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Sally Forth: Thank God for the Rabbi

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on November 11, 2017

As I have mentioned throughout the current Sally Forth strips, most points on this story arc were informed by my own experiences when my dad passed away last November. Some were based on location. (Almost all events occurred within the hallway of the palliative wing.) Others on particular issues. (No prior funeral arrangement had been made.) And some on various people’s quirks. (My mom saying hospital sandwiches are way too expensive and promising somehow she’d make us lunch right there with what I could only imagine would have involved vending machine corn chips and gauze.)

But on one occasion I lifted the dialogue verbatim from real life. Once everything had come to pass, once I had finished scanning Google for a funeral home, and once I had chosen a casket and decided on various other details, it came time to discuss payment. Now, I must stress that the funeral director I worked with was exceedingly helpful and patient. And while I know that is the product of a professional demeanor and it is in their interest to behave as such, I did not experience any of the very hard-sell tactics or ghoulish indifference you witness when a funeral home is portrayed on TV (Six Feet Under aside).

So when the entire itemized bill was presented—and I hid it from my Mom who was so worried about how much it would cost me that I thought just saying, “I chose a casket” would draw the response “You did what?!?”—I asked the funeral director about payment. The director—who like the one in the strip kept referring to me my first name almost certainly to humanize the process and not make it a simple transaction—said exactly as follows…

Please note, at no point did I take that as either cold or thoughtless. On the contrary, I thought the complete opposite. This was actually sound advice. But his very direct, and I say again helpful, response did stop me for a moment until I had the same exchange with him as Ted does in the third panel.

This was not the only time I received such financial feedback that day. After my dad passed away but we were still in the hospital, the staff went to locate a priest to speak to the gathered family. (One had visited earlier to give last rights). However, they couldn’t find one, so they sent a rabbi instead. And to say he was the nicest, most straightforward yet humorous person we had met at a time we need that the most doesn’t begin to describe it. He came into the room, immediately got a read on how fractious (read: Italian) things were, and addressed it promptly and thoughtfully, calming almost everyone with a few moments. He was so helpful, in fact, that my Mom later asked if he could preside over my dad’s funeral. But both the funeral home and cemetery were Catholic (that my family has almost no idea how to be Catholic except to put up a Christmas tree and maybe exclaim in Yiddish when an ornament breaks will be explained in another post), and so that couldn’t come to pass.

But at the very end of his talk he implored not to let the emotion of the day be used against us so that we end up spending far more than necessary on funeral arrangements. He broke down a little cost analysis, stressed money would not serve as a balm, and reiterated that the most important thing was mending fences (read: Italian) and being there for each other. And I will admit—and I’m going to buy whatever excuse I can get saying this by mentioning that we’re a quarter-Jewish—that when he said all this my first thought after thinking “Thank you” was “Did the rabbi just tell us not to pay retail?” And yes, I did consider putting that in the strip, but there was no way it wouldn’t have come across as a bad joke. (And if for some reason you need to know what religion the Forths are—and you don’t—let’s just say they’re non-practicing Mithraists.)

Now, when it comes to funeral costs within the strip’s storyline, a few people have asked a variation of the same question—”Why aren’t Ted’s four brothers helping with the planning or finances?” And it’s a very good and reasonable question. It’s also one I did not forget to take into consideration. But in the end I chose to put all such responsibilities on Ted’s shoulders for five reasons:

1. When you get right down to it, this is a story about Ted and his father. It’s his journey saying goodbye while dealing with the aftermath of a complicated relationship. To bring all the brothers into the decision-making process would have greatly diminished that. Plus, readers know Ted, not his siblings, and so I wanted them to see the story through his eyes.

2. To include all the brothers (five in total with Ted) in the planning, to have them all participate, would have greatly increased the number of strips needed to complete this story. I understand that this is a tough story for some, especially those who look to a comic strip for escape and not reflection, and I did not wish to extend it further than what I thought was necessary.

3. It has been previously mentioned that three of Ted’s four brothers are going through divorces, meaning they would not presently have the money to help with funeral costs. The fourth brother has a history of inconsistent employment because I just thought of that right now, and so would in no way be able to help.

4. In my experience—and those who I talked to before writing this story—often one person takes charge of everything. Sometimes this is, as mentioned, a matter of finances. Sometimes it’s because things move much faster and smoother if one person is in charge. And sometimes, well, others can be all to quick to say, “You got this? Oh good.”

5. We can only fit so many characters in these small panels. In short, to have all the brothers involved would have looked like Flanders’ overcrowded bomb “shelterini.”

And should anyone be wondering, yes, I listened to the rabbi. And yes, my credit card company gave me a lot of points that day.


2 Responses

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  1. Norman Levin said, on November 11, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    I found the entire story line deeply engaging and accessible. I think it was not only bold of you to turn this into the narrative but to also share your personal sadness and story with all of us. And I loved your remark about “don’t pay retail.” Rabbi: great advice – “money does not serve as a balm.”

  2. stilldollarstoredame said, on November 13, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    This series of strips and associated commentary are coinciding with my father’s decision to enter palliative care, and I appreciate seeing evidence that it is, in fact, a surreal experience and I’m not a monster for wanting to make jokes. For example, this would be easier if only I could edit my brothers out of the narrative as you’ve edited them out of Ted’s. See, that’s the kind of thing that it occurs to me to say that I can’t possibly say anywhere else but at least it’s OK to say it somewhere. Anonymously. In a place I’ve never posted before. Oh god, they’re going to find out I said that, aren’t they? Anyway, thanks for something helpful at a difficult time.

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