Tuesday, December 19, 2006


My son and his wife and their two boys were here today. Only my daughter-n-law had been here before, not the others. Their oldest boy was two last September. He's been a story teller for about a month now. Able to string several sentences together to get his point across. Usually it's stories about motorcross racing. "My daddy racing motorcycles. I racing. I fall down. I crying." Or my daddy falls down and he's crying, some variation of this story is what I've heard him say before. Today he wasn't here but a couple minutes before he started asking about the baby crying. Why is the baby crying. We were in the hospitality room eating crackers and cheese. He looked up towards the ceiling, smiled, and said, "He's smiling at me." Then he became obsessed with the baby who was crying. He went out of the hospitality room, straight down the hall, and to the door to the back, which was locked. He was mad cuz his mom wouldn't let him in. He came back to the hospitality room, but still wouldn't let it go. He kept saying the baby was crying, then he went to the door at the back of the hospitality and tried to get in the back area. Finally I said I would take him back there because he was getting upset at the baby crying. His mom told him the baby's mom would take care of him. I told him Jesus was taking care of the baby. He didn't care, he wanted to see the baby himself, so it could stop crying. He wanted to hold it, like he holds his baby brother. It was weird. We went in the back and he stood by the refrigerator and pointed to the top of it. He was saying baby up there. Then he ran to the outside back door and said the baby went out it. All from a two year old perspective, all freaking my son out completely. My daughter-in-law didn't seem to mind, she believed he was really hearing a baby. I have no reason to doubt it. I told my manager about it when he came over to bring me a Christmas ham. He thought it was very interesting and he right away thought of the urn I found back there of a baby who died in the early 1900s and we just recently had it buried. I hadn't even thought of that baby. My manager said that the first time he sees something, he's done with this industry. It made me laugh. The whole incident made me curious.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

power outage in a funeral parlour

I don't like it. I don't like it one bit. Losing power in here is not fun. It is completely unnecessary and need not happen again. Huge storm today. Lights flashed once, then again, then finally went out. It was DARK in here. Phones didn't work either. I locked the front door and was walking to the back (thru the DARK) to get to the flashlight (DUH, why do we keep it back there???) when the door between the hospitality room and the back room closed. What??? No one's here but me, so moments before i was just annoyed at the darkness, only now my heart is pounding and my mind is racing and it's all I can do to open the door. The alarm is beeping, so I gotta go back there, stop the beeping and call the company before they send out the calvary. I was a little shaky, ok very shaky, but mostly pissed with myself for reacting so immaturely. I doubt that dead people care if lights are on or off and I really doubt that spirits have been waiting the whole time I've worked here for a power outage so they could finally get me! But still, I was shaking. I go in the back and there stands Skip in his finest embalming regalia cussing the alarm and trying to make it hush. I was startled and very pleased to see him there. We silenced the alarm. Got the flashlight, lit some candles (it's a funeral home, we do have plenty candles) and had a seance. Not really, no seance. Just hung out for forty-five minutes till the lights came back on. We sat in my office and both could have easily dozed off. I know I'm still having a hard time staying awake. It wasn't so bad with the lights off in here. I'm glad there were no families in here at the time. I could imagine how that would freak them out entirely! Guess I better get a little work done!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Party, the day after

The party was fine. Bearable. I panicked at the last minute and stopped to buy a new jacket on the way home from work. Absolute last minute, I decide I have nothing to wear. Why did I care and why did I wait till the last minute to care? I brought home two jackets and told Steve to pick one. He was mildly amused, I think.
I have a bit of a headache. Only two drinks, but I didn't specify a brand, so I'm sure I got the cheap vodka. My system is not used to drinking, much less drinking cheap alcohol. Sigh.
I think Steve was disappointed to not hear any shop talk. There was some at the other end of our table, but he was engaged in another conversation and I don't believe he heard it. i'm glad, cuz it was the re-hashing of yesterday's service, which was for the mom and two sons. I guess it was one of the worst Schewan has ever been to and apparently the other directors felt the same.
Anyway, the party is over. The thanks have been said and only a slight headache remains.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

company Christmas parties

Our Christmas party is tonight. Steve only wants to go so he can tell his coworkers about it. He's hoping for good stories, I know he is. Skip was sitting across the desk from me cleaning his fingernails with a paperclip. He looked up and without even the hint of a smile said, "Gotta clean the blood out before the party, it upsets some people when they're eating." It dawned on me that he sits there often, cleaning his nails. It also dawned on me that even though no one wants to go to this party, they all are getting pretty excited about it. I don't even know what i'm wearing yet, guess i should have given it some thought, especially since the owner's wife was a Nordstrom buyer before she came to the funeral home. Skip says we have to go cuz the owner takes it personally if anyone doesn't attend. He said you don't get your ham if you don't go. He was laughing, but he said it's true, they won't give you any gift at all if you don't go. Small companies, grr. The part i'm looking least forward to is the gift exchange. It's where you take some stupide gift and then everyone picks from under the tree or else they take someone's gift who already took from under the tree. I don't want to have to go up to the tree and I don't want to take anyone else's gift. I hate that part. I just don't want to go, period.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

First calls

I had a doctor's appt, an annual. I joined the mamogram-a-year club, boy when did I get this old? Steve thinks it's funny. I think he's past due for a prostate exam. My appointment wasn't far from a hospital where we had a first call. So we decided, Schewan and I, that I would go on the first call after my appointment. I was brave, it'd be okay. After my appointment, I called her to see if he was released yet and if I could pick him up. She checked. I hoped he wouldn't be ready. She called me back. He was. My heart was racing. She said she told them it was my first time and that I might be a little emotional. I was supposed to go to the floor he was on instead of to the morgue, they thought it'd be easier for me. I picked up the phone for admittance to the ward. I could barely say who I was and why I was there. I was okay again once they let me in. I waited for the Decedent Affairs Coordinator to arrive. She said she didn't want me to have to take him throught the hospital, so he was going to the morgue afterall and she would go with me and we'd pick him up there together. "Noelle," she said, "he was very sick and he's so much better off right now. He was born with all his organs on the outside." He was only a month old and I never actually saw him. We went to the morgue. I was shaky and hoping to not pass out. She was calm but chatty so that I would be more comfortable. I could smell the morgue as soon as we stepped out of the elevator. I never knew this scent before and probably regular people would never recognize it. Does that mean I'm not a regular person now? Two young men from the transportation department were there, but they forgot to bring the baby and I didn't understand for a moment why two of them came and the bassinet was empty. Couldn't together they figure out to bring the baby with them. Then she opend the cabinet underneath the bed and took him out. He was, of course, in a plastic bag, not just in a baby blanket burrito like I was somehow expecting. I opened my little blanket and she put him in. I wrapped him up. I didn't know which end was his head and which was his foot. It didn't matter, as i covered the plastic, wrapped him like a Christmas present, and called him by name as I pulled him to my chest. It wasn't until we were in the elevator that I realized I hadn't checked his toe tag. What if I had the wrong baby? I had to open the blanket. Luckily, he had a tag on the outside of his bag and it was him, the right dead baby. I buckled him into the front seat of my car. As much as you can buckle in a 2 pound baby in a plastic bag, wrapped up like a Christmas present on the way to the funeral home. I drove so carefully on my way back to work. I couldn't imagine getting into a wreck and having him go flying. I didn't sing to him or talk to him, well only once to say we were going now. I carried him into the building. I put him in the refrigerator. Wrote his name on the log and came back up front to my desk. Schewan asked how I was and I was okay.

I was waiting and waiting and waiting for Logan to get home from daycare that night. And when Danielle brought him in, I hugged him. And then the tears came.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Family deaths

Brother, 63, heart attack. Sister, 59, cancer. Died within three days of each other. Mother is 87, poor dear. Double memorial service coming up this weekend, yuck.

I went into the prep room yesterday to get the dirty laundry for the cleaning service. Aargh. Mom is early 30s, son 11ish, and younger son 6ish. Skip embalmed them the day before, so they were just laying on tables waiting to be casketed. Car wreck took them all. Huge services for them in a couple days.

My daughter is mad at me. She sort of moved back out. I'm glad, I wanted her to move out, she's 22 with an almost 3 year old, she needs to move out. But not when she's mad and pouting and running away. She just doesn't get that this is a temporary gig. We don't know how long we have, and she's gonna piss it away cuz I don't like her boyfriend? She's so spoiled, thinking the world revolves only around her, my goodness, doesn't she get that today, right here, right now, that's all we're guaranteed? Most people don't get it. Half the time I don't get it. But the other half, man, there's an urgency which I never experienced before this job. An urgency not for things, but for relationships. I want my children to know how much I love them. How amazing each of them is. I don't want to die and leave any of them wondering if they were acceptable to me. I don't want them sad at my funeral because I left unsaid anything I should've said. I want them to know my heart and my happiness in them. I want them to live each day knowing they are my best contribution to this world, all five of them. My daughter is mad and I don't know how to fix it yet and it feels so empty not connecting with her right now.

If you're reading this and you know me, then you're reading it because I care about you. There's only a handful of you who I sent the link to, so I can picture each of you now. You are important to me. You have offered me your friendship and I'm so glad to share a part of your lives. Even if life has taken us on different paths, we're still sharing a part of ourselves, and I'm glad for it. My life is richer because of each of you. Thank you for listening to my ramblings, even when they take a somewhat odd turn as they have today.

I've never seen a momma and her boys on cold steel tables before. It's made me a little mushy.

My biggest compliment

Skip: "I think you do good at what you do up there for someone who's never been around the work."

I don't know if he could have given me higher praise. I'm smiling inside.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Cremated Remains, aka ASH

Ok, so now I know more than I ever wanted to know about cremation. I probably could have asked Steve, cuz when we went on a field trip to the crematory, he asked all these kinds of questions. It was still too new a job and too much reality for me to listen to the answers.

Here's what happens, it's not gross, I don't think, so no worries. The body goes into the retort (oven) on a plywood/ pressboard tray. The gas comes on, the flame is lit and the temperature reaches (at some point) around 1800 degrees F. It takes a few hours, depending on size and fat content. I do remember the crematory guy saying he can estimate a person's fat content on site, it did make me feel a little chunky. Once the process is finished and you open the door, there lies the skeletal bones, similar to how it is when a fire in your fireplace goes out and the shape of the log is still there. Like that burned out log, if you touch it with the fireplace poker, it kind of collapses, well the bones do the same. So first the bones are swept into a tray, then a magnetic wand is run over the tray to remove screws, hips, teeth, etc, then the bones are placed into a big pulverizer and processed. So, technically there's no "ash", just pulverized cremated bones.

