Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Everybody's Got a Story. This One's Mine.

Three Februarys ago, I started learning what it's like to be on the other side of the casket.

I was nineteen, in my first year of college, and one semester in mortuary school.
I'd bugged him for over a month (I've bugged someone for every job I've ever had!) for an apprenticeship and finally got an invitation to work my first funeral.

I wore one of the only two suits I had.
It was black with purple pinstripes and purple collars and had one of those "false shirts" which I didn't think needed backup with a "real" shirt.
Mistake!

That was the absolute coldest day of my life.
(Since then I've experienced the second coldest day of my life but, that day takes the (frozen) cake.)
I had no coat suitable for a funeral so I went without, telling myself I was "conditioning" in case someone asked, "Aren't you cold?!"

He gave me a tour of his funeral home and taught me the code for the back door.
I sat in his office and read everything on his walls over and over as he sat at his desk and talked on the phone or read the paper or just stared into space.
I would have killed for a nap, I was so bored!
I was wondering if I had it in me to be a funeral director after three hours of mind-blowing self-reflection boredom when Hallelujah! it was finally time to go funeralize!
(My word, not the Urban Dictionary's.)

At the church, I pretty much did nothing.
He said carry flowers, I carried flowers.
He said seat these people, seat them I did.
He said hold this cord and I did.
For the whole funeral.
That elastic cord never left my side!
I was on top of this funeral business!

I froze my nose off at the cemetery.
I was starving to death and mentally exhausted.
I was so glad to finally be "in" and couldn't wait for the next one!

That was the only funeral we ever worked together.
The next week I got a call from the funeral home I work for now and decided I had to take a sure job rather than an occasional experience.
He understood and there were no hard feelings.

I tried to keep in touch with him and keep him up to date on my accomplishments in the funeral world.
At times I wondered if maybe I should have just kept part-timing with him but, since then he's sold his funeral and changing hands mid-stream would have probably been harder.
His health problems started becoming pretty serious and eventually they took over.

He died a few days ago and today was his funeral.
I didn't work his funeral, I only attended.
I'm terribly uncomfortable in situations I don't have defined roles in.
After spending so much time on the working side of the casket it's hard to go back to being on the mourning side.

The funeral was just great.
Great songs, great readings, great eulogies, and a great job by the funeral directors.

I'm sure he'd be happy.

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