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.