little miss funeral

an average girl working at your not so average job

Tag: 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.

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.

Five years later.

They say if you make it past the first five years in the funeral business, you’re in it for life. I guess statistically, with those first five years you are at the highest risk for burnout. I know. I almost dropped out after two. But I made some changes and kept trudging through. And here I am. Five years later.

When I look back on my twenty year old self, fresh-faced right out of mortuary school, I feel mixed emotions. My first two years working in the business were some of the happiest and hardest times of my life. I learned more in my first two months than I could have ever hoped to learn in my two years at school. And I also experienced a lot of pain. Emotionally, I gave my entire self to the families I served and my co-workers, leaving nothing left for me. Physically, I pushed my five-foot-two frame to the max as I embalmed and transported bodies twice my size. My spirit and back both broke over time.

But no matter what, I would never change my journey. I am forever grateful to my colleagues for pushing me. If it were not for them, I would not have the knowledge that I do today. But maybe most importantly, I would not have the respect for myself that I do today. I am grateful to my parents, who became a net to catch me when I fell into a deep depression, questioning my career and choices. And I am forever grateful to my husband (or boyfriend, back then) for loving me unconditionally even when I was a miserable prick.

You see, the people we surround ourselves with shape who we become. And in my darkest of times, I had the lightest people by my side.

Today at work, a man approached me  and asked how I got into this business. I politely laughed explaining it’s in the family. He seemed satisfied with that answer and as he turned away from me he said,”But you know, it is a calling.”

Whether it’s my calling or my curse, statistically, I guess I’m in it for the long run.

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 lesson about time.

There are many times when the families I serve cannot get to me, so I go to them. Because of this, a few weeks ago I found myself in the kitchen of the most kind little old lady making funeral arrangements for her husband who had passed earlier that day. We sat and talked about her husband and their many years of marriage as we put together the details of his funeral service.

She sat with her white dog on her lap and sadness in her eyes. She told me stories of her husband’s military career and how she often thought that he would have stayed in the Army for life had she not come along. She then looked me in the eyes and with a coy smile proceeded to tell me how she had married the most handsome man alive. I assured her that her husband was sure to have been good-looking in his younger days. That did not seem to satisfy her, however, and she proceeded to get up from the chair (dog still in her arms) and go to another room of the house. When she returned, she had in her hands a beautiful military photo of a gentleman who could not have been much other than eighteen. And he was very handsome.

Looking at the photo, I noticed the tears in the corner of her eyes begin to well up. She lightly brushed her finger along the photograph. Suddenly, she looked up.

“Where did the time go?”, she asked.

I found this to be a funny question, as she was directing it at a twenty-four year old funeral director. What do I know about time? What do I know about life?

I know that time goes quickly and I cannot slow it down. I know life can be beautiful and terribly sad. And I know that in a way, I am afraid of both. Because was it not just yesterday, when my husband and I were little fifteen year old kids riding our bikes in the summer heat to get an ice cream cone? And here we are, seven months into a marriage and partnership that we spent the last nine years dreaming of.

Time does not wait until we are ready. Time is not polite, gently nudging us forward down our paths whispering, “after you.” Time races along side of us, as we try to catch our breath. Time laughs in our faces, as we approach the finish line and look back on our journey wondering how we ever let it pass us by.

This beautiful, little old lady looked back to the photograph of her husband, entranced in a memory of long ago. And for a moment, I could see myself in the future, gently caressing an old photograph and whispering to myself, “where did the time go”.