little miss funeral

an average girl working at your not so average job

Category: grief

National Grief Awareness Day + Goodgrief App

When Eddie died, I didn’t know how to feel.

I don’t mean that in the literal sense, because I hope it’s quite obvious that I was grieving very hard, but I didn’t know where I stood relationship wise. I loved Eddie. I often describe him as my second grandfather, a protector, but we were close because we worked together. So even though he meant so much to me, when I described who he was to an outsider, they could not understand how I felt exactly because they saw our relationship as it was; co-workers.

In my grief, I needed others to understand. I needed to talk about it, and write about it, and explain how I felt so I didn’t hold it all inside. So I did those things. And even though I was met with support from others, no one really got it. In one way, I am sort of happy that others didn’t understand, because that meant that they never went through a loss like that. But one the other hand, it would have been nice to be able to really communicate with someone who had been through something similar.

Every one has a different way to cope and deal with grief. There’s no one way to grieve a loss and the road is hard and can be long. Companionship during this journey can help when you just feel overcome with emotions and feel like the days will never get better. Sometimes, it’s enough to have someone check in and see how you’re doing. Sometimes, you need someone to just be there with you, sharing in the silence. And other times, what we need is someone in a similar situation so we can explain what we’re going through and have the other person get it.

Today, August 30, 2018 is National Grief Awareness Day. I am so proud to be able to partner with the Goodgrief App and share this wonderful resource with others.

The Goodgrief App was co-founded by two women named Kim and Robynne. It’s a social network for people dealing with loss. It puts you in touch with others who have lost their partners, parents, child, relative, or friend. It allows you to connect with others who are in the same boat as you and who get what you’re going through.

I know there were so many times when I actually felt bad for talking about Eddie. It’s so silly to actually type those words, but I would sometimes feel like I was bothering those in my immediate circle because I just wanted to talk about him and get my grief out. If I would have known about this app, it would have helped me so much during the beginning of my grief journey.

There is no time frame for how long a person should grieve. This app, allows you to find others who can be a support system for you, no matter how long you may need them. The important thing to remember is that you are not alone, you are never alone, and there are wonderful individuals out there like Kim and Robynne who are working hard every day to make certain that we all have resources so we understand those truths.

For National Grief Awareness Day, I ask you all to look into the Goodgrief App and see what it can offer to you on your grief journey. I also ask you to pick up your phone, and send a little text or call someone you know who may be struggling. Let them know they’re not alone. Maybe just sit with them in their silence. Because one thing in this life is true, at one point or another we will all lose someone we love. It really does take a village and there is no need to be ashamed of that.

 

Frozen feet.

I buy UGG boots because they’re supposed to be warm. But not those fuzzy slipper-looking ones. The boots that I buy have to be somewhat stylish, since I’ll be wearing them on services. I work outside for half of my job; the days of the funerals. These days we park cars, say prayers, and wait at the gravesite once the family has said their final goodbyes. We wait until it’s finished. We take care of these bodies until they’re placed into the ground.

I try to stay warm on these cold winter days. We always have snow. The air always hurts your face. I own fleece-lined tights, fleece-lined leather gloves, hats that cover my ears, and these UGG boots. But today, I couldn’t feel my toes. Today, the ice grabbed my feet and wouldn’t let go. Today I was alone by the gravesite, with only the cemetery crew to witness this body being placed into the ground. But I waited until it was done.

My grandfather passed away in the middle of November. My grandmother decided to die during the famous October storm of 2006. Google it. We couldn’t bury her for about two weeks.  And then, you all know about Eddie, who passed away on December 14th. Death always seems to come for my family when it’s cold.

Today, January 2nd, also marks a year since a close family friend died. His burial was one of the coldest I’ve ever done. I stood at the foot of his grave and watched as the vault lid went on. I couldn’t feel my feet then, either. But it’s all part of the job. Honestly, I don’t mind that much. During these times, I remember how I felt having to say goodbye. I remember the pain, feeling broken, and the tears. I remember knowing, that even though these are the shells of those that I love, that these bodies still mean something. They matter. It would have been so much easier, if the cold that I felt in my feet could have just traveled up to my heart. We sometimes think that are problems can go away if we numb out the pain.

