little miss funeral

an average girl working at your not so average job

Month: August, 2012

Join the club.

Hi, I’m Lauren. have a crappy cellphone photo of me.

 

Hello everyone!

I’ve recently been getting a lot of views on my blog thanks to the wonderful Caleb Wilde who featured one of my posts on his blog.(You can read it and his great work here -> http://www.calebwilde.com/2012/08/the-top-5-things-you-should-know-about-funeral-directors/#.UCUQvmvUPbc.facebook)

It was also featured on ConnectingDirectors.com after Caleb’s initial post and can be found here -> http://connectingdirectors.com/articles/35727-the-top-5-things-you-should-know-about-funeral-directors

Well, anyways, thanks to Caleb I’ve recently found numerous blogs written by funeral directors and people in the death care industry and I am just amazed. I guess I really shouldn’t be because when I started my blog I was just thinking of writing about what I do and death the way I see it because I was sick and tired of people always asking me. So I figured, hey, I’ll write about it and you can read it and that will be that. And like, why wouldn’t other people have those same thoughts? Working in a funeral home definitely makes for interesting dinner conversations. I was driving in the car with my dad today as a matter of fact, and he asked me if I ever shaved off someone’s beard while embalming when I wasn’t supposed to. I said no, thankfully, however today I had to shave off a man’s mustache after he was embalmed. (The funeral director who embalmed him didn’t know if he was supposed to have a mustache, and like I said, it’s easier to get rid of it after than to put it back on later.) I was telling my dad how difficult it was because he was in fact embalmed and all of a sudden my dad started to laugh. He kind of just shook his head and said, “Oh Lauren, if normal people could hear some of our conversations.” But these are the things that people ask me. These are the things I write about.

And he’s right of course. My daily life isn’t like everyone else’s. In fact, it’s extremely different. But fellow funeral directors, they get it. I don’t need to explain to them how difficult it is to shave a person who is embalmed because they’ve been there and know. We’re all sort of part of a club. I can make a horrid joke like giving someone their ‘fifteen minutes of flame’ and they would laugh. They understand that they need to laugh, and they need to have a sense of humor dealing with the dead. And that’s awesome.

Fellow funeral directors who work in/own funeral homes near you aren’t always seen as colleagues, though. They’re seen as competition. While I was in school I worked part time in this funeral home in Massachusetts and the owner had one of his office ladies look through the paper everyday and mark down what calls his competitors were doing by scanning the daily obituaries. And I guarantee a handful of funeral directors reading this, willing to admit it or not, do the same. Because it’s important to know that out of 100 calls, I’m doing 75 of them while Joe down the corner only has 25. And you know, I think that it is important for small family owned funeral homes. In today’s day an age family run funeral homes are still able to offer you personalized services and something more. Family run funeral homes are willing to go out of the way and make you feel like you’re apart of their family. With such large corporations out there there’s something to be said about that. And if by writing down what all the local funeral homes are doing in terms of business helps them to sleep at night knowing they can still play the game, well go for it. And yes, I do work for a small family operated funeral home and I am gosh darn proud of it.

I’m getting off of the point that I’m trying to make. What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t matter if someone is your competition. You’re still apart of the same club. You can understand each other. After all, you both work the same crazy hours, you both wake up if that phone rings in the middle of the night, you both get strange looks when you enter a nursing home while wearing a suit. It’s the common factor that unites us all. And we all have something to learn from each other.

Now, I would like to thank Caleb Wilde for allowing me the chance to get to know another funeral director through his writing. I’d like to thank him for featuring my post on his website allowing other funeral directors the chance to reach out to me. And I’d like to say that if anyone ever thinks that anything I write is up their alley or witty or maybe caused them to laugh a little bit, I would be honored if they’d want to feature one of my posts on their blog/website. All I ask is for the credit for my piece. (I’m a really nice girl you know, all you have to do is ask!) Just let me know what post you want to use and when you’re going to use it. And if you don’t want to do that and would rather talk about death/dying/funeral homes I’m your girl. I’m always up for some good chit chat and learning opportunities. And I’m always down for hearing some new funeral jokes. The one’s that I have are all pretty stale.

Dead people verses spiders.

I don’t really remember the first time I saw a dead person. Growing up with a funeral home in the family, it just seems like they were always there. Of course, they were always there in their nicely polished casket dressed in their Sunday best. That whole final memory picture of them laying in state really does matter. They look so non-threatening. Just kind of sleeping.

