little miss funeral

an average girl working at your not so average job

Category: grief

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.

December 22, 2015: More on Aunt Terry.

The amount of support that I have received since writing on my aunt’s passing has been, quite frankly, overwhelming.

I know that the internet can be an amazing support system but to actually experience that support during a difficult time just leaves me without words.

Yesterday was hard.

After a very long and hectic day I went out for drinks with my husband and once again may have had one too many (or three.. or four) margaritas.

I also spent a good portion of the day sporadically bursting into tears. I may have made a few people uncomfortable.

But it’s okay. Because it was what I needed at the time.

And you know what? I don’t feel ashamed. Grief is messy and raw. It overpowers us and can be controlling. But like any storm the waves will calm. The rainbow will show.

December 21, 2015: When the road has ended.

I got the call today at 12:10 am.

By 1:00 am I was at the Hospice center with my funeral associate. Paperwork signed. Room 11. Now or never.

I entered the room and there she was. Eyes closed. Mouth slightly ajar. I touched her hand which was still warm. Don’t cry. This sucks.

Four days before Christmas

Should I call my mom? Should I call my uncle?

Where is the line between funeral director and family member?

At least I know she’s safe with me. At least I know I’m taking care of her.

I’ve kept my promise Aunt Terry.

For JW.

My husband lost a friend this past month.

A young man who I never got the chance to meet, but whose death I grieved greatly.

About a year ago, his family heard that word that stops even the strongest of men in their tracks.

But he was a warrior and he beat the cancer.

At the wake his father said that he gave so much of his heart away, that in the end he did not have enough for himself.

I hugged his mother and sister, not able to find words for comfort.

No words could bring him back.

I want them to know that even though I never met Jed, I loved him very much.

My husband sat and told me stories of them together as kids.

And I thought to myself, how amazing to have lived such a short life and to have affected so many.

How amazing to have gone through something so horrible, but to have brought such peace into the world.

What a legacy to leave behind.

To not curse the hand you’ve been dealt, but to play your cards righteously.

To fight with all you have.

To give so much of your heart away to others so as not to have any left for yourself.

Lessons from hot coffee grounds.

When I was seventeen, I started working at Dunkin Donuts. All in all, it wasn’t a bad gig. I worked with a bunch of cool people and I had an unlimited supply of coffee. And when the canisters that held our coffee ran out, I had to clean out the filter baskets and throw away the used grounds. Often, during busy times, I would be emptying boiling hot grounds into the trash. These boiling hot grounds is where the story begins.

I was closing one night when I went to brew fresh coffee. The grounds had not been emptied from the filter, so I grabbed the handle to the filter basket and pulled it free. Somehow, someway, through what I could only describe as an act of witchcraft, a small clump of boiling hot grounds jumped, yes, jumped from the filter and landed very nicely on the exposed skin above my right wrist. Needless to say, I was graced with a lovely circular hole as a painful reminder of the attack. Over time, my skin did that thing that skin does and healed itself, but I was still left with an imperfection above my wrist. A glossy circular patch of skin.

I’ve never hated any of my scars. My mama used to tell me that scars added character, so I always embraced them. And it wasn’t until the other day, when I was getting out of the shower, that I noticed my little patch of glossy skin above my right wrist was gone. After further inspection, I came to one again discover where that nasty little clump of coffee grounds fell some 8 years ago, but it was very difficult to see. It is now so difficult to see, in fact, that if I were to show anyone it, they may claim that a scar never existed in the first place.

When someone we love dies, the amount of pain and grief that we feel is overwhelming. It may feel like there is a physical hole in us, because that person is missing from our lives. At first, our family, friends and community acknowledge this death, because they can see the hole. They do what they can to comfort and support us. Time passes by and we’re expected to heal. To move on. And then there comes the time when our lives are supposed to go on as normal, as if the death has never even happened.

But our grief tells us otherwise. People may not be able to see the scar anymore, but we know it’s there. In some cases, the pain may feel as fresh as it did upon first impact. In other cases, the pain may just be a memory. Either way, it is important to acknowledge the scars you have and to wear them proud. You have changed and you’re a survivor. You’ve added to your character.

A brave woman and a hard decision.

Brittany Maynard has died.

I know this for a fact because my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been blowing up. There are a lot of people out there who are applauding her and her decision to end her own life after a battle with terminal cancer. There are also a lot of people out there who are not in favor of the decision that she had made, for many different reasons.

When I first stumbled upon Brittany’s story I tried to write an article on here about my thoughts on the situation. I wrote and deleted, wrote and deleted some more, until eventually I gave up. And I think the main reason I decided to abandon my article was because I had no idea what Brittany was going through.

I know that my time on this Earth is finite. I know that one day I will die. I do not, however, know how I would live with a Doctor standing in front of me telling me I had six months to live and that there was nothing he could do to help me. I don’t know how I’d be able to digest that information and go on.

Brittany made a decision based on knowledge that she had gathered. It was not rushed and I am sure she made it with the love and support of her family by her side.

I have been trying to grasp the idea of her pain, anger and emotions. And after thinking about myself, my family and my personal beliefs, I believe I would do it differently.

It’s not that I would want to suffer; no one does. I pray that when my time comes I can go peacefully. But if my death is much different from my hopes, so be it. Because I have faith in my God and my journey. And in the end, I don’t believe that I have the right to say when I may die because I am not God. I am just human. But at the same time, if I were in Brittany’s shoes and if the struggle would become too much for me to handle I would pray for forgiveness for seeking a way out. Because I am only human and Jesus Christ died for my sins.