But we have to go through this pain. We feel pain because we love, and if pain is the price we pay to love, then I will gladly take it all. All of those good times are worth it, they really are. We’re going to cry, and scream. There are days when we’ll try to numb out the pain and find that we can’t succeed. And in the middle of all of this, we’ll find ourselves laughing at a memory and then the tears will roll once again. We have to go through it.

You will always feel what’s in your heart. But today, I can’t feel my toes.

Almost a year later.

When I was in mortuary school, I had a professor who shared her story of how she embalmed her father when he died. At first, I was taken aback, but by the end of the story, I saw what a beautiful gift the experience had been for her. For she had said how no one else could have taken better care of her father than her. I always thought how wonderful it was that I was going into the death care industry. I would be the person who would be able to care for my own family and friends one day. I could make certain that everything was done correctly and that they received the love and respect in death that they deserved.

That is, until, Eddie died.

In just a little over a month, it will have been a year since he’s died. At times, it feels as if he’s been absent from my life for years, but in the same breath it is still so fresh. I still have a voicemail on my phone from him, 11 seconds long. It’s nothing special, him asking for me to call him. But when I push the play button, I can still hear him say my name.

When Eddie died, I did a lot for him. But there was still so much that I couldn’t do. At the hospital, once Keith unzipped the body bag, I couldn’t bring myself to look upon Eddie’s face. I couldn’t be there when he was embalmed. I couldn’t even bring myself to be present while he was dressed for the visitation. It all hurt too much.

There is a growing movement for getting family and friends involved in their loved one’s funeral. There are even people who are providing opportunities for home wakes; for you to wash and dress your own loved ones when they die. As a funeral director, I can see the positives to this. Acknowledging death helps with our grief. But as a girl who has lost someone who I love, I can understand why we have professionals.

I do not regret not being present for Eddie’s embalming. Although it was therapeutic for my professor, I know that this was not something I was capable of doing for Ed. But I was able to comb his hair back and tell him I loved him on my own terms. There are so many ways that we can care for our dead, the important part is to just be with them. There are times when I think of the deaths that I will have to bear in the years to come. My grandma, my parents, and who knows who else. I often wonder if things will be different for me, if I’ll be strong enough to care for my loved ones completely on my own. But then, I think how strength has nothing to do with it. The only strength that matters, is the strength of my love for them. And if my heart is so broken that I cannot care for them myself, my new strength will come from leaning on other professionals, who are my close friends, to carry me in a time when I can’t carry myself.

Almost a year later and not much has changed. Except, everything has changed, because you’re not here Eddie. I miss you.

For the little ones.

I was standing near the front door of the funeral home when I saw their car pull in. Our doors have these little window panels so I quickly moved away. That’s all they needed right now, to see a person glaring through the funeral home at them. They shouldn’t even be here, I thought to myself, so try not to make them more uncomfortable than they already are.

My heart broke as they walked through the doors. I quickly introduced myself as I lead them to the lounge. I tried to not stare at her stomach as she sat down, still swollen, but now just a symbol of an empty tomb. I don’t pretend to know why things happen. Things like this shouldn’t happen.

How do you not cry with these families? At one moment, I had to catch my breath to stop my own tears from falling. The moment she just broke down as she laid her head on his shoulder. He had his arms around her and hugged her tight. I sometimes think that I don’t have the right to cry. I didn’t carry this life inside of me. How can I possibly be sad that a life has ended that I never even knew? But I still mourn with them. I said a prayer that they would always lean on each other.