Our manager tells me that maybe if I'm lucky I can get promoted to retort operator once our retorts are installed. I laughed, politely refused (HA!) and hung up the phone.

Now I really do have to make those dang folders.

Friday again

Why do so many people die between midnight and one am? It makes no sense to me, but alot do. The guy who owns the transportation company was just here and he said it's really common. Do they try to hold on for "one more day" or do they die in their sleep? Why can't they die during the day when it's more convenient for everyone? And why can't more of them come here when they die? I'm starting to get bored again.

Yesterday I saw my first set of dead, fake breasts. She was in her early fifties and died of cancer, so had lost alot of weight, not that she was probably ever a big woman to start with. She was skinny and tiny except for those breasts standing straight up. Her doctor would have been so proud!

Someone this week bought a ceramic urn. It's another thing I don't get. Ceramic breaks. What are they thinking? It won't be like Meet the Parents, though, cuz the ashes go in a sealed plastic bag and then into the urn, so if it breaks they won't go flying to the ground for the cat to pee in. People have been bringing in weird things for urns. One family just brought me a metal Christmas tin. Another woman went to somewhere like Target and bought three bathroom accessories for urns. You know those matching sets or glass/toothbrush holder/ garbage can/ etc? Well, these are the little containers that you'd put cotton balls or something like that in. They have lids, but they don't screw on and I put silicon to seal them, but then I worry that it won't hold. What if they put them on the bathroom counter? Someone will try to get a qtip, think the lid is stuck, yank hard, and puff a face full of ash. Ah, but if you were reading closely above, you'd know that there'd be no puff, only a plastic bag filled with ash. One of the preneed counselors was trying to tell me that there is no such thing as ash, that it chemically cannot be called ash. What??? You burn something up, what's left? ASH! Right now I'm taking a survey of FDs to see if they think it's ash. What the heck else would it be. Yesterday I was trying to put some cremated remains into a necklace. I'd like to see the inventor of those things be turned in ash! Bone fragments kept clogging up the funnel. I needed to sift it first, but of course we don't have a sifter. Maybe I'll put that on the supply list. May I have an ash sifter please?

A couple days ago as I sat here bored the thought went through my head, "I work in a funeral home". It didn't last but a second, but it was the kind of thought like what in the world? Dead people go here. It was the response I get from other people when I tell them where I work, but it was my response. And I don't tell people right away what I do, if i meet someone new. I just don't. It changes conversations, so I'm much more quiet about it than I thought I would be.

I'm still in a weird place in my head. I'm rambling though so I'll go back to work now. I've got some memorial folders to make and I've been putting it off all day.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

nothing of interest to report

Funeral life is boring this week. Only three cremations. One I did entirely over the phone and thru fax, so won't even see the family till they come in to pick up the urn. A little out of the ordinary. He died almost three weeks ago but wasn't found for awhile. in the middle of a divorce, but the wife signed the cremation authorization and paid the bill anyway. It worked out well, when it could have been very ugly. The adult sons on both sides made sure it went smoothly, each protecting their own parent. It was nice to see that they could work together and take care of things.
One urn burial today at a national cemetery. He was 91 and he and his wife are the only ones left in this area. She had no one to talk to the day he died, but me. She told me several times about how he died, it was quick and she believes he had no pain. She heard the death rattle. I've heard other people describe it and then another lady this week used the term "death rattle". I guess it's rather unsettling. It's not a choking but an inability to catch one's breath. Sort of. Similar to wheezing only there's a really weird sound. The wife told me she won't ever forget the sound. She said he couldn't speak with words when she asked if he was alright, but he met her eyes and she knew he understood what was happening. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. She said she was the sick one, not him, so she really didn't expect it at all. 91 and death is unexpected. Maybe we never expect it, even when someone is sick and the loved ones know they are dying, usually the death is still a shock. I talk about this as if I know. I've not lost anyone since I was in my early 20s and I'm (well) past that now. :)
I feel quiet today and somewhat unhinged. Now there's a weird word. I told Steve recently that sometimes, lots of times, and anywhere, not just at work, I hear quiet voices in the background and I see movement out of the corner of my eye. He didn't know what to say and just nodded. What could he possibly say to a confession of that sort. It's probably all in my head, although Schewan says that it's energy which I'm more susceptible to now. I don't know how that fits into any kind of theology. I know some people are very specific in that they are not to be cremated for 24-72 hours after death (whatever their own magical time limit is) so that their spirits have time to leave the body and the area before the burning commences. It's not as if they'd be burned alive, so I don't get the need for a time frame. Mostly I guess I think the soul leaves the body immediately upon physical death, and I believe in an afterlife...yes, heaven or hell. I think you probably get to go right to heaven if that's your destiny, but i'm not entirely sure about the hell-bound souls. Do they wander? And why do I think their time frame may be different than heaven-bound souls? Wouldn't the final disposition happen equitably? I don't have any answers. Only questions. The biggest of which is where in the world is Schewan. My head is pounding (a cold last week has left me with a five day headache).

Friday, October 27, 2006

what friends should tell ya

Just like a true friend tells you when you have spinach between your front teet, a true friend should also tell you when you have someone's husband's ashes all over the front of your black shirt before you go back to the office to give her his urn!

I can't believe I leaned into the counter when I was gluing the little keepsakes and I got ash all over me. It looked like I'd been playing in it and then wiped my hand on my shirt. I was mortified. I realized it just as I was handing her the urns and then I made the mistake of brushing my shirt which drew her eyes straight to it. Of course the brushing only drove the ash further into the material's weave rather than off and to the floor. It was terrible.

I went in back after they left and asked what was up with the FD not saying anything. He laughed pretty hard and said he didn't notice. hmpf.

The pissed off daughter finally came to pick up her mother's ashes today. Good thing we rushed it, so she could sit on a shelf and wait for two weeks. She was nicer today, but not by much.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Male, 23, sky diving

Report: (gramatical errors don't belong to Noelle)
I was advised of a down parachutist unknown of injuries near ABC Rd. Dispatch said that rescue and ambulance was en route.
I followed the rescue vehicle up ABC St to the end and we went throught a gate that had been opened to a gravel road. We followed the fire chief to the first road to the left and went down to that road to the end.
We then walked about another 700 feet down a brush hill to where the parachutist had fell. Teh parachutist was laying on his back near some oak trees and his reserve parachute was open laying on the ground above him. The parachutist was dead and his helmet was off.
You could see where the parachutist fell through an oak tree, hit the groud, then went about 10 feet downhill. There was a person there who was identified as Mr. Y who said that he watched him from the air strip. Mr. Y said he saw his parachute open all the way and then he saw him start to spin around like he was playing. He said Mr. X, from the parachute school, was talking to him on his radio and told him to stop playing around then all the sudden when he got at about 200 feet he cut his main chute loose and his reserve did not have time to open and I went to where he went down to check on him but he was dead.
I went about 500 feet northwest of where the parachutist went down and got his main parachute down from a tree. The medical examiner arrived and the deceased was taken to a funeral home until proper notification could be made. Detective X notified the police dept to notify relatives about the accident.

Statement from Mr. X:
He was on the ground watching them jump and was talking to them with a portable radio as a safety measure. He said that they left the airplane ok and Male's chute opened all the way, then he started turning around to the right in a slow turn like he was playing around.
He said I told him on the radio to stop plaing around and pull his left toggle to stop the spin but he just kept spinning around. He said that at about 300 feet from the ground he cut loose his main chute to activate his reserve but it didn't have time to open all the way and that's when he went down by the trees.
Mr.X said that he did not understand why Male would have cut his main chute loose, because there was no malfunction with it and if he would have rode it down he would have been ok. He said when Male went through the jump classes he did real good and understood everything. Mr. X gave me a copy of an agreement that David had signed and showed the training he went through before he made his jump.

I contacted the jump master who was in the airplane when Male jumped. I asked him what happened and he said when we were getting ready I kept asking them if they knew what to do and everyone said yes, so when we got to 4500 feet, I opened the door and Male made a good exit. He said I saw his chute open all the way then we closed the door and started to climb again. He said I didn't see him go down so I don't know what happened. He said when we would ask Male what he was supposed to do, he always said yes and would give us the right answer.

I talked to the pilot who was flying the Cesna 180 airplane. I asked him if he saw what happened and he said, all I saw was when he left the airplane then his canopy opened and he was spinning around, but I did not see him fall.

I contacted Mr Z who was on the ground watching when Male jumped and asked him what he saw. He said I saw his chute open all the way and then started turning around to the right in a slow turn like he was playing around. He said I heard Mr. X tell him to stop and he just kept turning around. He said all the sudden when he got to about 500 feet he cut his main chute loose and his reserve did not have time to open.

There was also another jumber that was there but had left before I got to the airport.

Noelle: I'm sure there are pages missing from this (unprofessional) report, namely the action taken or decision reached. I have to wonder if this young man truly had an accident or if it were an elaborate suicide. He had a large insurance policy, which may not have paid out for suicide. I'm left with more questions than answers and I wonder if the investigators at the time felt the same or if they were positive it was a stupid mistake which resulted in tragedy.


There's a preneed counselor here now, well actually there are two of them. A married couple, overweight, total sales people. They encompass everything I do not like about sales. To me, it's strictly about making their living, not about doing what's best for the family or about what makes the most financial sense. It's about pouring on the pressure for someone to buy more than they need or want simply so they can get a larger commission. They get some leads from me. I copy the statistical portion of an at-need file and then they call the next of kin and try to get them to preplan their own funerals. It's greasy. This couple especially. I don't feel comfortable to give them any more of our files, so I plan to ask the manager if I can give them to the other preneed counselor, who is a sweet lady. She genuinely cares about the families she serves, it's a very different perspective than just trying to earn a living. Part of the difference is that it's a secondary income for her, not the primary income like this other couple. They've made me so mad, so disgusted, they seem to be complete predators and it's wrong. Piss off the one who answers the phone and sets appointments, hmm, is that really a good idea?

