The profession of death is harder than most funeral directors make it seem. The public only sees well-dressed professionals, stoic and pressed and always there to make everything go as planned. However, in the back rooms, grown men and women stand over the body of a teen who has taken their own life in a horrible way and wonder what could have gone so wrong. We cradle your dead infants in our arms and revel at their tiny perfections while meticulously wrapping them in clean duck and bunny printed blankets for you to hold them in. We go home after a long day with the smears of mascara on our shoulders from comforting a sobbing, hysterical wife whose husband was killed too soon in an unforeseeable accident. We hold back our emotions when a toddler is lifted to see her grandmother lying in a casket and clumsily tucks a Crayola colored picture in grandma’s motionless hands. The business of death is real, it is raw, and we are not always the kind faced, open armed and seemingly unwrinkled, patient people you see in the lobbies of funeral homes and standing tall next to a shiny Cadillac hearse.
The day for a funeral director starts with stumbling out of bed, scrubbing off the sleep and staring back at the image in the mirror with a good ole fashioned pep talk. Never knowing what the day ahead has in store for us. We carefully choose our two-piece suit, shirt to match and shoes we can get through the day in. Dry cleaning, pressing shirt creases, shining shoes and making sure to have plenty of fresh socks or stockings at the ready is a constant concern and task in assuring that the families we sit across from and the people attending the funerals that we direct see only a well put together professional person who can handle whatever needs to be done, without question. We have perfected the bad hair day dos and eye bag cover-up, without looking like we stuck our faces in cake icing. Rosy cheeks and bright eyes are important in creating the expertly assembled, we can handle it, let us help you and we care type of people we strive to be for you.
Yet sometimes, it fails. Days of little sleep and even less time for meals that are filled with dead bodies trailing behind them their screaming, sobbing, shattered family members. The phone hasn’t stopped, and the demands pile up along with heaps of paperwork, explaining the difference between laws and rules, convincing the cemetery or florist or airline to do just this one favor so the family can create the final farewell they envision for this newly dead person who was a mother, grandfather, son or spouse. Upstairs change into a suit, downstairs change into embalming gear, to the cemetery, to the vital records office, sitting on the phone arranging another funeral in the lobby of a church between other funerals, filling out paperwork, gently guiding the grieving through the myriad of choices available, feeling like maybe the choices weren’t exactly what they needed. Then, life at home. A spouse, children, a sick parent, friends and neighbors, laundry, house cleaning, soccer games, choir practice, doctor’s appointments, the dog died, the yard needs mowing, the furnace stopped working. Well, these things are real too, these things are raw and need the same attention and care and love and patience as any profession dealing with human emotion and grief. All of this while being paid pittance for the effort and being granted insufficient time off to attend to these duties, let alone respite for our own tired and weary bones. So, sometimes the better part of a human, under these conditions, fail.
I remember them all, all of the faces. I remember when I knew I wasn’t present enough, at work or at home. I remember the waves of doubt that I could handle things. The slightly down-turned eyes as I tried to push through a really hard day and ended up bringing uncertainty to those who needed me to be certain. The tear filled but silent judgments that, at that moment, I was just as broken as the person I was supposed to be shouldering.
Not everyone will understand or give leeway when things go wrong. Even on the best of days things are missed, misinterpreted, or forgotten for any number of reasons. Human error, a buried email, lack of follow up or details forgotten. Sometimes it’s okay, but in every circumstance where it was okay, a funeral director remembers. We let it sink in over and over, and through all the strain and pull of everything we strive to be and sometimes cannot, I promise you that when something breaks down or isn’t delivered or goes horribly wrong, it is not on purpose or for the lack of caring or trying. Failure isn’t an option in this business, so when it happens, we will always remember.Picture provided by Pixabay