In the hospital morgue, they have the little body rolled tight in a blanket. The mothers name identifies who this child is, but this child has a name. It always annoyed me that the hospitals don’t use the child’s name. If you wanted to, you could pick up this baby with one hand, but we don’t. We cradle this little body in both hands, the same as the mother would if she’d be whispering lullabies into their ear. None of this makes any sense.

The part that I hate the most comes when we arrive back at the funeral home. We unwrap this little body, and look upon this little face. It’s perfect. Tiny lips that are perfectly close, and the cutest little button nose. There is a little hat on the baby’s head. Something that the mother would have probably chosen as she took her child home. Instead, I took the child with me. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

When we arrive the next morning at the cemetery, I have everything all set up. The mother and father arrive with a teddy bear in hand. I give them time as they place the stuffed animal in the casket. I wonder if she’ll ask to hold her baby, but she doesn’t. When it’s time, I ask the father if he wants to carry the casket to the grave. He looks at me confused, saying he didn’t think he could do that. Of course he can, I assure him. He holds his baby’s casket as we walk over. He places his child into the freshly dug grave. The priest blesses the ground and speaks the most beautiful words to the family. I didn’t think it was possible, for someone to know what to say at a time like this. But he did. His words didn’t take the pain away, nor did they bring this child back, but somehow, his words brought a little comfort.

It was actually a beautiful day for a burial. It would have been perfect funeral weather, as I describe it, expect for the fact that we were burying someone who we shouldn’t have been.

In the seven years that I’ve been a funeral director, I’ve buried more babies that I should have. In mortuary school, they talk about these things. Suicides, car accidents, illnesses. They talk about how these deaths are the hard ones, and they are, but these little babies, I lose a little bit of my heart with each one that I care for.

I have no words of comfort for these families. No answers to their questions. All I have are open arms and ears. I care for these babies as if they’re my own. And I mourn each death. A fellow funeral director commented to me the other day how she remembers each baby she’s buried. I do as well. I carry these children with me.

I really love what I do, but on these days, I wish with my entire heart that I’d never became a funeral director. I wish that I never knew this life.


Every time I bury a baby, I think about my future. I don’t have any children. I want a baby, more than anything, but I am also terrified.

A baby is brought into this world by love and a baby symbolizes hope. With these precious little lives, we hope that they will know nothing but love and never have to feel any pain. We want these babies to grow into good people and live wonderful lives, so we place our own dreams and wishes into them. And when a baby dies, suddenly, the world doesn’t make any sense.

I have seen things that no one should have to see. I have cared for little ones when their mothers should have been instead. These deaths cannot be justified. This heartache has no words.

If there is one thing that I can tell to women out there who have lost a baby it is this – you are still a mother, even if your arms are empty. If you have carried life inside of you, not even death can take that title away. Your grief is real and I wish more than anything that I could fix it. But since I can’t, I will continue to do my job as best as I can. And I will pray that I never have to do a funeral for another little one. But if I do, I will take care of them and love them as if they are my own. Because these little babies deserve to be loved, even in death, even by a funeral director.

One word.

My brother travels a lot. Before he leaves on one of his trips, he does research so he is as prepared as he can be. One thing that he tries to do is learn certain phrases of these different languages so he’s not completely in the dark while traveling.

It was during a conversation that we were having as he described to me his journey to learn some basic Norwegian that I mentioned how I’d love to learn some Polish.

My ancestors came from Poland, and although I’ve never been, I’ve always been very interested with my heritage. So one day, my brother gave me Pimsleur Basic Polish. An interactive CD that is supposed to help you learn – you guessed it – Polish.

Yesterday I was driving and since it’s been a while, I decided to pop the CD in. It was going quite well until the voice on the CD asked, “How do you begin to ask a female a yes or no question?”

“Easy!” I thought to myself and out loud I began to say the phrase, “Czy pani”

Then it all went downhill.

All of a sudden, I started to freak out. I had to pull over to the side of the road because I could feel my eyes begin to swell with tears.

Pani is what Eddie used to call me.