Male, 61, early 1990s

Coroner's Notice of Death Record
Alcoholic, heart disease, on many medications. Heavy cigarette smoker. Drinks a case of Black Velvet scotch a week. Found sitting in a chair in living room. Had messed his pants and bed, dark brown, coffee ground substance.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Apostolic funeral

It's an interesting funeral. The family is very nice, very gentle. They don't have a pastor speaking, which is a little odd to me. The women are all wearing skirts, long hair in buns, no make-up. Of course, we're kind of an all-female funeral home. Schewan, myself, the owner's daughter who is a Funeral director intern, and the Hospitality Room Hostess. All in pants, all secure in ourselves and fairly out-going, not one meek woman here. Schewan has a ton of makeup, jewelry and several colors in her hair, Princess (owner's daughter, but i don't mean it negatively as she's a very hard worker, i may have named her in a previous post, but i can't remember) has bottle blonde, but tasteful hair. Hostess also has dyed hair and a smoker's voice to boot. I'm the only one with natural hair, but all of us have short hair, none past our shoulder's. It makes me wonder what the women think of us, if they think we're heathens simply because of our appearance. Just so long as they don't look closely and see that my suit is black and my trouser socks are navy. It was dark in my room this morning and it seems to happen just about everytime I wear these pants, that I grab the wrong color socks. I know it's because they're a little too short and you can see my socks if i sit. Hmm, maybe if my butt would quit getting bigger, the pants would quit getting shorter! Do apostolic women run? Are they allowed to wear shorts and a sports bra? How do they exercise in a skirt? Can they wear pajama pants or only nightgowns, I'm assuming they wear something to sleep in. Do they? They seem quiet and meek, but how can they all be? How do they squash their own personalities in order to fit the mold? Or do they? I have a hard enough time being a regular woman, balancing beliefs, family, work. I can't imagine how you also keep track of the rules a religion imposes on you. I guess my issue with it, is that I don't understand how any religion can take one section of the bible and develop man-made rules out of it. Certainly there is the need to follow what God says, but I don't see the need in adding more rules, which I can't believe God cares so much about. Do they shave their arm pits or legs? I know, that's a little random, but it just came to mind. It makes me wonder what "rules" have been imposed on me by my non-denominational church. Certainly nothing as obvious as not cutting my hair, but are there things which I've begun doing or others which I've quit doing simply because I now attend church? I don't even know how to explain that. I guess that while I admire the simplicity of the gesture of those in the chapel now, I wonder if their rules get in the way of their relationship with God, and if so, could they ever recognize it as happening? Musings of a bored office assistant...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I'm tired, very tired, and it's only Tuesday. Just finished printing out statements for the week. I send out the first one and if there's a balance, the accountant sends out monthly statements after that. Guess one good thing about so many first calls is that I have a lot of statements to send out. Of course, all but one of them is already paid in full, but we send them for 1) customer records and 2) keeping our name in front of the customer just little longer. If they did an obit, we'll laminate it in a bookmarker and send it to them a week after the statement. Just reminds them that we're awesome people, so they'll want to come back here again. There's quite a bit of sales and that's a little weird. I'm still not used to it. I try not to sound like a salesman, but sometimes it feels a little greasy anyway. We make the most money on the products we sell, so it only makes sense that we need to show them a bunch of choices. I've been surprised how many revenue earners there are. For cremated remains, there are urns, keepsake urns, biodegradable urns, necklaces, bracelets, keyrings, paperweights, paintings, diamonds, I don't' know what else. I don't like the keyrings and I'm not going to offer them, if they happen to see it, fine, but I'm not pointing them out. I think they're a little distasteful. Plus it looks just like a little vial you'd put cocaine in. Why would someone want ashes swinging around with their keys anyway? It's just disrespectful. And the paintings? What is that? You can take someone's ashes, have them mixed with paint, and get the deceased's portrait done. Not for me. The paperweight / art pieces are neat though. They take about three tablespoons of ash and then a glass blower somehow gets the ash into glass and makes them into different shapes. You can choose blues, greens, purples, ambers, or reds as the main color. I'm sure you've seen them, just without the human remains. They cost a lot, too much, I think, but they're still cheaper than having the remains pressed into a diamond. That's in the thousands of dollars and takes a long time.
Yesterday, someone asked at The Yard if they would mix her husband's ashes in with some tattoo ink, so she could get him tattooed on her shoulder. We said no, she'd have to do it herself. How would you even adjust the viscosity? It would be thick and gooey or else too diluted, I don't know how you'd get it the consistency right. Plus, that's just plain gross.

Friday, October 20, 2006

another friday

Schewan had yesterday off and today she went to an open house at a place where they make markers (headstones). It makes little sense to me why she went instead of me, cuz she won't sell a marker, she pushes it off on me. Well, she's doing it from now on! I'm glad she had the time off, she's making me a little crazy. She's not very nice. I've tried to remember that she is hurt / has been hurt and her anger is a defense mechanism (can you tell i'm taking an anger management class myself? :) I've tried to remember that she is abrupt as a way of keeping people out so that she can have the option of rejecting them before they can reject her. But it's hard to deal with anyway at times. She's just so negative. I know, I've had my time as a jerk, and ask Steve, I still am, but not constantly, not anger without ceasing. This isn't what I'm supposed to be writing about.

20 first calls for the month. The big guy should be coming back from the crematory today. He's going in a budweiser mug. It's the stupidest thing ever. He won't fit, the rest of him will go into a small metal box thing that they brought in. It's a mug of some budweiser guy in tights and he looks like a cartoon character.

Friday, October 13, 2006

wrapping up the week

Got our first large person today. Well we didn't physically get him, he's over at The Yard, and he's not coming here as we can't accomodate him. 700+ lbs. How does one get to 700 lbs? It's the weirdest family. The wife is large too and she says it's because he was so controlling and made her eat but now she's going on a diet. She also says he wouldn't allow her to go to church and now she's going to start. It's interesting and a little odd. They were "shopping" funeral homes for the lowest price. We know just about everyone they called, because after they'd call someone the director would call the crematory and ask what he'd charge, so when he was here he told me who else they'd called. I don't understand the whole shopping thing, but it happens alot. I could understand calling a couple places if you're really strapped for cash. I don't believe these people are though, cuz they're getting ten DCs (death certificates), if you're poor you have no assests and may need one to three. Ten means they have enough money to have "things".

The pissed off daughter was supposed to be here first thing this morning to pick up her mother. She still hasn't shown up. She may truly be psycho and her explosion last Friday may have had less to do with grief over her mother's death than I was giving her credit for. The whole family has anger issues, it seems.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

alone still

I've tried for a few hours now to calm back down. I painted, it didn't help. I've decided I'm an artist now. HA! When my youngest grandson was born (I've got three), I painted a picture for he and his brother. It was a hill with a raven flying over head. The sun was shining brightly. It was my artistic interpretation of both their names. I am so not able to paint. Tonight I muddled through backgrounds. They are deep burgundy, sort of watercolor, although I didn't use watercolor paints. My daughter will write the Japanese symbols for faith, love, and hope on them. I'll put them in black frames. I'll put them in a room where I can sit quietly and reflect. On what? I don't know. Not death, not with the words faith, love, and hope. Temporal vs eternal. There's a reflection. Where do I put my stock? I have hope in today and hope in an eternity even when I feel as psychotic as this evening. It's the knowledge rather than the feeling. I am trying so desperately to figure all this out. To process my own grief. To somehow slow my pounding heart in order to walk upstairs and crawl in bed. I'm jealous of a fab in St Louis, which has once again whisked my husband away. I want to feel his arms around me, as I drift off to sleep.

