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!