“How are you doing today, pani?” he used to mumble as he walked through the door of the funeral home. I’d smile and he’d laugh as he took his normal place in the chair besides my desk. Eight months today he’s been gone. Eight. Months. And while I normally think I’m doing very well in coping with his death I was blindsided by this one little word while driving.

Grief is a sneaky little bastard. You begin to learn a new normal and then all of a sudden you’re wrapped right back into the hurt and pain like the death has just occurred.

I took a few moments. I shut off the CD and slowly breathed in and out. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Eddie. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish he was still here with me.

I will never pretend that I know everything about grief. I don’t know why I was affected like I was while listening to the CD. Maybe because I subconsciously realized I was coming upon the fourteenth. Maybe because there have been a few things happening in my life that I really wish I could talk to him about. Whatever, it doesn’t even matter. It still sucks.

I just miss him so much. It doesn’t matter how many months pass by, no amount of time can erase the love that I have for him. I will carry him with me for the rest of my life. And I will gladly take all of the sadness and pain; honest. Because grief wouldn’t hurt so much if I didn’t love Eddie so much. That’s what this life is about. That’s the only thing that makes sense. Love.

Maybe next time I pop in Pimsleur Basic Polish I won’t have to stop my car. Or maybe I will. But I do know, whenever I hear the word ‘pani’ I’ll think of Eddie and no matter what, I’ll remember how blessed I was to have him in my life.

 

 

How actions can speak louder than words.

This past week I had a very difficult funeral.

A young person passed away under traumatic circumstances. During the visitation, I found myself making up excuses to steal their mother away so she could come and sit in the office with me for a few moments. She needed a break.

Each time she would tell me that all of the callers were saying the same thing over and over again to her. She was drowning in her grief as it was, and the amount of people who came to pay their respects was overwhelming her.

I told her that each person would tell her things from a good place in their heart, but during times of grief words fall short.

When someone dies, no matter the circumstances, we don’t know what to say. We tell the grieving that we are sorry for their loss. That their loved one is in a better place. Or that their loved one is not suffering anymore.

These are sayings that have become so familiar with those of us who visit funeral homes that at times we may not really know what we are saying.

And nothing that you say can make a death better. No words can bring someone back to life. So what do you say? Maybe, instead, it should be what you can do.

You would be amazed at the healing work a hug can do. Or the next time you have to go to a funeral, you could share your favorite story of the deceased with their family. Or maybe in the weeks following the funeral, you’ll stop by with a warm meal, or you could offer to take them out to dinner so they can get out of the house.

Words cannot fix a death, but actions can help us feel less alone.

Words can be empty promises, but actions are proof that people care.

Sometimes, you don’t need to say anything at all. Sometimes, you just need to be there.

I know that this person’s mother appreciated all of her family and friends coming to pay their respects. But I have a feeling that in the days and weeks to come, she’ll remember those who were there for her in other ways a lot more than some of the “I’m sorry for your loss” statements that she received during the funeral.

Carrying them with me.

I still get really sad.

It’s been three months since Eddie died and there are moments when I’m at the funeral home half expecting him to still walk through the front door.

It’s been over two years since my dog Bandit died and sometimes when I walk into my parent’s home I’m still surprised when he’s not sitting on the top steps of the living room.

And even though my grandfather died over fifteen years ago I can still feel tears behind my eyes when I’m in St. Andrew’s Church working a funeral home and the organist starts to play “On Eagle’s Wings”.

But there are a lot of smiles in between the sadness, too.

When I think of Eddie I think of how he protected me and how he allowed me to see the soft and caring side of him. I smile when I remember how I could never travel in his car with him without exiting with so much ash from his cigarettes. Something that I would roll my eyes at when it happened but something that I now miss so much now, dammit.

I find myself smiling on cold days remembering how Bandit used to burrow under the covers of my blanket and keep me warm. And how I would refuse to get up because I knew he was comfortable and how I never wanted to disturb him. I laugh when I watch old videos and hear how he used to snore and make ‘old man’ noises when he slept. Sounds that used to carry me off to sleep.