Dinner conversation

Last night at dinner, my girlfriend asked if I've given more thought to becoming a funeral director. I told her (vaguely) about my week, the busy-ness of it, the insanity, and how i'm really not sure if this is for me at all. She wondered if the next step now is for me to go on a first call. It is. I should. I think. I told her I experienced two crappy things this week, and I think I can just about deal with anything now. She asked me how I processed those things, I was honest in saying I had not. They were pushed aside as I needed to stay focused on the task at hand. At some point I realized that her husband had quit being a part of the "mens' conversation" and was listening to us. The look on his face was pure horror and disgust and fear. And I wasn't even saying anything, really, well I didn't think i was. Soon Steve became quiet and was listening and then I realized that the other gentleman was too. My friend and I had just been chatting between ourselves but suddenly I had an audience. It was awkward. My friend said it was incredibly sad, her husband said it was troubling. I did not think I'd painted either of those pictures. Am I already unaware of the intensity of emotion? Are these things becoming everyday work to me? I did decided in the future I'll say "Skip was bathing someone in the prep room", rather than "Skip was working on someone." There's so much more than bathing, but maybe it won't freak others out so much. Steve and I had two choices last night for dinner. First was eating with this couple who we adore after attending church (no we're not some weird religion, we just like going on saturdays so we can have sunday free). This choice is our normal routine, usually the four of us go out, sometimes others join us. Our second choice and the one I did not choose was to go to the home of the guy who owns the crematory for dinner and drinks. This choice had great appeal to Steve, especially after I told him that "Crematory Guy" has a stripper pole in his living room. Apparently his brother's gf is a stripper and she and her friends practice there. Steve was ready to go! ;) Also I think he really wanted to go to work Monday and say guess where I had dinner Saturday night? Choosing dinner with our friends was an easy choice for me, but the inability to speak about my job made me wonder if I'm becoming more likely to fit in with Crematory Guy than with my own friends. I find myself critiqueing (sp?) movies and stories and all things dealing with death. Hey, that's not what really happens. What's wrong with those people, didn't they do any homework? We saw "Little Miss Sunshine" Friday night and it was the funniest movie I've seen in a long time. I loved it. Two thumbs up. Except for one part. Are we in the deathcare industry the only ones who know it wouldn't work that way? Or do other people realize it? Why do I even care, it's just a movie. Will I never be able to talk about my job again? I thought I was being so generic, but it silenced the table. It troubled and grieved them. Why are we as a culture so isolated from death? We push it aside and dress it up and buy a fancy casket and pretend that death is clean. Well it's not. Not always. We say autopsy like it's a tonsilectomy. It's not a trip to the dentist. It's horrible and I'm freaking out right now and i want to scream and rip my hair out. I talked to a woman Friday. Several times as she kept screaming and swearing and hanging up on me and calling back. She was beyond sanity. The anger coursed through her, images of the night before playing out in front of her time and again and she took it out on me. She didn't want to come in because she made all the arrangemenst last year, but they never remember when you tell them you have to come in at the time of death anyway. more papers to sign, which can't be done ahead of time. It could have waited till Monday and I tried to tell her that. It didn't have to be friday. She was exhausted and it could wait. "YOU'RE NOT THE ONE WITH THE DEAD MOTHER!" The dial tone sounded so odd in my ear. It was loud and hateful. The shrill ringing minutes later startled me, her call came in on the second line, as I still held the receiver in my hand, dial tone turned to beeping with ringing in the background. I answer. "YOU DON'T KNOW HOW SHE SUFFERED. I FUCKING WATCHED HER DROWN IN HER OWN SHIT! AND NOW I HAVE TO SIGN ANOTHER FUCKING PAPER???" I tell her we can wait, i speak calmly, i know she is insane with grief. There is no consoling her, she wants to make sense of a cancer that stole her mother. There is no sense at this time, only pain. "I'LL BE THERE" and again that stupid dial tone. I try to call back but she doesn't answer. She comes in about fourty-five minutes later. A small woman, maybe 45, jeans and sweatshirt, rumpled but expensive. Hair sticking out everywhere, but I can tell that she's normally well put together. Every inch exuding tension. She stands in front of my desk ignoring both chairs "GIVE ME THE PAPERS." Schewan is not yet back and I've been instructed by my manager to do nothing until she gets there. I tell her she has to sign in front of a FD and she goes off the deep end. There was nothing I could do. Normally I would have let her sign but I knew I had to wait for Schewan as she would know how to help. I couldn't help, I only made her angrier. Storms out to her car. I call Schewan, where are you, I need help, I don't know what to do. She's close, almost back to the funeral home. I go out to the car, I'm trembling now. I'm not scared of her, I'm scared for her. I'm shocked to see her husband in the driver's seat, why isn't he holding her? She rolls down the window and I tell her Schewan is almost back, i tell her again how sorry i am. She begins to cry. I am so relieved. She apologizes, profusely, repeatedly, "it's not like me, i never swear, i'm so sorry." I tell her I understand. I go back in and call Schewan and tell her I finally got to tears and the woman is going to be more calm now. I'm not calm. I'm crying. I'm shaking. I'm wondering who I am to be intruding on such a private anguish. What kind of vulture am i? What would make me want to be a part of such grief in the lives of strangers? Is my life not hard enough that now I want to complicate it with the issues of others? What the heck is wrong with me? Why am I here in this house of death? Am I sick? Do I want to be tortured? Will I make it through this day without puking my guts out? Why do I think this extra stress is a good thing in my life? Am I making a difference here at all? Is this my calling? Or am I simply a weirdo and I don't belong here at all? It's two days later and every nerve in my body is standing at attention right this second. I'm anxious and nervous and upset and disgusted and unsure. I almost cry and then swallow it away. My fingers are flying over the keyboard but still too slow to keep up with the emotions running through my head, my heart. My life. I'm alive. This is how it feels? I woke up this morning. I woke up. Tears well and then recede. Vomit creeps into my mouth. I shudder and force it back down. I don't know what in the world i am doing in this job. All of it over the last week is rushing through. It's more than i know what to do with. A baby. He was seven months old. His skin was so perfect. I couldn't look at his face. I wouldn't. My eyes couldn't leave his chest. Skip didn't talk, just shook his head, like why'd you come in here. He met my eyes like before when I was curling that girl's hair. He met my eyes and held them, I could see that he was telling me to hold it together. He was telling me I have a job to do and I needed to focus on it and not on the little body on his table. He was telling me that it's not fair and there is pain in this world but there was a bigger picture and we don't always see it. Out loud he said, the scissors are in that drawer. I took them out and went back to the viewing room and cut off a long brown lock for a mother whose grown daughter was in that casket. She was going to braid it and keep it for her granddaughter who's only ten. It's not a damned tonselictomy, it's just not!!! I don't understand what I'm doing in that building. I don't understand why I go back everyday. Who did i think I was, telling my friend I could deal with most things now? I can't deal with any of it. I don't want to deal with any of it. I want it all to leave my head.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

no title

I have so much work I need to be doing, yet I'm having a difficult time focusing. Schewan is back at work today and I feel the expectation to babysit her. I don't have time nor energy to babysit her. How terrible does that make me? Her friend did not yet die, Schewan has made all the arrangements at a FH in the town where she lives. Her friend's children are at her side and were mad with Schewan because she was coming back here. I'm sorry for her grief, but maybe she should have stayed there until the whole ordeal came to an end. People are in and out of here and the phone is ringing off the hook. It's the busiest ever and I need to work.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

busy busy

so, i think i've said that I work for a family who owns two funeral homes, one big one and one small. I work at the small one. (I also repeat myself, cuz I have a short term memory thing, so I could've said this ten times or maybe none). Last month was the slowest in the history of the world and we only took nine first calls. My FD, Schewan, is out of town on her own family (near) death experience, so it's mostly me with back up from the other home (it needs a name, we call it The, oh wait, I can't tell you that, let's you and I call it The Yard, since it has a cemetery attached.) Ok, today is Tuesday, Oct 3rd and when I went home today we had received our seventh call since I got there yesterday morning. AWESOME! Not that people died, but that they died and came to ME! and as a result I feel challenged for the first time since I've been working here. Challenged as far as work quality. What makes it even better and ten times more fun is that one of the cases is a Mexican shipout. The decedent is from Mexico, we'll be sending him back for burial next week. Everything has to be translated, everything goes thru the consulate, it's so far a lot of work and I'm not entirely sure I can pull it off, but it's such a welcome diversion for me. Maybe sometimes I miss my semiconductor-thought-processing, the mental work, the constant juggling and multi-tasking. I miss the excitement of the stress, as stupid as that sounds. So here's a little taste of it again!
there is a down-side, sort of, well I don't know if it is or it isn't. But I had two firsts today; one that rocked me to the core of my being and the second was the realization that there was no time to deal with the first so I needed to put it aside for future processing. I was able to put it aside until now, of course when it's time for bed and I'm home alone. Somehow I'm not yet ready for the processing, although I'm scared that if I don't, I'll wake up haunted. I'm also scared that no matter whether I begin trying to deal with it now or whether I stuff it back away until another time, I'll still wake up haunted. So I'll go to bed. I'll pray for the family and I'll pray for a quietness within and a reminder that the body is simply a temporary house for a soul.

Friday, September 29, 2006


So, now I have audited EVERY pre-need file we have to make sure there are no others with missing funds. Luckily only one is questionable and I'll look into it next week. It took all week to go thru each file and compare it against printouts from the insurance companies that show funding. I now have about two more weeks worth of work to sort through all the "information only" files. People just come in and tell you what they want, but don't pre-pay and don't actually sign a contract to come here. So half or more of them could be dead for all I know and we're just hanging on to a useless file. I made a pile of all those files and will deal with them sometime.
Right now it's Friday and I am going home! It's the homecoming game, so I'm going to watch my daughter cheer (who cares about the football game in the background.)

Thursday, September 28, 2006


The funeral director pocketed the money. I can't believe it.
I talked to someone who used to work here. The FD was fired as soon as he was caught. Started out as a good guy, ended up pocketing cash. They didn't really know how many times he'd done it. We honored the payment since the family found the receipt. Schewan and I had decided to pay for the cremation out of our pockets if the owner wouldn't make good on it. Technically he doesn't have to, since it all happened prior to him purchasing the funeral home, but it's the right thing to do.
Finally got all the signatures and the Dad went to the crematory yesterday. He was beginning to smell. Schewan failed to remove his pace maker until just before he left. Pee-you! (sp?) The oldest son was holding out, just to be a putz, not because he truly cared about the dad. The entire situation with this family is sad. One good thing of it, is that two of the daughters have begun speaking again after years of not getting along. That part is neat.

I'm just shocked that the FD took the money. I guess he'd found a really old receipt book and had begun using it when people paid cash. I do not understand how someone could do that. It's death we're talking about, he's not selling used cars. You only get one shot at doing death right and if someone planned ahead to take care of their family, how horrible is it that they'd be taken advantage of? I believe that he was prosecuted, but any punishment does little to make it right.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Words that canNOT be on my death certificate:
Marital Status: Divorced
Date of Death: Found xx/xx/xxxx
Informant: County Medical Examiner or any Nursing Home name
Cause of Death: Any form of Suicide
Autopsy: Yes (it's a yes/no question)
Usual Occupation: Eng Tech
Usual Industry: Semiconductor

Foods that are off my menu:
Well-ripe plums or nectarines
Cottage cheese
Sometimes, orange juice
Sometimes, all food, but luckily that doesn't last long

Stupid things I've said:
"Here's another group to add to your party." - when sending some late arriving family members into the arrangement room to complete selections for burying their father.

Colors of ash I've seen:
Normal gray
Black, very black
Lime green
Smoky yellow

Least favorite services:
Children of any age

Most favorite services:
Old parents, especially when the "children" are themselves 60-70 and they fight amongst themselves. The dynamics are awesome to watch. Plus I like telling them to behave.
I'm tired. I'm hungry and I don't particularly want to be here today. Steve and I talked over the weekend about me getting a funeral director license. I still don't know how i feel about it. I don't want to do it, because sometimes it's just too weird. I do want to do it because it'd make my job so much easier. I wouldn't have to always wait to have a FD present to continue with what needs to be done. But I don't want to go on first calls (removing deceased from home, hospital, morgue, etc) and I don't like touching the deceased. It feels weird and it still freaks me out some. Although hair and makeup aren't bad, mostly it's the moving them from table to cot to fridge or wherever. I haven't helped casket anyone and I dont' think I want to. I wouldn't get an embalmer's license, that's completely out of the question. But what i'm frustrated with is that mortuary schools require embalming. You can't take any of the classes without taking the whole program. I've had enough today and I want to go home.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Families are stupid.

So i start off the day in a hazy place where i'm uncertain what the heck i'm doing here and I end in a place where I'm positive it's not for me. I wanted to deal with the public??? I chose to deal with idiots? hmmm.

