My Secret Business Weapon: Walking in a Cemetery

The Leopard Man trapped in the cemeteryAs a one-woman small business, I am responsible for cranking up the gears each morning and overseeing their function throughout the day. My ship runs pretty smooth and on course, but owning a successful small business is more than just a smooth ride. I need to be aware of the icebergs ahead.

I have a secret weapon that helps my creative business mind flourish as I maneuver and strategize towards my next phase. I spend a good chunk of my time out in country graveyards. These burial grounds are way out in the middle of nature. I always show up before a family arrives for the service of their loved one. I like to spend that quality time walking the land while my mind processes everything.

Time hangs lightly and solitude allows me time to gaze at ivy and grass and take in the nature surrounding me. Flowers glisten with last evening’s rain. In this place, as in all, the dead are granted a little space. This privacy is exactly what feeds my creativity. As I sit or walk alone, shade splashes silently around me and I am free to talk out loud and mentally work through the needs of all the families that will be coming through my doors.

This is my first business ownership experience, so I had to learn how to craft a model of action. I needed to have goals on paper, and know what steps to take to make sure I could attain those goals and then come up with bigger and better goals.

IcebergA business plan is a blueprint detailing how the gears of your business will mesh to generate profits. A sound business plan should contain the information needed for effective operation and management of a business. It explains what is possible for the business, how it will be done and why it will be successful.

In my early days of ownership I thought that just doing a good job and providing great service was what was needed. This is important, surely, but a small business owner always needs to be reaching, striving and ultimately coming up with continual and creative business ideas. Spurred by these thoughts I keep walking through the endless field of graves. The business of being alive once seemed simple — either you were or you weren’t — but even a brief contemplation reveals surprising complexities. How do I help families to the best of my ability while keeping the costs as low as possible?

A clutch of ladies stop me as I tramp by. They ask me where they can find “Gay Woodcock.” I’m momentarily puzzled by the name.

“We want to find her. She is somewhere in these first two rows but we just can’t seem to remember where.”

This is a tiny country park so there is no office, no worker at a booth or gravesite kiosk to access. I tell them I will walk the graves and help them look. They comment on my frivolous spiked heels and tell me that they wouldn’t have been able to walk on those little points even on the city street back in their day. After some silence they ask if I am there for a funeral since I am wearing a black suit. They also need me to kindly clarify why black was all the rage in the funeral world.

I explain, “Back in the day, the undertaker would arrive to the home with a myriad of things, some of these things being door badges. Door badges were late 19th century “Do Not Disturb” knob hangers. They signified someone inside the home had slipped through the veil into the netherworld.”

“I’m Mary, and this is my sister, Sally. Do you live far from here?”

“I live just down the street at the funeral home. I am the town undertaker at Cornerstone.” “That’s nice, dear. So were the door badges always black?”

IMG_0559I continue. “The undertaker would select the appropriate color door crepe or badge and attach it so the door knocker or bell would be totally silenced. Custom decreed black for the old, white for the young, and a combination of the two for young adults. Purples and grays became all the rage as time marched on, to be replaced by floral door wreaths in a multitude of colors.”

“Black crepe was a biggie for inside the house. Mirrors were covered with it so the soul would not get trapped and not be able to pass to the other side. Family photographs were also sometimes turned face-down to prevent any of the close relatives and friends of the deceased from being possessed by the spirit of the dead.”

They smile politely as my heels further aerate the soggy ground and I sink into the mud, and we still haven’t found Ms. Woodcock. I carry on my history lesson. “Deeply colored veils were often hung in the doorways and the servants dressed the part. Their outfits were black, their cuffs were black and the scullery maids wore matching ribbons from their caps. For a year the widow only wore black with a dull finish. No sheen allowed. The rules dictated that black be the color of full mourning, and strict etiquette outlined the manner and length of mourning. Many people in middle and upper class families had to consult household manuals or etiquette books to ensure that the rules were followed closely. Widows wore mourning clothing for two years or longer.”

They perk up and want to know if women would still wear their wedding ring.

“With the exception of a wedding band, jewelry was prohibited during the first month of mourning and was limited for the remainder of the period.”

Hooray Ms. Woodcock exists and is located! I am no longer needed, just sent away with the dead flowers.img-thing




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