And when I think of my grandfather, I smile remembering how he always wore that blue sweater, no matter what the weather was like outside. No matter how ratty it ended up getting, he loved it and wouldn’t listen to anyone who told him to take it off. My heart is warm thinking of my grandfather, because I know, truly, what it is like to be the joy in someone else’s life. He was one of the first people who taught me what it means to love and to give to others.

When I think of these people in my life that I’ve loved I think of what a privilege it has been that I got to spend any time with them at all. I think of all the ways that they’ve shaped me into who I am today.

I still get really sad. Time does not heal all wounds, but instead we become warriors who carry the love we’ve shared inside us. It’s okay to never get over a death. But we need to also remember the happy times, because it’s not okay to never move forward.

A little bit of my mother’s story & a very difficult day.

My mother had a baby that died.

She gave birth to her the day before her own birthday, but for whatever reason, the baby didn’t make it. It was her first child, a little girl.

She told me about it when I was younger and I used to delight in the fact that I had an older sister in Heaven. It was something that I couldn’t comprehend and it’s a loss that I pray I never understand. The baby was buried on top of my mother’s grandparents. Her casket made by an uncle. My father carried her on his lap as the car drove to the cemetery for the burial.

My sister is someone who I don’t think of very often, I’m sad to say. It’s hard to remember someone you’ve never met. Instead, I get little bits and pieces of her from the memories my mother chooses to share with me. And although she’s never said it, I’m positive it’s a loss she still feels very deeply to this day.

Today I had to take the hand print of a little baby who had died in his mother’s womb. This little boy, who was only a few weeks along, and yet I was able to count each and every finger on his little hand. I was able to look upon his little button nose and view his little eyelids gentle closed as if he were merely sleeping.

Today I witnessed death in a way that I wish no one ever has to experience.

And today, I remembered my older sister for the first time in a long time.

I feel such sadness in my heart as I type these words. Sadness for the parents who just a few days ago had so much hope for the future. Sadness for myself, for having to deal with death in instances like this. And sadness for the simple reason that I do not understand why things like this happen.

Not everything in life makes sense.

Some things just suck.

For Eddie.

I was in the back room of the funeral home on the ground crying when Keith came in.

He stood there looking at me for a moment before asking me what had happened. But I know that he knew. Just how I somehow knew from the message that was left for me.

“Hi Lauren, it’s Steve, hey can you give me a call when you get this message?”

Steve is Eddie’s son. We had been talking on the regular for a while ever since Eddie’s wife had died in April. Calling to touch base to make sure we informed one another about how Ed was doing with her death. Everyone was concerned with how he was coping, and from our phone calls we both knew that he was having an extremely difficult time.

Ed had gone into the hospital two days before this message was left for me. I had spoken with him on the phone the same day and he just sounded off. He was depressed. He wasn’t taking care of himself. And now he needed help. The day after he went into the hospital I was stuck at the funeral home, but Keith had gone to visit him. So when he got there, Keith was able to Facetime with me so I could speak with Eddie. He looked tired, but his mind was totally with it. I told him that I was going to visit him after I met with a family the next day, and he told me he loved me when we said goodbye.

And then I got the voicemail. And I called Steve back. And somehow, I knew what had happened. And I knew that I wouldn’t be visiting Eddie at the hospital that day.

Eddie had died.

My Eddie was gone.

I still can’t wrap my head around it. As a funeral director, I obviously know that no one lives forever. But when it came to Eddie, I kind of always thought he would. And the way that he passed was so fast. Two days in the hospital. The doctors said that he was dehydrated. We knew he was depressed. But I believe that he died because he missed his wife too much. No matter how much his family needed him; no matter how much I needed him, nothing could fill the void that she left when she died. I can understand that. But I’m still angry.

The hardest thing about Eddie’s passing has been that I have no way to describe his death.

