little miss funeral

an average girl working at your not so average job

Category: personal experiences

Looking for my forever plot.

When I die I want to be buried.

I don’t expect anyone to visit my grave. I don’t want my family and friends to feel obligated to come to any cemetery or to plant my favorite flowers (sunflowers) in my memory. I want to be buried because I feel like it’s the right decision for me. To be laid to rest in the earth, maybe under a tree or near some water. But I don’t have all of the details ironed out yet.

I play this game with my husband, sometimes. When passing by a cemetery, I’ll ask him if he’d like to be buried there. He never gives me a straight answer. Honestly, I’m not even sure if he’d want to be buried or cremated. He’ll normally just slide in a sarcastic comment about how he’s not done living yet. Well, neither am I, but I’d like to be prepared.

This weekend we were driving to his cousin’s wedding when we passed by a particularly small but charming cemetery that I’d describe as, well, in the middle of nowhere. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of cornfields all around, but it was located on a road that didn’t house much else. I asked him what he thought about this particular resting place when he once again sidetracked my question. He did, however, reply with, “Well, you know we’re not really going to be there!”

“I know”, I barked back at him, “but this is our final resting place for our mortal bodies!”

He looked at me in a way that only he can, being married to a funeral director after all, hearing the odd remarks that escape from my mouth day after day. And then, we both started to laugh. “You know, when you put it that way” he said, “it makes me think about it a little differently.”

Isn’t that my job, though? To try to make people see things a little differently? I’ve learned that in life, there is not always a right way to do things. Goodness, this even holds true when we talk about death. But by sharing our own stories and listening to others and their experiences, we learn new things. And when we learn, we grow. Changing and growing are some of the most beautiful parts of our lives.

Scary, also, yes; but really beautiful.

Five years ago I could have never imagined the woman I would be today. I know that the same will be true for the next five, ten and twenty years. But that uncertainty makes my life so much fun! Where I am is not where I will always be.

Unless we’re talking about my mortal body buried in a grave in some cemetery. (So yeah, Josiah, we’ve still got some decisions to make.) But until then, I’ll keep playing my little cemetery game, until hopefully, I find a place that I wouldn’t mind decomposing in. It’s a decision that has proven to be much more difficult for me than I would think, but we’ll get there. I’m not in any sort of hurry.

The best Chinese you’ve ever had.

Yesterday, a family run Chinese restaurant, located right over the border in Fort Erie closed it’s doors after serving their community for over 40 years. Living right outside of Buffalo, NY, my family has the very unique circumstances of being able to take a fifteen minute car ride right into Canada any time we wish. We’ve been eating at this particular place for years.

Eddie, who ran the business with his wife passed away unexpectedly last month. The decision to close to restaurant came afterwards from his family. I heard about the closing a few weeks ago from my brother who saw an article in the paper. I was in disbelief, how could a place that I’ve gone to my entire life close? I mean, my grandparents and great aunts and uncles had gone to eat there! It just didn’t seem real.

There was so much about this place that my family loved. First of all, the location was beautiful, right on the Niagara River overlooking Buffalo’s skyline. Secondly – can we just take a minute to talk about their egg rolls? I mean, my brother and I would fight over the leftovers. The only food that would be just as good reheated as it was when it was served hot and fresh in front of you. But honestly, I think the best thing about the place was Eddie and his family who ran it.

We were always greeted by our favorite waiter, Steve, who was Eddie’s son. Always a smile on his face, Steve remembered orders and names like he saw you every single day. That personalization and warm touch made the meal even more enjoyable. I loved his witty banter and jokes.

As my family left the restaurant for what would be our last meal there the other day, Steve shook my father’s hand and gave me a hug. He told my parents how great it was to have been able to watch my brother and I grow over the years.

Driving home in the car, I told my husband how upset I was. Before we found out that the restaurant was closing, it had been a few years since I’d eaten there. I told him that I felt like I took the place for granted, since it had always been in my life I just figured that it would always be there.

I’m still learning lessons, guys.

Nothing in this life is promised to us. Whether it’s a small family run restaurant or the company of a loved one, life can change in a moment. I wish that I had eaten there a little bit more the past two years. I wish I’d been able to see Eddie one last time before he passed. Although we never really spoke, he always made sure that I left with a chocolate bar. Such a little gesture that made this little girl so happy. I tried to make myself some promises on the ride back to Buffalo. To appreciate what I have in the moment. To do little things to make someone’s day a little brighter. And to tell people that I’m happy they’re in my life. I’m thankful for all of the meals that I was able to share with my family there over the years and the joy that came because of it.

Beautiful really was the perfect word.

On being a ‘selfish’ Mrs.

Yesterday was my two year wedding anniversary. The cotton anniversary. And work has been so busy that I was not able to buy my husband a gift. I gave him a card that I picked out weeks ago as I was strolling through the grocery store, but by the time I thought of a “cotton” gift that he would actually like I’d run out of time.

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My husband, obviously, is extremely prepared. And extremely thoughtful. I didn’t cry when I walked into our bathroom to get ready in the morning and saw this…

Time. I either have all of it or none of it.

I made a remark about how I needed more time when my father-in-law, who works at the funeral home, commented that we all have the same amount of hours in a day. But why do my hours seem to always fly by?

Yesterday was another long day. I feel like I’ve had nothing but long days as far back as I can remember, although honestly, it’s probably just been a busy week or two. My husband had off of work to celebrate our anniversary, but our plans were scrambled since I had an early morning funeral. We spent time together in the afternoon until I got a death call and had to excuse myself again for a few hours. I ended up leaving work a little after five thirty in the afternoon, when I said enough was enough, things can wait until tomorrow. But I felt bad.