1. Mom died in 1999. I know she went thru my funeral home, because ever since I started working here I've been trying to find her file. I came across her death certificate. Have looked EVERYWHERE and can't find her file. Unprofessional? Yes. Unusual? I'm finding that it's not. There was NO filing system for the past 100 years, why do I think i needed to start now? grr.
2. Dad died yesterday. Normally when second spouse dies, we look at first spouse's file and set everything up the same way. Hey, where's that dang file?
3. Dad's pre-need file says put Dad's ahes with Mom's. Who has mom's ashes?
4. let's see, Dad got a new friend sometime after mom died. (he's 89, why does he need a new "friend:?)
5. Dad, NF (new friend) and D1 (Daughter 1) pre-arrange for Dad's cremation in 2003. They pay cash.
6. Dad and NF move and subsequently misplace all receipts and other documentation regarding pre-need.
7. Noelle calls pre-need insurance company for death benefit amount. They say there's no record of Dad or Mom having ever been in their system.
8. NF and her Child come in to bring Dad's clothes. I ask her if she has any of the records. She tells me again, they're lost. I tell her it's a problem. She starts to cry. She's got to be close to 90 herself. I feel like the big bad wolf.
9. D2 comes in to sign the cremation authorization. Oh, let me back up. Dad didn't sign his own authorization. His wife is dead, so all adult children have to sign. There's nine of them. She signs. I don't mention the money thing.
10. Son 1 lives in another state. Has been estranged for fifteen years. I call him. He doesn't believe his dad wanted to be cremated, he's not going to sign. Fifteen minutes later, he says he'll go to the bank, I can fax the form, sign, notarize, fax back. All good. Well, except he never goes to the bank.
11. D1 comes in to sign. I gather statistical info for the Death Certificate. She signs the authorization. Then I tell her there's no pre-pay record. She takes it well. She says she'll look in her records. I say NF is looking for it too. She goes away happy.
12. NF's Child 2 calls threatening lawsuit. who stole the money? Why did I make her mother so upset? Yadda ya. (Remember that she's not even related to Dad as far as I can tell). Fifteen more minutes consoling another person. I tell her to find the records and shut up (well a little nicer than that).
13. D3's boyfriend (what?) calls to ask what kind of form she has to sign and why don't we have a copy of Dad's will? Did I mention it's my funeral director's day off and i'm the only one in the office today. D3, her boyfriend, and S2 go to the bank. Fax, sign, notarize, fax. Call, call, call. 4/9 signatures obtained.
14. S1's wife calls. Can I prove that cremation is what Dad wanted? Scan in the information, email to her, so she can explain it to S1. Did I also mention that the whole family's combined education level is probably junior high school? Maybe that sounds harsh, but these aren't educated folks.
15. D4 goes to Winco (the Walmart of grocery stores), writes a note that says cremate Dad, I'm not paying for anything, faxes it and leaves the store. I call the store within seconds of receiving the fax, the man I talk to is dumbfounded about what the woman just did. He said he even asked her if she wanted to call me first as there was probably a form she needed to fill out. Anyway, she's gone. I leave a message on her message phone. She never calls back.
16. S1's wife calls back. She got my email. She talked to D4, they want to know who's paying as they've now heard the whole saga and don't want to pay a dime. Of course they don't want to pay, they haven't spoken to dad in fifteen years. I don't bother answering her and instead ask when I can expect the signed authorization form. She's a little short when she hangs up. I don't care.
17. D5 calls for me to fax her and S3 their forms. fax, sign, fax. Call, call, call. 6/9 signatures.
18. Oh, wait S4 died last month, whew. 6/8 signatures. Just waiting on S1 and D4 (who did it wrong).
19. Call the doctor's office for verification she'll sign the death certificate. She's on vacation till next Wednesday. No other doctor will sign.
20. NF and her C1 come back, with C1's dog in a crate. Hey, this isn't a pet cemetery, get that thing out of her. Oh, it's alive. why didn't she leave it in the car? They found the paperwork. I make copies. It's an all around lovefest. I let them know I didn't like C2 calling and threatening me. Highly unnecessary.
21. Call D1 to tell her the receipt has been found.
22. Hmm, receipt found. Payment made, no record at the insurance company, where DID the cash go? Did a greedy funeral director try to take advantage of an uneducated family? Been chatting with my manager throughout the day, he's at the other funeral home and wondering the same thing.

I can't wait to see what tomorrow holds. Where's the missing money? Where's the mom's file? Will Dad's ashes be placed with Mom's? What does NF say about that? Will S1 sign? What will they all say that we can't do anything at all till the doctor comes back? Stay tuned...

Oh, wait. I forgot to mention that just as i walked to the prep room door late this afternoon, Skip said to a (body) transportation guy "Hey, get outta here before you barf on my floor!" He rushes out past me, I see why. I don't know how Skip will repair her, she's inside out.

Archival insanity

i tell you, this inputting of old files into the system is gonna be the death of me. Not only is it tedious, but I can't quit reading about the deceased. Suicides, murders, car accidents, SIDs. I quietly rejoice when i come to an old man who died peacefully at home. Somehow they've been delegated in my mind as plain old deaths and I'm glad for them. First those files make the data entry process continue moving forward, unlike others which slow me down for ten to thirty minutes. And mostly, plain old deaths are how it's "supposed to be".

Yesterday I came across the worst of the worst. Two siblings, children under 12, cause of death for both said "mortally assaulted". No other information. Of course i googled them. Aaay, what the heck did i do that for? Their deaths were almost fifteen years ago, but due to the nature and the huge publicity they garnered, there was no lack of reading material. They were attacked and killed by a child predator, who then went on to kill again, was caught and subsequently executed. All afternoon yesterday, I thought about them, wondered how their families are. Prayed silently for their moms and their dads and for the third child's brother who turned his back for only a few moments and the predator struck. I worry that he took on the responsibility for his sibling's death, when he was only a child himself at the time and could have done nothing to stop it. I'm nauseated all afternoon.
I have nightmares last night. Children killing other children. A lone man stands in the background and supervises. I awake with a start, thinking it's only a dream, then fall back to sleep and restart in the same place I left off. Today I'm edgy and uncertain yet again about this job.

Friday, September 08, 2006

saddest suicide yet

Female, 80 years old, died years ago.

Immediate cause: Mechanical Asphyxia and Carbon Monoxide and Benzodiazepine Intoxication

How injury occurred: Deceased ingested diazepam, inhaled automobile exhaust and placed plastic bag over her head.

Activities/Memberships/Interests: Avid reader, enjoyed gardening and shopping at Nordys. Enjoyed spending her winters in Arizona past 13 years and clamming on the beach.

Survived by: husband, son, daughter, 1 grandchild.

The only clue: Memorials: Parkinsons

Monday, August 21, 2006

attic to hallway, 1.2 seconds

Non-funeral home related. My husband and I gutted our master bathroom a few weeks back, all the way down to 2x4s. Had some re-wiring done and yesterday I started putting insulation in the ceiling. I had some left over and couldn't see the point in taking it downstairs to the garage just to bring it back to the attic at a later date, so I was going to go up and have my daughter (21 with 2 1/2yr old son, just moved back home) hand it up to me. Long story short: She wanted to go up, earn her keep, help me out, yadda ya, "I'm almost to the bathroom, Mom, you can start handing it up", crash boom bang, Danielle is on the floor in the hallway surrounded by sheetrock and blown in insulation. A bone in her foot appeared to be almost through the skin, Logan snored from the bedroom on the other side of the wall. I ran to the neighbor who is a nurse, scared her half to death banging down the door, then ran back. The neighbor took charge, cuz I quickly disintegrated, she checked out Danielle while I called 911. Paramedics arrived within five minutes, ambulance shortly thereafter. Dislocated 1st metatarcal (sp?), in addition to being fractured. Some bone on the top of her right foot. It's the most horrible feeling I've encountered in quite sometime and it didn't even happen to my body. She's getting better on the crutches. But can't keep up with Logan. I don't know how this will play out. We go to the orthopedic surgeon tomorrow. She's feeling guilty cuz now she really can't work, I'm feeling guilty cuz I let her go up there, Steve's feeling guilty cuz he wasn't home to be doing the work himself. Logan and Corey just play. It's going to be a long road.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Dang. What a sucky day. The young lady from yesterday went to the crematory today. I think I may have hit her in the face with the lid to the casket insert. We have a rental casket for people who are going to be cremated but also have viewing. A plywood box with a nice liner goes into it, the whole thing is removed with the person and cremated. When I put the lid on, I think it hit her, even though we were very careful and removed the pillow from under her head first. It keeps running through my mind, even though it isn't possible because her face was well below the top, I know I didn't really touch her, but I keep thinking if it were my daughter in a box and the lid touched her face. Crap. It's one of the more and more rare days when i take on grief which doesn't belong to me. I don't even know how to describe how i'm feeling. I know the lid didn't touch her, but I keep seeing it in my mind that it did. Maybe it's the finality of her life and the closing of the lid somehow made it more final. Did I say that her Mom went and bought her a beautiful long prom dress. Her daughter could be a princess one last time.

I thought i'd do some shelf cleaning in the back this morning. There are two urns which have been here since last year. I cold called both families and said come and get them. One is a still born baby, who I talk to and who I feel so sad that he's still here. I called his mom and told her we're taking good care of him, but he really should be with people who love him. She was obviously caught off guard to hear me, but she said they'd come on Monday to pick him up. Well, as I was working with a lady whose son will probably die this weekend, a young man came in. It was the baby's dad. As soon as he said who he was, I said oh, I'm so glad to see you. I excused myself from the lady (see next paragraph) and went to get the baby's ashes. The dad was struggling to remain composed, I didn't struggle at all, I just cried. I told him I couldn't imagine how hard it must be for him and how sorry I am for he and his wife. He said it was good for them to come and get him, they needed to be able to finish dealing with it. I told him that I'll miss his son, and I will, and that we've been taking very good care of him, but I'm also very glad he gets to go home now. The dad hugged me, not a quick hug, but a long hug, a grateful one. Then he told me very quietly that they're pregnant again, they didn't think it would happen again so soon and that they are excited, but scared. I wished him well and sent him on his way.

There was no pretense when I went back in the room with the older lady. I told her I was sorry, but sometimes it's just a difficult job, I dried my tears and we began to once again talk about her son. He's 39, colon cancer. She did okay for a while, then her tears began again. She asked if i have children, yes, five. She wished for me that I would never ever have to bury one of them. She said how wrong it is and of course she's right. It's unnatural for a mother to outlive her child. I can not fathom a mother's grief. A 19 year old girl or a stillborn son or a grown man, it makes no difference to the mother, it's still unbearable. To the father too. I hope to never experience it. I wake in the middle of the night sometimes filled with dread that one of my children is in a bad situation, usually my youngest son. I wait for the phone call to come or the doorbell to ring, all the while praying that God would hold him (or her or them) in His hands and keep them safe for one more night. Finally exhausted from the depth of the unknown, I drift back off to uneasy sleep.