I do not judge Brittany Maynard for taking her own life. I do not understand what she went through. From what I saw of her journey, I could tell she was a brave and strong woman who loved her family and friends tremendously. I pray that she is at peace and her soul at rest. And I pray for her family, especially her husband and mother. May they find comfort in the days ahead and may they keep her spirit alive. And I want to thank Brittany for sharing her journey with us. Because of you, so many people are now talking about death and end of life issues. You allowed such a difficult subject to be broached.

Every death can teach us lessons. And I believe that we all have a lot that we can learn from Brittany Maynard.

Another first.

It has been brought to my knowledge that today is National Dog Day.

And I was greeted by faces of some of the most lovable looking pups throughout social media. And normally, looking at adorable fur babies would make my heart jump with joy. Except this is the first National Dog Day without my dog. So instead, my heart hurts.

I know about grief. I know how it can be a sneaky fellow that suffocates you when you least expect it. I know that it’s normal to be sad. It’s normal to cry, especially in the first year after a death, because you’re experiencing all of the ‘firsts’. And that’s where I am today. Another first that tugs at my soul and makes the wound feel fresh. Because I loved my boy with all my heart. And being separated from that love hurts.

But as those who have walked the path of grief before me, I know that I’ll get through it. And as I grow and live and lose others, I will continue to walk this journey. And I’m learning, even though my heart aches, that this is a wonderful journey. And I’d lose Bandit all over again, because he was one of the first ones to teach me about love. And that’s what makes life beautiful.

On suicide, my experiences and Robin Williams.

I do not understand suicide. The reason I do not understand it, is because even in my darkest days I never was surrounded by so much pain that I saw death as the only option. And I am blessed that my depression never took me down that road. But I understand feeling lost. I understand sadness. I understand feeling alone. I also understand that life is constantly changing.

I’ve met with a lot of families who have lost a loved one to suicide. A lot more than I would have thought some four years ago when I graduated from  Mortuary School. There is nothing I hate more about being a funeral director than these meetings. The survivors. They have pain in their hearts and “what if’s” on their minds. They will spend the rest of their lives going over scenarios of actions they could have taken to prevent their meeting with me, the funeral director.

I’ve learned to speak more gently to these families. I curve my words hoping that they will land more softly on their ears. I’m quieter. More somber. Because I’ve known people who have taken their own lives. The sadness is raw. The confusion hangs in the air. And I bear the pain of the survivors on my shoulders as I usher them through the funeral process. I stand over the bodies of their broken loved ones and I pray to God that they’ve found peace and hurt no more. But mostly, I pray for those left over. That they comes to terms with the fact that people’s actions are not their own. And that they can take their loss and use it to help others. I do not understand suicide, but suicide is nothing to be ashamed of.

My heart breaks for the Williams family.

This death affected so many because Robin Williams affected so many.

It’s confusing. It’s messy. It doesn’t make sense. And I pray for those who have the same sickness that Mr. Williams had keep walking down the road that they’re on. I pray that instead of cutting their journey short, they see it out until the end. Because life is constantly changing. Things do get better. Kindness still exists in the world and people still care. I care. And I’m willing to bet that a lot of you reading this right now care.

We’re in this together.

A difficult meeting.

As a funeral director, I do a lot of prearrangements, meaning, I basically set up funerals for people who are still alive. I’ve gone to people’s houses and different nursing homes to make these arrangements, because sometimes people can’t get to me. It’s normal. So I didn’t think anything of it when I got a call to make a prearrangement at a hospital last week. I didn’t think anything of it as I parked my car and got into the elevator. I didn’t even think anything of it as I step out onto the floor reserved for cancer patients. But I did think something of it as I knocked on a door that had a beautiful young lady laying in the bed, with tired eyes and not a hair on her head. It caught me off guard.

As I introduced myself and sat down, this young lady explained to me how she found out she had cancer about three months ago, and when she did find it, the cancer was already way too advanced to do much about it. So she decided to do what was practical and call me; the funeral director. I began the arrangement with the basics, getting her information for the death certificate. Birthday, address, parents names, you know, all that good stuff. And after  I gathered this information, I asked her how many copies of the death certificate she would need. She looked at me and started to cry. And I didn’t know what to do or say. I was not prepared for this.

I do prearrangements for people who are healthy and want to get their affairs in order.

I do prearrangements with children who have a parent in Hospice.

But before this, I never did a prearrangement for a person who was so close to death themselves.

Normally, I can make a little joke to lighten the situation. I can bring people out of the darkness, even if it’s just for a second. But with this arrangement, I felt helpless. I couldn’t tell her it was going to be okay. I couldn’t promise her that she’d get through it. All I could do was listen to her wishes for her funeral and promise her I’d take good care of her and her family when the time comes.

This past week I’ve been thinking a lot about her. I’ve been wondering if I would have been able to handle that burden with as much grace if I were in her shoes. I’m okay with dying. I’m okay with my own mortality. But I always thought I’d greet death after I’ve lived  a long life. And it upsets me when it doesn’t always happen like that. And I’ll keep my promise and take good care of her, when the time does come. After all, the time will come fast.

I’ve been thinking of this little quote that an older lady told me one day after she lost her husband. She said, God doesn’t just want the old, He wants a little of everyone. And it’s my job to be there, always keeping my promise, to take care of both those living and deceased. To keep my promise to do the best I can.