Co-workers, although we were, just sounds so cold. Technically, we weren’t related. But this man, this grumpy, protective, kind-hearted, big-bull of a man, was so much to me.

I loved Eddie in a way so unique that I can’t even find the ways to describe it. Throughout his funeral, Ed’s son and daughter-in-law described me as a second grandchild. And I’m very thankful for that, because it makes me feel as if he’s described myself to them in that way. My aunt has been telling people that I’ve lost my buddy. And lost is exactly what I am.

I went with Keith to the hospital to pick Eddie up. We went down to the morgue and I stood there. Keith pulled away the sheet and I asked him how he looked.

“Like Eddie”, he replied, but I didn’t look at him.

I called Keith on the phone later that day to see how the embalming went.

“How is his makeup?” I asked, “How does he look?”

“He looks like Eddie.”

I wasn’t there when they got him ready. I wanted to see him as I always had. Dressed in his suit, ready to work. But when I arrived at the funeral home early the day of the visitation, I couldn’t bring myself to enter the room. I didn’t want it to be real.

But it was real. And there was nothing I could do to change the fact that Eddie had died. So I walked in and saw him lying in his casket. And the thing is, he looked just like Eddie. There he was. I took out my makeup kit and did some little touch ups on him. I combed his hair back. I held his hand. And I cried.

Walking into Church with his casket, I cried.

Taking his body to the crematory, I cried.

It’s funny, how even after the funeral, when everything is complete, you still cry.

Closing the lid of the casket doesn’t stop your grief.

But we all did what we thought was best. Even after all the time he spent working for a funeral home, even after losing his wife, eight months – to the date – he still never set up any sort of prearrangements for himself. But Eddie had a good funeral.

Eddie has affected my life in more ways than he could have ever known. I am a better person for having had the chance to know him. And the pain that I feel from his death is testament to him. For if he wasn’t such an amazing man, my heart wouldn’t hurt so much in his absence.

In the days since his death I’ve cried and been angry and been at peace knowing that he is now with his wife. Grief is a cycle that doesn’t make any sense.

In the days to come, I’m going to continue to be angry, and to cry, and to be at peace. And every day his passing gets to be a little more familiar. One day, I’ll be able to laugh much more than I cry. I’ll be able to share all sorts of stories about Eddie and laugh and smile all the while doing so. Life has to go on. Nothing stops the sun from rising. My life is different now. The funeral home is extremely different now, but we need to keep moving forward.

And in my heart, when I tell him I miss him and love him, if I really listen close, I can almost hear his gruff voice reply, “I know sweetheart, I love you too.”

Some words on last year. Some hope for this year.

I’m pretty proud of myself for all of the blogging that I did in December. Although I didn’t blog on Christmas Day (I was boycotting it to spend all of my time with family),  twenty-four consecutive days of writing was a new experience for me.

December was a difficult month.

It is normally a month filled with joy and anticipation for Christians as we reflect on the true meaning of the holiday season. Instead as many of you know, my family suffered a loss five days before Christmas. And later, on the last day of the year, a friend passed away.

It’s the pits.

Being surrounded by death day in and day out should prepare me for these losses. Instead, I find that I am filled with disbelief and grief just like anyone else. Being a funeral director does not mean that I am immune to grief. Instead, it means that I have a different understanding of the road that lies ahead. Instead of ushering others down a path of a new way of life, I find that I’m whispering words of encouragement to myself.

I have verbally told myself that I am okay throughout this entire process. It hurts. It’s unfair. But I will be okay.

Keep telling yourself that you’re okay. Even if you don’t believe it. It’s already been seventeen days without my aunt and six days without my friend. If that’s not proof that the sun is still rising every morning than I don’t know what is.

With this new year will come new joys, hopes, disappointments and grief. It’s the nature of this thing called life. I just pray people become a little more understanding and a little more compassionate. We never know the burdens others carry on their hearts.