I can not imagine the grief of a mother. Nor do I want to.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

young lady

19, female, drowned. Son appears to be about a year and a half old. Could be my own daughter. Mom brought in a prom dress for her. I curled her hair in long sweeping curls. She looks very pretty. I'm sick to my stomach. I was finishing up her hair and Skip came over to see, he just stared at me, made me look him in the eyes. I told him to knock it off or I'd start to cry. He just kept looking at me, I cried. How do you lose your daughter? How does her son grow up not knowing her. Last night, after work I picked up Logan from daycare, it was my first time to get him from the new place he goes. I saw him in the window, he got a huge smile and started yelling "Grammy, Grammy". When they let me in, he ran to me and grabbed my legs. I just heard the young lady's son say Grammy to her mom. I don't know what I'd do if one of my children were gone, just like that, swimming, having fun, then gone. I want to throw up now.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

cause of death

Random ages and causes of death of those whose families wouldn't pay their bills in the late 1990s: (i'm entering archived files into excel)

-65, complications of colon carcinoma
-34, Multiple blunt force injuries, pedestrian struck by three vehicles
-56, Anterior Myocardial Infarction (spelled wrong by doctor and scribbled over)
-33, Acute obstructive hydrocephalus
-82, Congestive heart failure
-72, Complications of Acute Bacteral Pneumonia
-79, end stage Copd
-41, overdose of heroin
-88, rupture abdominal anc anneurysim
-47, acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis
-33, Pneumocystis carnii pneumonia, Aids
-75, Myocardial infarction, heart failure, diabetes

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

young man

He's 18. His body is broken in many places after the car he was a passenger in was hit by a train. He was embalmed, but he's decomposing rapidly as the fluids couldn't travel to all parts of his body. Normally we're embalmed from one or two places, he was "injected" (i dont know what they call it) from seven points. No less than four funeral directors have worked on him, so that his family could see him. He smells so bad. His viewing time was decreased from two days to one hour and there is real fear on the part of Schewan that an hour is too long. During the last round of his reconstruction and makeup, the decomposure was much too evident. That's all I have to say about that. Well, actually i have alot to say and probably no one ever reads this but me so i could just let it out yet i'm hesitant. Funny how this started as a place for me to say what i need to say but now i don't want to because sometimes its too horrific for anyone else to read. it's weird.
His dad came into my office. Angry, beligerent, demanding explanations for the reduced viewing time. He closed the door to the entrance of my office. I closed the back door, now i was sure no one could hear. I told him that we knew how important it is for the family to be with their son and how difficult it was for us to say they couldn't spend more time with him and that there wouldn't be time for his friends to get here. I said that God was taking "Young Man" home faster than we were able to keep him here. I carefully explained how much work had gone into the restoration and how it wasn't slowing down the process of death. He was somewhat appeased when he went back out.
Can't they see what's happening? Would I be just as blind if it were my own child?

Monday, July 10, 2006


So, it's pretty rare for me to get freaked out in here, but today seems to be the day. I don't know why. Maybe it was something Steve said about how weird it is to him that someone is surrounded by their family when they die and then an hour later they're lying on a cold steel table amidst strangers. Two here now, within a couple hours of their deaths. Or maybe it's that the dang door has opened and closed a couple times today and it's bugging me. There's one door between the front and back areas that sometimes opens and closes. Maybe fifteen times since I've worked here, usually when I'm here alone. Once when Tom was here with me, we both thought Skip had come back over to embalm someone, then no one ever came forward. We ignored it like we hadn't both just said "I didn't know Skip was back". Just went on with our conversation like we hadn't heard a thing.
I was in the back with Mrs. R. She was cremated a year ago, but her daughter brought her back today so I could seperate her into three small keepsake urns before they spread the remainder next weekend. I kept thinking I heard noises in the prep room. It's impossible, I'm sure, well unless it was that outgasing thing. Anyway. I didn't finish seperating Mrs. R. I came back to my desk.
Whew! A funeral director got here from the other home. That nervousness only lasted about fifteen minutes and it's over. yippee.

Monday, July 03, 2006


So I did a lady's hair about a month back. Haven't been writing much in here. Some of it is boring, some too gross, some too personal. The lady had one braid down the back and her family wanted a more sophisticated look. I took out the braid, ha!, way easier said than done. I tried to turn her head to get to the hair in the back. It wouldn't turn; stiff, looking straight ahead. I ended up pulling it out from under her. She was in her late 90s and the tiniest little thing, but I couldn't move her. Her hair was sparse and pretty kinky, curly. I used a curling iron to straighten it. I touched her forehead with the iron and then panicked, first cuz I automatically thought I'd hurt her, duh, and then because I didn't know if her skin would just melt. It freaked me out. I yank out her braid, then I brand her forehead! yikes. I was trying to be so gentle, it didn't work. She looked very nice in the end and her family was pleased.

retirement and a new funeral director

Tom officially retired last Friday. He's here doing a service today, because he said he would. It's nice to have him here for another day. The new funeral director is a woman, let's call her Szechwan. She's into Feng Shui (sp?) and on her first day she started moving furniture around to create better energy. What??? I don't know how it'll be to work with her. I should ask the manager why everyone keeps apologizing when they find out she's Tom's replacement. I think they put her here from the other funeral home, because she was making people mad over there. Great. I'm trying to keep an open mind. Trying.
Today's service is basically just a chapel rental by another funeral home about 75 miles from here. They did all the work and then came here for the service and burial. It's a great way to do a service, very little time involved on our parts and I get to meet new directors. Stan lives in a smaller community, but went to mortuary school in San Francisco. He reminds me completely of a friend of Steve's who died in March, so that's a little weird. Before the family got here, we were swapping fun stories (not that i have many yet). He had a client named Mr Lynch, who hanged himself. One of his teachers in San Francisco was named Mr. Grimm. He's a funny guy. He's one of my favorite directors yet. He speaks very eloquently, as if confidently exuding good breeding. Fantastic suit, perfectly manicured nails, salt and pepper (mostly pepper) hair in a stylish cut, bea-u-tiful shoes. I'd expect him to be a banker in a large city rather than a funeral director in a smallish city. He's probably a couple years older than me, but he sure makes me want to pinch his cheeks cuz he's so adorable. (facial cheeks, clean it up some). Anyway, it's uncanny how much he reminds me of Russ, well Russ minus Marine attitude.
Ok, I'm back, not that you knew I was gone. Had to sign for cremains from the crematory guy. Another super nice person, there seems to be an abundance of good folk in this industry. I like that.
Last week we had an open house/retirement party for Tom. It was enjoyable as far as work functions such as that go. A good turnout, nicely catered, except the crab dip was WAY too salty. Tom was pleased, he seemed somewhat humbled when he gave his little speech. It was nice. I'll sure miss him. I don't know how it'll go with Szechwan. Tom taught me whatever he thought I should know and then some, she seems more like an information hoarder. We'll see. I keep saying that.

Friday, June 09, 2006

absolute boredom

I wanted a job so i could have some social interaction, staying at home was awesome, but sometimes a little lonely. Aargh. This is isn't much better. Tom has been gone three days this week due to a family emergency and there is NO one to talk to. He's retiring at the end of the month anyway and I don't know who is coming down here to work. Who knew I'd get this bored. I just sit around waiting for someone to die and then when they do, I'm disappointed when it's only cremation. How much energy does that take? grr.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Mother's Day in the Morgue

Something to know about me, if you don't already. Mother's Day is my least favorite day of the year. It reminds me of the many ways I've failed my children. It reiterates that I was not the mother they needed me to be as they were growing up. I am inundated with sadness, self-pity, and regret for the week preceeding the dreaded day. (that said, I had a wonderful weekend with my older children this year, it was relaxed, fun, and no pressure for me to win best mother award or anything like that).

Apparently, I am not alone. Two moms, two suicides, two sets of children left wondering. I was certain I recognized the grown son of one of the women, he was so familiar to me. It took several days, then I knew it was his grief I recognized, not him personally. aay. It was a crappy week here.

Suicide by helium. There's a new one. A chaplain was here for another service (meth addicted dad found in field, hmm) and he told us about a house call he'd gone on with the police on mother's day. The woman died by putting a plastic bag over her head and hooking up a tank of helium to it. Apparently it's supposed to make for a calm death, no struggling or panicking when you don't get air. I don't know if that's true, but I do know it turns you green. Weird. Anyway it didn't take long for us to realize that she was one of our suicide moms. One grown child, three minor children. What a selfish thing to do.

Suicide by train. Yep, I said train. We were thinking she'd be in three sections: head, torso, legs, but she wasn't. She looked fine except for the head injury and even it didn't look fatal. Guess it was. So, my daughter told me that her friend's dad is who found this woman. He works for the railroad, repairs signal lights that go out. He got the call that a light was out and went to repair it and there she was. The signal being out was unrelated. He was pretty messed up about the whole thing. I told my daughter not to tell him it was suicide, that would really push him over, I'd think. Guess this one had been threatening for years, suffered from mental illness. It's a little easier for me than the helium one. But still, next mother's day for these children (adult or not) will suck. I can't imagine on my worst day being that selfish and thinking so little of my children. I just don't understand it. As my little grandson would say "di-sgusting", the word is all drawn out as he shakes his small red head, hands on hips. It's what I say too, "di-sgusting".

