Missing toe

Most funeral directors have a very peculiar sense of humor. This comes from being surrounded by somber and emotional situations with little respite for relaxing or laughing. However, in this death laden, morbid world that people in the death-care industry live in, events occur, and sometimes it is just human nature, or self-defense, to make it funny.

There was a preacher in a small town that I worked in who officiated a good majority of the funerals for the mortuary. He had seen more death in his lifetime than I at the time and carried the same sense of eccentric humor as any well-seasoned funeral director. He was a round man with a kind and gentle expression, he always greeted you with a jovial smile and ready with a good one liner or silly story. Everyone in the town knew him well and loved him for the remarkable person that he was and the good that he did for others. He was always seen wearing a three-piece suit accented with a bow tie of bright colors adorned with the most interesting patterns. His wife, who was just as benevolent and an accomplished seamstress, handmade his bow ties and her own dresses to match them. They were always together and always matching. He was a bigger man, you can imagine that equates to not being in the best of health. Of course, this was a small southern town where the vegetable options were boiled cabbage drenched in sauce or butter and corn on the cob dripping with margarine and salt. Southern barbeque is always served with a plate size serving of corn bread slathered in honey butter and the mom and pop diners dished out grand helpings of biscuits and gravy complete with platters of thick, crispy bacon. Good ole fashioned southern food, fried, drenched and delicious. This may or may not have contributed to our dear preacher becoming a diabetic. The details of his diet were not my business and how he and his wife were handling the situation was not information I needed to know but, of course, I always worried that one day we would need a preacher for our beloved preacher.

One day I received the news that the preacher had been hospitalized and was going to have some kind of surgery. I hoped, with fingers crossed, not knowing all of the details, that he would make it through to come back and officiate more funerals and that this was not the end of the preacher’s funeral career.

One sunny afternoon some weeks after the news of the preacher’s hospitalization, I was sitting in the arrangement room at the mortuary. It was a smallish rectangular room. Walking in from the front porch to the left side of the room was an oval, cherry stained, glass topped table against a white painted panel wall. Surrounding the open side of the table were four high-backed dining chairs. Directly behind the table from the door stood a cherry stained buffet showcasing funeral memorabilia and pictures of the man who built the mortuary years before. Accented to the dark stained wood and white painted walls was an emerald green sea of carpet. I sat on the dining chair facing the door with my back to the buffet reading a book when in walks the preacher himself!

He was wearing a dark grey three-piece suit, famous multi-colored bow tie with his trademark happy smile that I had come to adore. On one foot he wore a black medical boot, complete with Velcro straps, over a tight wrapping of gauze. We greeted each other with smiles and hugs, it was so good to see the big teddy bear of a man again! I asked about his well-being, he joked about his hospital stay, making light of the ordeal he had gone through.  He then sat down in the dining chair opposite me and closest to the entrance door and just like a family member who had lost a loved one he said, “I have lost my toe and I would like to arrange a funeral for him. Just a small affair, nothing fancy, I might invite a couple of people”. He explained that his toe had been amputated due to the damage caused by his diabetes and stated with a darling smile and a quick wink that he would need a funeral director to officiate. We laughed together and made the most appropriate jokes about toe funerals, as you can imagine.

In reality he didn’t actually have the toe to memorialize, we just said a few solemn words there in the office and then chuckled about it, but if we had had the toe I assure you that it would have been buried properly, like any dearly departed appendage deserves.

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