You see, last night our funeral home also had calling hours for a family that I had gotten close with over the past few days. I wanted to be able to be there with them, to close the casket since the next morning we would all be meeting directly at the cemetery.

But it was my two year wedding anniversary. So I was selfish and put myself first.

And it was more than okay for me to do that.

Every day I make sacrifices for my own family so I can serve someone else’s. And, truly, I love my job. But I will not wake up one day, only to look back on my life with regret for not spending the time I could with my loved ones.

We all have the same hours in a day, but those days are not promised to us.

Happy anniversary to my B. Thank you for sacrificing so much of your life so I can work in this field. You are honestly my best friend and love. And I promise you, that cotton wedding gift is coming.

My thoughts after a particular arrangement conference.

Today was a busy day. We had three death calls and I was the funeral director who met with every family. Now to my bigger firms, three calls may not seem like a lot, but for a smaller family run funeral home, well, let’s just say I was constantly on the go during this twelve-hour day.

All of these deaths were unexpected. Two were in their fifties. One was just doing some physical rehab. All families were devastated. These circumstances obviously made for *really fun* arrangement conferences. (Sarcasm, guys, sarcasm..)

Anyways, during one of these conferences,  a daughter of the deceased casually commented on how she was “so happy” that she was donating her body to science so her kids didn’t have to go through “all of this”.

I commented on how great it was that she was donating her body to science, since the act does benefit others, but quietly wondered to myself what she really meant.

You see, during arrangement conferences, I often cannot say exactly what I’m thinking. Because it’s not about me. It’s about the honoring the dead and working with their loved ones. But now, I do want to comment on that little remark. Because even though donating your body to science is a great thing, it does not save “anybody” from going through “anything.”

If you choose to not have a viewing, your family will grieve.

If you choose to have a full funeral service, your family will grieve.

If you choose to have a green burial, a direct cremation, or a celebration of life, your family will grieve.

You cannot save your family from the heartache that death brings.

You can, however, make it harder for your family, by not talking about your wishes.

You can make it harder for your family by not having a will.

Prepare for the day when your heart stops beating. Love your family with everything you have. And don’t you dare believe for one second, that when the day comes, that they will not mourn. Having a funeral is not a chore. Having a funeral is an opportunity to say good-bye. To acknowledge that a person mattered and made a difference in our lives. Regardless of how you personally choose to honor that person, that funeral is a sign of respect.

For my allies.

I think that one of the hardest aspects of being a funeral director is working with people who don’t care as much as you do.

Whether it be a direct contact, like a coworker, or higher up management, when you’re not on the same page, things get difficult. You get discouraged. You feel as if you’re not making a difference, and when you feel defeated, you are defeated. I’ve personally worked with people (who in my opinion) have cared a little too much and people who I feel don’t care enough. It’s a struggle.

I know I’ve said this before, but as a funeral director, you depend on a lot of people in order to do your job. Clergy. Local newspapers. Cemeteries. The list goes on and on. But your biggest help comes from the people who you work with day in and day out. The people we often treat not as we should because we take them for granted.

I try my best to let my guys at the funeral home know how much I appreciate them, because they do more for me than they know. I have a few who are just as passionate about funeral services as I am. It’s amazing. We bounce ideas off of each other and really come up with awesome ways to better serve families. It’s refreshing and it’s something that I personally need. I need people to challenge me. I need people to care just as much as I do. I need people in my life who want to help families. It’s how we make a difference in our community!

So once again, to all my guys, THANK YOU.

I don’t say it enough. We’re a team. Together, we can really make a difference.

You guys make me a better funeral director.

Eddie.

Ed has been with my family’s funeral home since my great-uncle started the business. He’s almost eighty years old, and I’ve seen him everyday for the last three years. He looks after me. I love him in a way that I can’t tell him, because you see, Ed is a rough and tough kind of man. He’s a big guy, who retired from the docks. He can be difficult to handle. But he is also caring and sweet. He’s my “other” grandpa.

Six days ago, his wife of 59 years died.

It was sudden. She was not sick. She collapsed in their home. Ed called me that morning to tell me everything and in that moment I found myself stuck somewhere between funeral director and family.

Because before anything else, my guys at the funeral home are my family. My very weird, dysfunctional work family, but family nonetheless. And doing a funeral for your family is the absolute worst.

A funny thing about Ed is, as long as he’s worked in the funeral home he’s never done any sort of prearrangements. No paperwork. No cemetery plot. No anything. He made his mind up pretty quickly, though. A direct cremation, with a service after. Okay, Ed. No problem, whatever you want. Five days ago he walked into the funeral home like he always does, but this time sat down with me to sign the cremation paperwork for his wife. He looked up at me and asked if it was too late to embalm her and have a visitation. “No problem”, I told him, “whatever you want.”

The visitation was three days ago. Watching Ed walk in, you’d think it was another day of him coming to work. Seeing him in his suit is such a normal image for me that I almost forgot that his wife was laying in a casket. He had a lot of people there to support him. Which did not surprise me since he makes a lasting impression on everyone that he meets. Things got quieter, towards the end of the night. People started to head home, leaving him, his two children and only grandchild to spend some time together in private. With everything happening so quickly, I think they really needed that.

As they were walking out for the night, Ed’s only granddaughter came up to me to tell me that he’s always talking about me. “How funny”, I told her, “because he’s always talking about you, too.”

Ed was still sitting by himself in a chair. It made me smile for a moment, because it was such a familiar sight. And then I thought of how overnight, his world had changed. That’s when I walked over to him, gave him a hug and told him I loved him.

“I know, sweetheart” he responded, “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.

December 23, 2015: Feelings.

I feel stressed.

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.