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Afraid of the living, not the dead

I am still shaking like a leaf. I had a little excitement here this morning. Some guy came in and wanted info on cremating his mom. He made me nervous from the start, because he didn’t have a car, he smelled bad, and he was jittery. I actually thought I might have bad breath or something, cuz he startled a little when I handed him a price list, so I thought I must really have coffee breath. Then he asked to use the facilities. I realized after a few minutes when he was making quite a bit of noise that he’d left the bathroom but he didn’t come up to the front to go out. At the ten minute mark I called Steve, who didn’t think much of it but still chatted with me for a few minutes so I wasn't nervous. He laughed that I should've realized when the guy was taking in a paperback that he'd be awhile. At the twenty minute mark, I could hear him in the back. I was scared and called Steve back. He stayed on the line while I looked in the bathroom, but the guy wasn’t there. I could hear him in the building in the back room, so hung up from Steve and called 911. As I was hanging up from them, a pastor (who used to be a cop) came in. I’d never met him before, but as soon as he said pastor, I was trying to hold back tears and told him I’d just hung up from 911 and that someone was in the building. He was very nice and went thru the building with me but we didn’t find the guy. I think he went out the back while I was talking to the operator, cuz I could still hear him when I first called. Part of me still doesn’t actually believe that he went out, but I’m sure he probably did as we’ve looked everywhere (several times by now). Anyway, a policeman came and he knew the pastor, which made me feel even better. ) I was pretty shook up, but now my funeral director is back and it’s much better. I was shaking for over an hour. Funny that it’s not the dead who scare me as much as the living here! It’s not the best neighborhood and I’m often here alone and weird people seem to be drawn here. What a combination.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

young mom

It’s the funeral now of a young mom and wife. We’ve got a full house. Her husband and young son came in last week to talk about some arrangements, because she was sick and dying. The husband is a big teddy bear of a man and when he cried, geez, it was all I could do to not. They’ve stuck in my heart, the man and boy who are left behind. After she died, he brought in clothes, jewelry, and makeup for her. It’s a beautiful dress, but not entirely great for a casket, shows too much skin. He asked us to make her beautiful, one last time. Yesterday, I helped Tom with her makeup. Yep, I’ve come a long way from my first week here. She’s actually the first person who I’ve touched, well personally like that. I mean, I’ve touched people, but it’s to move them, not to actually touch them. A family friend did her hair and Tom did her makeup, but I wanted to help, so he let me. He does great makeup and it wasn’t that I thought I could do it better, I can’t, I just wanted to do something for her. Lipstick doesn’t go on well over the waxy stuff on her lips. It wouldn’t stick as well as I’d have liked. She still looked very nice though. Her mom, today, thought she looked wonderful. I’m glad she was so pleased. I haven’t talked to her husband today, probably won’t, it’s my job to sit quietly, answer phones, and smile as people peer in my window. Mom was a wail-er, boy did she wail…loudly. Maybe I would too if it were my child, I don’t know. The sister is talking about her now with a bunch of girlfriends. They’ve got really fun stories about her, the laughter stops abruptly and the tears begin again. The group disperses quietly with murmurs of bathroom stops before going to the cemetery. It’s a beautiful sunny day, for that I’m glad. She was so young to die, it’s nice to see that she’s sent off in sunshine. From the conversations I overhear, the young woman would be very pleased with the weather. The boy runs through here with some other children as though he owns the place, he’s king for the day and he knows it. I’m glad this has turned out so well, the husband will be able to remember it as a wonderful send off.

Friday, April 28, 2006

A little gross

I'm wondering if I should put in the title a warning when something's icky. Not like I've been writing much of the icky stuff here. Somehow I can't. Somehow I've joined a club, one where the things that happen in the arts and crafts room aren't discussed with people outside the industry. People just don't really want to know, I'm sure of it. I wouldn't want to know. Some of it's too weird.
So, that said, I'll try not to be too gross. I saw two new things. First is that a mormon lady died, and I guess they dress their own dead. Four women came in and dressed the lady in temple clothes, which, not being Mormon, I'd never seen. The outfit was weird. A little green apron, white peasant dress. White veil. Kind of like a shephard girl outfit, it was pretty bizarre.
On their way out, the ladies said that she was leaking a little. Leaking? What the heck does that mean?
I helped Tom move her from the guerney back into the cooler. She had to go in there because she hadn't been embalmed. Ok, side note. Embalmed: don't have to go in the cooler, no bodily fluids leak, body looks fresh (Steve says I shouldn't call them "fresh", it freaks him out). Refrigerated: No family/friend viewing. Body deteriorates more quickly, hence "leaking" occurs.
So, I don a pair of gloves, he doesn't, this is old hat to him. I grab her legs, he grabs under her shoulders. It's awkward as the guerney she's on is between me and where she's going, so I'm trying to lift and reach over. I end up not helping much and she's too heavy for Tom to move alone, so I'm really trying. He lifts her head. Yellow green liquid runs out her nose. Not a little. It streams down her face. He's grossed out. I'm severly grossed out. Her legs are so heavy, dead weight, hmm. So dead. He gets a towel and cleans her up. Her veil slipped over her face while he was wiping her chin. He's so gentle, i'm so nauseous. The veil, Tom, put back up the veil. It doesn't go on her face, it needs to cover her hair.

I've kept this post as a draft. It's been a few weeks. Last weekend, at home, Steve is looking through the fridge for something to eat. It's not hard to look through cuz I dont' shop as much as I should. He laughs as he comes out with egg nog from last Christmas. He laughs even harder as he turns back to the fridge to put it back in for the next lucky contestant. I say hand it over buddy, I'll get rid of it. It's five or so months old, seperated, pure liquid on one hand, chunky blobs on the other. I'm pouring it down the garbage disposal, when I lose it. I'm crying and laughing, both hysterically, both at the same time. I hold my mouth to stop the giggling while the tears stream down my face. I'm gagging and disgusted and maniacly laughing. He's scared for me and of me. I say "her veil was covering her face, it doesn't go there". He only knows a little about "the mormon lady", right now it's way too much. He says that sometimes my inappropriate reactions tell him way more about my job than my words. Well, those aren't his exact words, but it's what he means.

Friday, Friday

What is it with the last several Fridays here. Three new first calls this morning. First call= initial call telling the funeral home that there is a new case coming. One is a young mom who we were expecting (did I already write about her?). Yesterday I talked with someone about being so dang sad here. He said when people ask how he deals with this industry and if he takes it home with him, he responds "How selfish of me would that be? The grief isn't about me, it's about the families. I'm here to do a job and to try to make it as easy as possible for them." Wow. What a way to look at it. The same guy is who told me that when i make the transition from "dead person" to "loved one", I'll know I can do this job. They're still dead people. Well, if I'm in the back room, I think of them as dead people, obviously I treat them like they're my own loved one. I'm gentle and respectful, but in my head they're still dead people if I'm the one helping to move them around. When I'm in the office, they're always loved ones, because there's, purposefully on my part, no dead face to go with the file. It's almost like I'm still seperating the bodies from the people they once were. Maybe at some point they'll merge and that's when they'll become "loved ones". The bit about it being selfish to take on their grief is a good thing for me to remember. He asked me if I'd rather the families have a cheerful, kind face to greet them or if I dont' really care. Cuz if I care, I'll stop being selfish and help them heal. Talk about tough love. I've questioned this job exploration a lot in the last week, but maybe the answer is right in front of me. I'm here, it feels like I'm right where I belong (most of the time), so the rest of it I'll have to suck up and work through. sigh.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

is this for me?

I had a hard time coming into work Monday (it's tuesday now). Partly cuz I spent the weekend in the Bay area with Steve, so didn't want to get up early yesterday and catch a flight away from him. Partly cuz I just didn't want to come here. Today people keep calling, "are you guys holding the funeral for that girl who was murdered?" Seems to me if they ask it like that, they have no business attending. She was too young to die. It was too random.
Last week I was archiving more old files and came across another young lady's file. 19. Beautiful. Her family made a little booklet to give out, stories about her, pictures of her life and of her family. She'd dropped out of preschool cuz they had bad snacks and she didn't really get to go to sleep during the "naptime". She played piano. She was absolutely stunning. The booklet was filled with Bible verses and memories. I was sure it was lukemia, how sad to lose her so young. I was imagining her parents and their grief and their anger at her illness. I wondered if it was long and drawn out, if she was sick a lot. Thumb thru the file to the death certificate.
Decedent shot herself in the head. It shocked me. The ending doesn't fit the story. They must have it all wrong. She was so beautiful. Certainly it was lukemia. Certainly she would have overdosed if she'd wanted to die. Certainly this was much too violent. I don't understand the brutality of suicide. I've come across several in the archives. Each one creates a knot in my belly. Each one brings images of Mike. Not her though. It just makes me mad. What was she thinking? How could she think it was her choice? Who was she to remove herself from the lives of her parents. To deprive them of her college graduation, her wedding day, their grandchildren. She's the only female suicide I've come across. There's so much sadness here. I'm wondering if I'll continue.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

my own history in this funeral home

Many (many) years ago I had a friend named Mike. It was one of my sicker relationships. Actually it was the sickest one of all, alot of pain, alot of anger, alot of crying, and a heck of a lot of therapy afterwards. Not good most anyway you look at it, well except there had to be good times or it wouldn't have lasted as long as it did, maybe, I don't know. I was only 21 when I met him, very young, very stupid, and very naive. Long story short, he died. Longer story shorter, he shot himself in the head. I didn't go to the funeral. I never went to his gravesite. Two or three days before he died, I'd simply walked away. Well, not so simply as he was pretty mad, but I'd walked away and he didn't know where I was.
So last week, I go back into the prep room to talk to Tom. (Yes, I'm getting more used to it and sometimes I go back there if I know they're not doing anything gross) Well, he was working on a guy (who ended up looking absolutely amazing, believe it or not, what a make-up artist I work with!), but the guy on the next table is who caught my eye. He was really skinny and fairly young, late 30s, maybe early 40s, maybe way younger but lived a hard life. Well, I asked why he was so skinny and Tom said "stupid meth-head shot himself". I'd never heard him say anything negative about the deceased, but that's not what this story's about. I looked closer and saw the hole on the side of the temple, I walked around to the other side and looked at the entrance wound. There were burn marks around it, but both holes had been repaired very well. I thought he would open his eyes, grab my arm, and tell me to stop gawking. I've never thought that about someone in the prep room, someone in a casket, all the time I think they'll open their eyes, cuz they just look asleep. but a "real" dead person has never scared me before. He scared me, sent a chill straight to my toes.
I thought about him for a couple days and Tom's words kept going thru my mind "stupid meth-head", over and over.
Friday afternoon, I did the unthinkable. I looked in the old files for Mike. He was there. He was here. In my funeral home. I had no idea. He lay naked on that cold steel table with only a towel draped over his privates. His chest was probably stitched shut after his autopsy. His wounds stapled closed. The funeral director stood over him "stupid coke-head shot himself", same disgusted tone, same frustration at the wasting of one's own life. His family was here. They made arrangements. They walked through these rooms. They cried and mourned for him. Without me. I stayed away. I didn't even know he was here. May not have taken this job had I known he was here, well, definitely wouldn't have, it's just too weird. For years, I felt him looking over me, touching me in my sleep. I'd wake up and know someone had just moved away from my side. I sat in the chapel for a long time and talked to Mr Smith. He couldn't talk back and luckily no one else was here and Mr Smith's family didn't show back up for viewing. But I talked to him and told him the story. I told him Mike's name, but stopped short of asking him to give Mike a message. Tom thinks that the dead stay around for a few days before they go to whereever they're headed. Maybe after that, there's no sending messages. I dont' know. I'm ready to go home now. I've managed to completely freak myself out and i don't want to be in here any more. Big talker I am about sending a message, but the sounds I hear startle me. Make my heart race. I'm just ready to go home. Leave the building where Mike was.

