Timing is everything

Person wrapped in a blanket

Timing is everything, even when it comes to being sick. I was sitting in the arrangement room with a family, when the wife of the deceased told us she wasn’t feeling well. The poor woman was ashen and her skin the appearance of putty. She had to take several bathroom breaks and just kept saying, “I’m just upset, I will be fine”, so I got her some crackers and a Sprite, hoping it would settle her stomach. As we went through the arrangements, I planned it that everything that could be done on the phone and through email was left for last to help make the process faster. I then told the family to take the wife home to rest and I would be in touch for the final details. The next day I called the house to check on her. A family friend answered the phone and told me that the wife had been sleeping a lot but still had a sour stomach, even getting sick a couple of times during the night.  She also told me that the wife was insisting that she would feel better once her husband was buried. With this information, I planned for the limousine to have plenty of Sprite, a bag of pretzels and a freshly laundered blanket, but I found that I was still completely unprepared for what was going to happen!

On the day of the service, my apprentice was to pick up the family in the limousine at their house and bring them back to the funeral home for a formal procession to the church. My apprentice that day was a young girl in her early twenties, whom I had just hired a couple of months prior. She was really getting the hang of things and I trusted she could handle the task, but still, no one could be prepared for this! I was waiting at the funeral home, the hearse was loaded with the man in his casket, the police escorts were all in place, we were just waiting for the family. Sometimes it takes longer than expected to get the family out of the house and into the limousine for various reasons. Choosing who gets to ride in the limo and who drives their own cars, then someone can’t find a shoe, it can be a mini circus, so it wasn’t a surprise when they didn’t show up on time. As the clock ticked on, the police escort was getting antsy and I was a little worried that we would be getting this service started late, when thankfully, the limousine pulled into the parking lot, and moving a bit faster than would be normal. My immediate reaction was to have a talk to my apprentice about safe driving speeds and practices, until I saw through the windshield a look of horror on her face! I waited until the car stopped to approach but before I could get to the drivers’ door to talk to her, the back doors suddenly flung open and people scrambled out, running for the doors of the mortuary! Confused, I asked what was going on. Apparently, the wife was not sick with nerves, she was sick with a terrible stomach bug and had given it to all of her family members! It was explained to me that they were so late because every single family member had to go back into the house, which only had one bathroom, to empty their stomachs, over and over again!

Now, judge me if you want but I found this entire scenario to be a bit funny. Like the movie Bridesmaids where everyone is running to be the first to the bathroom, except this was a funeral instead of a wedding. I empathized for the family and was saddened that they were so sick but still it was all I could do to not laugh out loud. So, after evaluating the situation, I approached one of the daughters as she came back to get in the car and told her that it was completely appropriate and understandable to postpone this funeral for a day or two and that everyone, including me, would understand and appreciate not being exposed to the germs. The family gathered and talked about it and decided that no, there would be a funeral today and they were all going to be there, even the ones who were to speak! “Ugh, okay, let’s do this”, was what I said, though only in my head.

Eventually we all got in our cars and began the drive to the church. About halfway there, I noticed the limo behind me slowing down and pulling off to the side of the road. The police escort ahead of me was not slowing down, so continuing on with the escort seemed like the best option. I thought, at the very least, we can get the casket there and in place and be ready when the family arrived. When I got to the church, I spoke to the clergy and told him what was going on, apparently, he found this to be just as funny as I did. Not in a rude way, just that it was such bad timing! He made an announcement to the guests seated in the chapel that due to the family’s illness, the funeral would be starting late. I then wrangled some of the men from the crowd and together we were able to get the casket placed in the chapel. The limousine did finally arrive, this time at normal speed. The family was exhausted and my apprentice was exasperated.  The poor girl was visibly shaken at having to negotiate the two stops they had to make, and then find her way to the church with a carload of sick people.  Unfortunately, I did not have the time to console her just yet. I again asked the family if they wanted to postpone the service and again, they insisted on trudging forward to just get this day over with.

Now, in funeral service, it is a necessity that we handle some uncomfortable tasks that most people wouldn’t even consider doing, yet, most of the time, these tasks do not take place at the church! The limousine had a puddle of vomit from a time when the car couldn’t pull over fast enough and I had to charge my young apprentice with the ghastly task of cleaning the car while I sat in the service to monitor what happened there. The girl complied with shaky hands and tear-filled eyes, stating she also just wanted this day to be over with. I sympathized with her but there was nothing else to be done about it and left her to the chore. I then set to escorting the family to the chapel and getting them seated.

Most of the time during a funeral service I will sit in the lobby and listen to what is taking place, this gives me time to make phone calls and arrange other things that need to be handled, yet, every once in a while, like with this situation, I will sit in the back of the chapel to get a better handle on what is going on, making it easier to react quickly if needed. During the service the family members were constantly popping up like prairie dogs to stand and quickly sidle past all the people in the pew and rush off to the restroom. Then upon return, sidling again to reclaim their seats. It was a constant coming and going from one family member to another back and forth through the entire service.

On a normal day, after a funeral service the family is swarmed with guests, greeting them and giving condolences.  However, today once the service was over, the guests kept their germ-free distance, waving from afar and letting the family make their getaway quickly out of the chapel. I approached the family again, and this time I just stated that it was best for them to go home and let us bury the man.  And when they felt better they could go visit the grave. They were so exhausted, they thankfully agreed, and once again, my apprentice had to get in the now-tainted car with the sick family and take them home while I drove the casket to the cemetery. We successfully got the man buried and I met my apprentice back at the funeral home to console her and praise her for her efforts. In this situation, there wasn’t much else we could do but support the family in their decision to trek forward. I hope the church got a thorough cleaning and thankfully none of my staff caught the bug. This was just another lesson in that you just never know what your day is going to be like in funeral service!

Person wrapped in a blanket
Person wrapped in a blanket.

2 Comments

  1. I commend your apprentice. I generally have a strong stomach but I am a sympathetic puker, so there would have been an extra person, one without the stomach flu, throwing up that day.

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