Tuesday, January 16, 2024

No place like this home

As it often happens when there are long between times in my visits here, I had a little story to share, but realized it would be a tough stand alone plucked out of a context you may not all be privy to. Then I thought about all of the times I fully intended to provide the backdrop, even going so far as to jot some notes in my phone. (And here we thought my phone was strictly a storage component for fascinating photographic evidence of the oddities I see out in the world.) So here's the scoop, this is where I work now...

...Truth be told, I don't actually work in this specific space. This is called the "showroom", and quite frankly, in the over eighteen months I have been working at the funeral home, I still can't get past that terminology and something about the new car vibes it evokes. Anyhow, I am a funeral assistant/greeter/water getter/mint refiller/tissue hander outer (the list goes on). I really and truly love the job. It is sort of amusing when I reflect back on registering for classes as a junior in college and nearly broke out in a rash at the mere thought of possibly having to sign up for a psych elective on grief and dying in the event that I was shut out of anything else that would fit my schedule. Decades go by and life changes us on some levels I guess.

How did I end up finding this opportunity you may wonder, as the path from working at a nursery school to a nursing home to a funeral home may not be an often traveled one? I'll try to give the short version of that story...When I went to help plan Jeff's arrangements after he passed, the funeral director was a friend from high school I hadn't seen since graduation. We caught up a little bit and eventually talked about the possibiity of me being able to join the staff as a greeter. There were some fits and starts in making progress toward that end, and then the pandemic hit. I'd given up hope on getting the opportunity, but when I called the funeral home to let them know Marlene's time was nearing, my friend told me they were actully ready to hire. I guess that explains the bare bones logistics of how this came to be. In terms of what made me think I was mentally prepared to try this? I knew I was not eager to watch someone slip away again; however, perhaps there was a place for me in the aftermath where I could help pick up at least some small piece.

I signed some paperwork and crossed my fingers that I would be able to ease into things. In my head that meant that hopefully the first several services I'd work would be for folks who had led long and wonderful lives. Make no mistake, I was not in denial about the inevitable sadness, but thought maybe there was a hierarchy of sorts to work through. I quickly saw the role as finding some small way to make the worst of days for someone just a bit less awful, or at least not worse. There were some learning curves of course. The first of which was being comfortable only having water or mints to offer. I wanted to bake and comfort these people with warm chocolate chips! I could not fix the sadness, but could try to ease some of the discomfort. A lot of people are simply uncomfortable walking into a funeral home, and a smile and general directions for where to go help ease some of those nerves. I am extremely lucky to work with funeral directors who are amazing at what they do, and set the bar high for the level of service we provide.

As far as keeping myself together? Here is what I now know about my relationship with the families we serve and a message I hope to convery to them somehow...
  • If you are going to bring bagpipes, I am going to cry.
  • If you are going to have uniformed firefighters doing a "last call", I am going to cry.
  • Several other scenarios will also bring me to tears, not because I am thinking about my own losses in this life, but because I have been given the honor to peek into the window of your loved one's life and am truly saddened and sorry for your loss.
  • I will stand with you in your grief or I will stand nearby and hold a box of tissues. 
  • If you need to ask for a minute, do so, If you want to share a story, do so. If you want to laugh, do so.
  • This is your time and your grief. I can be there to partake in it, or simply be a witness to it, or can leave the room for you to experience it privately.

None of this has caused me to step outside my comfort zone (granted I have questioned lately whether I actually have an true comfort zone). No, that didn't happen until I had/got to drive the hearse.

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