Dang it. Mom couldn't hold on.

Well, the mother from the previous post died late yesterday afternoon. I was so sad to take the call. Tom was too. We were rooting for her. Everytime the phone rang, one of us would say aloud, "not Dorothy, not Dorothy". Too bad she couldn't hang on till the weekend! I'm not as mad at her children today as I was yesterday. Dorothy won't be "back" for her own memorial gathering, but that's the way I told them it would probably be, especially since I found out she had Kaiser insurance. They can't even figure out which doctor is going to sign the death certificate. Pathetic institution, that Kaiser. Anyway, I guess that's that. Dang.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My mom's not dead, but when can you cremate her?

It's the weirdest thing I've dealt with yet. A woman called over the weekend, her mom is dying, what do we need to do. I called her back Monday morning and said inform the hospital that we'll be handling it, you don't have to worry about anything else. Ok.
She called again yesterday, Monday.
"Mom's not dead yet, but how soon will we be able to get her cremated remains back?"
"Excuse me?"
"Well, we have alot of family in town for this and they'll be needing to leave by next Tuesday."
I can't believe what I'm hearing. Is Mom conscious? If not, maybe we can just send her straight to the retort and she won't notice. Maybe the doctor could give her a little pain medication so she won't feel the burning.
Out loud, I say "We'd need you to come in and fill out some paperwork, then we'd need to get the death certificate to her doctor, then to the health department before she can be cremated. The process usually takes 4-5 business days."
"Can it be done any faster?"
What the heck is the matter with you? You're talking about your own mom. Is there a little repressed anger here? Did mom beat you with a coat hanger? What's the big dang rush?

I tell her what info we'll need and tell her again that the hospital will call us, she instead wants to be the one to call, so we don't have to wait for them. I explain that this is the procedure. She is somewhat appeased and finally lets me off the phone. I put together a folder and tell Tom how weird I think that was.

Later in the day, she calls me back.
"Do you do memorial folders that we hand out to guests?"
"Yes, we have several styles to choose from."
"How much notice do you need? Can you get them done right away or does it take a day or two?" I'm getting down right angry now. "We can make them immediately, it won't add any time to this whole process."
"Well, do I need to make an appointment for tomorrow to come in there and settle all this, because she won't make it through the night."
"Why don't we wait until tomorrow to schedule it?" I don't know why I wouldn't give her an appt time, we do pre-needs, but this was somehow so different. So wrong.

Tuesday morning and the first thing we do is check incoming faxes. Well? Did she die? No. Whew! I'm rooting for her. Hang on, old gal. If it's all you can do, make 'em all mad and die in your own timing!

Tuesday 10:30, van pulls into the parking lot.
"Hi, I spoke with you yesterday about my mom."
"Oh, I'm sorry, we didn't get the phone call yet."
"Oh no, she's not dead, we just wanted to get everything done. This is my sister."
Tom comes into the office. He looks at me, I look at him. We exchange an unspoken question. I hand him the folder and introduce him to the sisters.
I hear them now in the arrangement room. Why am I so disgusted? Is this really about her or is there something about me that I'm placing on her? Why've I had so dang much therapy that now I'm questioning my motives when a stranger is involved? Why is she so anxious for her mother to die? I hear one of the sisters say "will this take long, cuz we left a baby in the car." What is the matter with these women? Can I just slap them both now?

They're gone now. Tom is as disgusted as I. When they left, he just sat in front of me and said "well, the funeral's Friday. I hope Mom holds on till Saturday!" Me too! I told him I'd call the hospital and make sure they don't let the daughters in the room with pillows. No smothering allowed. Everytime the phone rings I hope it's not the hospital calling about her.
I'm so mad I could just spit. Don't they have any respect? Tom said once the children even brought the parent's clothing, and then the parent lived. Ha! I hope this lady pulls through. No dying, no funeral, no cremation!

Friday, March 31, 2006

women and urns

I've decided to make a new rule that only men can pick up cremated remains. The women realize they're going to pick up mom, dad, husband, whoever and carry them out of the building. I can tell the second the realization hits them. A woman today was carrying out her 41 year old husband, well he would have turned 42 yesterday had he not died three days earlier. She filled out the paper work fine, talked about engraving the urn, then it hit her. She lost it, grabbed him up, and started rushing out. Tom rushed after her to comfort her. I sat still and tried to hold back the flow, it didn't work very well. When he came back I asked if it was still hard for him. He said it's time for him to retire. So much sadness. It's draining me.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

funeral director's song

Tom started singing this and the boss' daughter joined in. I was very frightened.

Peace and sorrow fill the air
People dying everywhere
Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Buddist funeral - Day 3

I didn't go to the actual funeral service, even though I sort of wanted to. It was a Saturday and we had other plans. However, I did get the honor of cleaning up afterwards. HA! Steve helped too, poor guy. What a disaster. One huge garbage bag of trash from the chapel alone. More vacuuming than I've done in the last year. Our dumpster out back was already full, now it's completely overflowing, hopefully no cats attack. Steve was entirely freaked out, I think he had two sets of gloves. He was a huge help though. He kept reminding me that this was my career choice not his! At least he was too busy cleaning to get too hung up on being in a building with dead people. He was more freaked out about germs than death.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Buddist funeral - day 2

It's 7pm on the second day of "viewing". The family got here at nine and hasn't left yet. Luckily I got here about 8:15, as it took the whole 45 minutes to throw out garbage, vacuum, clean up the chapel, sweep the front, pick up cigarette butts (yuck), and restock the bathrooms (bigger yuck, no one told me i'm the bathroom girl too).
The Buddist Monks came this morning and they just got here again. They wear orange robes, just like on Anger Management. Again, I wish I knew Viatnamese, so I could understand what is being said. Chanting through out the day. Long sermons, well I don't know that they're sermons, but it seems that way. People milling in the lobby and in front of the home, out there they smoke. And smoke. And smoke. Incense, cigarettes, and death. What a smelling sensatition. Of interest, earlier, was a power play over the death certificate by the sister (who paid for the whole thing) and the older brother (who thought he should automatically get one of the copies she paid for). Guess sibling rivalries transcend culture.
I'm amazed at the outpouring of love from the Vietnamese community. I can't even count the number of flower sprays without being totally obvious. they are across the front of the chapel and side by side all the way down both outside aisles. It'll take several vans to get them to the gravesite.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Buddist funeral - day 1

Guess I need to take a class in different religions, or at least in the death ritual aspect of the religions. A Vietnamese funeral is here for the next three days, viewing today and tomorrow, service Saturday. It seems to be a huge affair. The relatives carted in ice chests full of soda, bottled water, food, flowers, I don't know what else. I'm hungry and lunch looks like it may be slipping away. It's been such a busy morning, Tom is in with another family making arrangements, so the Vietnamese family keeps asking me things. The daughter wants to change her mother's make-up, Skip dove into the midst to see what they should change. I think he did the make-up himself earlier. He just walked by in his whole blue outfit, gloves and all, headed into the chapel. He said "c'mere and give Papa Smurf a hug". It's weird to see him in the public areas in that outfit. The hair dresser called me this morning to ask what style the woman had, the only picture of her was over here. So this whole thing was crazy to start with, the funeral was going to take place at our other home, but they didn't have the availability the family required, so it all got shipped over here. I just peeked into the chapel. They're moving the casket, hey, stop that. They put it up on the little stage. Tom will grumble about having to get it back down, I wonder how he'll do it by himself, he'll probably have to ask some of the men to help him. Now I hear hammering. I hope they're not putting holes in the wall, what will Tom say, he left me in charge and they're reconstructing the chapel. yikes. I better go check. Well, now that I've looked, what am I supposed to do? They're hanging up huge banners, maybe 5 feet by 8 feet in front of the chapel. They're hammering huge nails into the wall above the podium. Maybe I shouldn't have looked, it was better if I didn't know and then won't have to take responsibility for not stopping them. This place has taken on a circus type atmosphere, children are running around playing. Family members are going from the chapel to a smaller viewing/family room. I should've worn a suit. I didn't realize so many people would be here today so just wore slacks and sweater, I feel sorely under-dressed. And I'm so dang hungry. I suddenly find myself wishing I could speak Vietnamese.
It's later now, some of the younger guys were asking me about working here. Do I ever see or feel spirits. Unfortunately I had to say no, although I think it would be okay if I did. Certainly I'm just as curious as they are about spirits or ghosts or whatever. Only good, kind ones though, do you get to choose? No nasty ones, please.
Someone just came in and asked for duct tape. Tom came into the office just as the young man walked out, and exclamed (much too loudly for my comfort) "What are they doin' in there???" I had to laugh. He checked out the chapel, shaking his head as he returned, "It's not as bad as I thought from all that noise." It is pretty noisy. I like it. It's more life than this building has seen since I got here, it's good. More flowers are coming in. "Norel, can you get us another table?"
It's almost three in the afternoon, I haven't eaten lunch, there's some much insense I can barely breath, and I usually like incense. Blue hazy clouds pouring from the front of the chapel. They've opened the back door of the building, which has Skip chomping at the bit. He wants me to go close it, but he doesn't want to be choked out. He said "Cats love to come in and chew up bodies." I asked how often he'd seen that in his thirty years, he laughingly admitted he really hadn't, but he'd "heard about it happening". Right. He did say he's seen rats chew off faces. Gross. Guess that settles the open or closed casket question. Ha!
A meal is set before the deceased. Rice, boiled eggs, shrimp, fruit, vegetables, incense, and flowers. It's beautiful in an odd sort of way. The daughter put bows on the end of the pews, it sort of resembles a wedding chapel, well except for the casket and the flower sprays, ok the only part that is wedding-y are the bows, they seem a little out of place. In the back is a memory table of sorts. Pictures, folders for the guests, sign in book. I appreciate how much this grandmother was loved and am surprised by the huge turnout.