Monday, February 13, 2012

Why I do what I do

Louise wrote:
" it's nice reading a bit more about everyone with these tag posts,
Do you mind me asking how you got into the funeral directing work? "

There are many moments in my life that kept bringing me back to the death industry. some of my most vivid memories are of funerals and in funeral homes. For whatever reason, they stuck with me.

While growing up, my parents always took me with them to funeral visitations and services. They did not believe that children shouldn't be at funerals. I remember going to a funeral when I was very young, and had to stand on my tiptoes to see into the casket. I cannot remember whose funeral it was, but I do remember seeing a very pretty lady sitting in a high backed velour covered chair receiving guests and thanking people for coming. I asked my Mom if she was a queen or something. Apparently, the lady was my Aunt. Mostly I remember how the place made me feel. I was feeling peace for the very first time. Everyone was calm even though they were sad. I remember thinking that I wanted to live in that place of calm and peace.

Sometime later, I think I was about 10 or so, my Uncle was killed while walking down the highway. It was tragic, and my mother followed the court trial that ensued for the two separate men who were both charged with hit and run that caused my Uncles death. Every night during the trial, she would come home and tell my Dad all about what had happened in court that day. I was really young to hear such details, but I mostly remember hearing how forensics had been used to match paint from the vehicles (that's how they knew there was two vehicles) and how Uncles blood had been found on both cars. Such things seemed magical to me, and I got interested then in learning more about this magic.

I started reading books about death, mostly stories about people who should have died but didn't, and other miracles of science. I read 'Karen Ann, The Quinlans Tell Their Story' (published in 1977). I was fascinated that parents actually wanted their child to die. I had also read 'Helter Skelter', a book about the 1969 Manson Family murders and trial. Forensics had also played a major role in that trial. I was hooked on death and dying.

A few years later, my grandmother died. The visitation and service was held in the home of a family member. I couldn't stop looking at her and touching her. The funeral director that was there was good enough to answer all of my questions. I was really curious. I wish I knew who he was, so I could thank him in person. I really got the bug then.

As I was getting older, I thought that my role in life was to be in forensics. Life got in the way of my plans, and I put away any dreams of ever being a pathologist. It was just not meant to be.

In 2001, I was working in a bar in a small town just outside of London. I was trying to figure out who I was to become. I had already become a mother twice, and I knew I didn't want to be a bartender for the rest of my life. Then a number of things happened in a short period of time that helped me to figure it out. First, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Her impending death made me realise that none of us escapes death, and we will all have to go through losing someone sooner or later. Secondly, I met Sasha. She would come into the place where I worked, so she would have a change of scenery. She was always quiet, studying and reading. Of course, I asked her what she was studying. To my surprise, she was an apprentice funeral director that worked down the street. It brought back something of a dream of mine that had been long forgotten.

While my mother was getting her affairs in order, we had many talks about many things. It was like she was trying to give me as much advice as she could in the short time that she had left. She made me promise that I would figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and then give it all I had. That winter I wrote my GED exams while still working and being a full-time mom. I passed all of them without ever having taken a course. I was determined. I had started looking into Funeral Director school, but I wasn't prepared to apply as my mom was still getting sicker by the day. She'd had surgery on her brain to remove a tumour. My life was the perfect image of imbalance.

My thirtieth birthday came and went, and I knew Mom's time here was short. She died less than two months later. The funeral home was again a place of peace and calmness, even though I was feeling none of that inside. I went through the motions of life, my grief too strong for me to break through. It was like I was walking around inside a cloud. Nothing bothered me, and nothing made me happy. I was in a very bad state. It took about six months for the fog and haze to lift. I didn't realize I was in it, until it wasn't there anymore. I had come to terms with it, accepted what was. I could move forward.

I applied to college for the following year. My acceptance letter was one of the best things I ever got in the mail. I now knew what I wanted to do; I wanted to hold hands of others through the fog of grief.

I kept my promise, Mom. I hope I have made you and Dad proud.


  1. Thank you for sharing your journey to your profession. It's interesting but I feel the same sense of calm at a funeral home. I have vivid memories of the director at my mother's funeral (1988). I remember just losing it when I saw my mother. She had just had brain surgery and her hair was shaved off. They only had the bandages covering her head. I freaked out, because my mother always had to have her hair just so, so being seen in death without it would just not do. The funeral director was kind and patient, acted fast and found a wig, which was grey (so I said no), then he found a lovely scarf and tied it so nicely around her head and Mom looked much better. I remember, he made sure "I" was ok with it (he didn't consult my dad as I was the one with the issue)and throughout all 3 visitations and the funeral and internment, he went out of his way to make sure I was satisfied with everything they had done. The profession is a true calling, and I so appreciate all that they do for families.

  2. Your amazing story really clarifies your decisions for me and I'm so glad you made your dream come true and also your mother's last wishes. You must have such a great sense of accomplishment knowing you made the choices that were perfect for you.
    I didn't start to teach til I was 36 - it takes some of us longer than others to find our chosen path.

  3. I have to give a thank you to Louise and an extra big thanks to you for sharing.

    This is a beautiful story. Inspiring, captivating, true, different, rare and so many other things I can't possibly describe.

    I loved it.

  4. thankyou so much for sharing your story :)
    It's such an important time for family and what you do each day can make such a difference to people who are grieving. I love that you felt this was what you wanted to do and you followed that.

  5. That's quite the path you've taken... Interesting to read!! I don't do well in funeral homes... threw up at my MILS funeral & fainted at the burial. :(

  6. Very wonderful story! I have the utmost respect for your profession.