping the family through things, or if they were helping me, because that’s the kind of gracious giving people they are. I know that Larry loved them very much.

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Gathering in the funeral home to share memories after the dedication

Because Larry was so good at so many things, he was always in great demand for all sorts of projects at all of the Cress locations. So, it was natural that he took the lead when we needed a new parking lot. We took a lot of bids to resurface in asphalt, but Larry was smart enough to realize when D.W. Nelson Concrete of Stoughton gave us a great bid for doing it in concrete, that this was the best choice in terms of quality and cost effectiveness for the long term. On Larry’s recommendation, we went with Nelson’s bid, and I know that Larry would have been very pleased with the work they did for us.

death ritual memorial

Larry's wife Pat, stands with me at the close of the service

And so, we found it fitting to dedicate our parking lot in the loving memory of our friend Larry Burman. The plaque that now rests in the garden planter area of the lot, generously donated by Wisconsin Monument of Stoughton, will be a reminder to us of Larry’s wonderful spirit; cheering us up as we go out to services, reminding us as we come back in the afternoon why we do this work, warming us with his memory as we stand out parking cars on the cold winter days, and in a special way, we know that Larry will still be the first one here in the morning.

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.