You know, I really kind of always wanted to be a funeral director. Well, ever since I was twelve or so and that’s basically classified as ‘always’ if you ask me.  But I specifically remember getting really serious about it in my Junior year of high school. By this time my parents started to take the whole “I want to be a funeral director” thing serious. Or at least as serious as they could. I can still picture my mother’s nervous expression whenever a friend/co-worker/family member asked her what little Lauren wanted to be when she grew up. Her pupils kind of dilated in that ‘fight or flight’ fashion. I assume that she contemplated telling them what I aspired to be, but she always let the truth slip out in the end. I understand her reserves when it came to telling the general public my goals. What normal seventeen year old wants to work with dead people? The answer is simple. Me. My absolute favorite part of this conversation would always come at the end. My mom would tell her friends that I wanted to be a funeral director. They would act shocked/surprised/disgusted with her response. She would promptly close with, “Yea, but you know, we’ll see.”

I know that she would add in that “we’ll see” as protection. My aspirations were just crazy enough to get some people excited to the extent of curiosity and intrigue. She didn’t want to let them down if I decided after all that the dead weren’t my cup of tea. But it also kind of upset me. Not in a sad way, more in a I-couldn’t-believe-that-she-didn’t-believe-me kind of way. I guess she believes me now.

When you go to school to become a funeral director or embalmer, you don’t really get the best cases to work on in the embalming room. Most of the bodies were homeless people who had been dead for weeks. Needless to say, those first few times in school when I saw a dead body in its most pure state, well, that took some getting used to. Have you ever heard of people leaving ‘pretty corpses’? Yeah, well, these bodies were anything but pretty. It’s one thing to see a body in a casket all fancied up. But I thought to myself, why is that? Why is a body is a box normal for me but not a body on a table? It’s because that’s what society has shown us. It’s tradition to go to a funeral home and see a body laying in state. That’s actually pretty normal. People ask me all the time how I do what I do. It’s really simple. How do you do anything? You get used to it, or maybe it just becomes habit. Well, dead people kind of become normal when you work around them all day. Why should I be afraid of them? They can’t hurt me. I can’t hurt them. All I can do is take this dead body and turn them back into a person’s father. Because this dead body isn’t just a ‘dead body’. They are loved by people. They are someone’s family. And sometimes, I still get nervous. One specific example would be if I have to unzip a body bag. It’s just that one minute before the bag is opened when your imagination runs wild. That moment before you know exactly what you have in front of you on your table. But I blame scary movies for these moments. Or maybe I should blame my wild imagination.

But don’t get me wrong, I do have my fears. They’re mostly associated with the millions of spiders that decided to make the old Victorian house which is now the funeral home where I’m employed at their home. I don’t know who gives them any rights, but I do know that I hate getting the mail from the mailbox because along with envelopes I’ll pull out at least three spiders. And I hate during the summer months how they all make their webs by the door handles so I have to scream to get into work. But hey, I never claimed to be superwoman. I’m just your average twenty-two year old woman who works with dead people. And who is ridiculously afraid of spiders. But I work with men who wear big shoes. And you know what they say about men who wear big shoes, right? They have large feet perfect for squashing spiders with.

Fifteen minutes of ‘flame’.

I used to want to be an actress pretty bad. Maybe a part of me still does. You see, ever since I was a little girl I would go to plays and musicals with my mom. Some of my favorite memories are from when my mom took me to Shea’s Performing Arts Center. And like, it’s a different world inside there, you know? There were so many different kinds of people gathering together to watch something amazing and lose reality for a few hours. I can remember just sitting in one of those theatre chairs totally engulfed in the musical and thinking to myself, “I want to do that.”

Unfortunately, God did not bless me with a singing voice. You kind of need one of those if you’re going to play Christine in The Phantom of the Opera. It’s kind of a tough thing, to give up on a childhood dream. I’m not sure exactly if I gave up on it or if reality just set in. Whatever the case may be, God did put me on a different path; a path that not many people walk down. Maybe he thought I was strong enough to handle it. Maybe he thought I could affect people in a much greater way doing what I do rather than having people watch me up on a stage.

I have no idea what I said at work today, but whatever it was caused Mark to tell me, “Lauren, you’re not meant to be famous, you’re meant to give other people their fifteen minutes of flame.”

It’s a horrible funeral joke, I know, but sometimes you need to have a horrible sense of humor when you work in a funeral home. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about giving people their ‘fifteen minutes of flame’ since he said it.

If you can look past the funeral pun, that’s exactly what we do. As funeral directors it’s our job to memorialize a person’s life in a respectful and dignified way. From helping families write death notices to picking out a casket it’s all about the lost loved one and their life. And to be there helping a family send their loved one off, well, that’s a gift all in itself. For a few days, my world revolves around making sure that a visitation/memorial service/funeral service goes off perfectly so this deceased person has a decent funeral; because everyone deserves a decent funeral. Everyone deserves their time to shine.

And you know what? I’m not sure if I would get the same satisfaction that I do now if I were an actress. When I have family and friends of the deceased come up and hug me I know it’s because they mean it. When they look me in the eyes and say ‘Thank you’ I can feel it. So I guess I’m happy being on this road that I’m on. But if God ever decides that I could be more beneficial to the world by starring in a movie with Johnny Depp I wouldn’t question him. After all, God has never steered me wrong.