People often ask me if I can feel the dead, like their spirits, or talk to them in some intelligent way. Mostly the answer is no. I have had experiences where I felt, maybe, the dead are near. It’s more of a feeling of energy in the room than anything else. I do talk to the dead sometimes, using their names and stroking their hair or give a small pat on the shoulder for reassurance or, well, I don’t know why, but it feels so very human and natural to give comfort their bodies. In this case I was headed to a New Year’s Eve party. It had been a very busy week, hours of little sleep and constant embalming, cleaning, cosmetics, funerals and on and on. The firm I worked for had little staff, we all worked until the work was done, 9-5 did not exist there. My feet hurt, my back hurt, I was so tired of wearing the same suit for hours at a time. As much as I love my job, there are times that I want to live too. A funeral directors job is not just creating a funeral, it is creating an experience. We take pains to know the dead and the families and create some homage to the person who has passed that incorporates all of those involved. It is physical, emotional and rewarding, yet we have to take time for us, or we have nothing to give to you.
I got the call as I was on my way to the party, I was disappointed and wanted to have a night of celebrating around a campfire with close friends telling stories of how this year things would be different, we would work harder, lose weight, eat better and find the secret to making millions. So after a few moments of feeling sorry for myself, I put on my adult hat and went on the call. The woman was at a care center and had died young from cancer. Since it was at a care facility, that meant I would handle it all on my own (house calls required two people). She was tiny from her treatments and being so sick. She had lost most of her hair, little tufts peeking out here and there from her small, fragile head, it was sad and humbling. I got back to the mortuary and gently placed her on my table. As I prepared the equipment and fluid for embalming I spoke to her. “I am so sorry you have suffered, I can’t imagine what you have gone through and I am sorry your family lost you” then I asked her silently to “Please let things go smoothly, let me make you beautiful for your family and I really just want this one night with my friends.” The “energy” in the room was so peaceful, it felt quiet and comforting. I had music on and the fluorescent lights were reflecting off the whiteness of the room. The windows in the room looked out into our parking lot and it was dark which made the window black, I had no distractions. I then felt a tugging, a gentle probe at me that I stopped to listen to. I know the dead don’t really speak but I felt it very clearly “Its ok, this won’t take long, then you can go and enjoy your night.” I never questioned that it wasn’t her telling me things would go quickly and I would still be able to have my night. It was one of the quickest embalmings I have ever, even to this day, performed. No, I did not cut corners or rush, I took just the same care and time as with anyone else, the end of the process came quickly and she was washed and the room cleaned in record time, like the world’s clock had just stopped for a little while. I am humbled every time I remember her. Even in the next days when I met with her family and got her dressed in beautiful red and cosmetized and casketed, the feeling I got around her was peaceful and gentle and understanding. I love her, I love the feeling she gave me and I love that somewhere in the depths of exhaustion, I did get my night.