Monday, March 13, 2006

hi ho, hi ho, to the retort we go

Ok, that's not a nice title, but it really makes me laugh. I don't even know if i'm spelling it right. It's the thing people get cremated in, apparently it's not called an oven. The guy who does cremations was here this morning. Tom was out, so Curt showed me how to sign someone out to him. He asked first if I'd be okay with learning what to do, I said sure. Ha! Well, he gets the guy out of the cooler (maybe it has a more technical name, but I don't know what that is). I waited till the body was on the guerney before going into the room. He yanks him up onto the pillow, why does his head need a pillow? I'm thinking he doesn't care if it's soft or not, he's been in a dang refrigerator for a week, what good's a pillow gonna do him. I'm not trying to be disrespectful, I just didn't understand and didn't think to ask. Feet are strapped in, not individually but a strap over both of them. Curt pulls back the plastic and the smell hits me. Absolute disgust and revulsion overpower me. I immediately hold my hand up to my nose, Curt studies my face to make sure I'm okay. He's very gentle when he tells me that I'll get used to the odor, and he understands it's shocking at first. He shows me how to check the neck to see if a pacemaker exists, none this time. Then he checks the hands for jewelry, which would need to be removed. Then he reads the toe tag to be sure we have the right body, we double check it against the cremation authorization. It's correct. I've seen tags on feet in the prep room. I haven't looked close enough to know if they're really on a person's toe or if it's just around the ankle or something. I'm so relieved when Curt pulls the plastic back up and around and the smell dissipates fairly quickly.
Ya know what I can't get used to? It's making me a little crazy. I get two or three hang ups in a day, sometimes the person is staying on the line but not talking when I answer the phone. I asked Tom if this happens all the time, he says it never happens to him. It's starting to bug me, it just happened again. If they don't wanna talk to a funeral home, then maybe they shouldn't dial one up!
Ok, back to the sign out. I'm even more relieved when Curt zips up the bag. He knows that I'm weirded out and a little queasy and he tells me, again very gently, that soon I'll be able to quit thinking of them as dead bodies. He says something will change and I won't be grossed out or horrified and I'll simply start realizing that this is somebody's loved one. He said when I can think of them as a loved one, rather than as a dead person, it'll be a lot easier for me. I wanted to ask how long that's gonna take, as right now it seems like the cross-over in thinking is much too far away. I was surprised at how tender he was, both with me and with the body. In the office he jokes and laughs, but in the back room he really was dealing with somebody's loved one, and he was so respectful. It's good for me to see. Reminded me of last week when Tom rolled a casket into the chapel before the funeral. He very lovingly combed the gentleman's hair down with his hand, so that he was completely ready for his family. At the time, it touched me how gentle he was. I told him that the man looked great and Tom was so pleased that I thought so. He said he'd remembered how he'd looked a few weeks ago at the wife's funeral and he wanted to be sure he looked good now. They make a bunch of jokes, but in the end, there is such a desire to send people off in a loving and honorable manner, it's pretty humbling to me.

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