Today was a tough day. I cried at work and it has been a while since that has happened. Not that crying is unusual at my workplace, it’s just that I’m usually not the one doing it.
Before I tell you about today, I need to provide a brief, back story:
This past December, we were called to handle the cremation for a man whose next of kin was his sister. As we navigated through the process, I saw where she lived and mentioned that my family had once lived in an adjacent neighborhood. As we continued to chat, we connected the dots and soon came to realize that our families had been next door neighbors for a short time before we moved from Columbia to Aiken and they moved to a new home.
That period of time is a bit of a blurr for me and I felt bad that while I remembered them, my wife and daughters had a clearer recollection. She even shared a photo from a rare, SC snowstorm; our young children, playing in the yard , gleefully wet and cold.
I helped care for her brother and got caught up on some neighborhood news.
End of chapter One.
Friday morning, my cell phone rang and since I save almost every number, I saw who it was. Thinking it was something simple like, “Ray, we need a few more death certificates, can you get them for me,” I was shocked when I heard the tone of her voice. I could tell something bad had happened, but was not ready for what I was about to hear. She proceeeded to tell me that she came home from work the day before and found their twenty-three year old son dead. She told me that I was the only one she could trust to take care of her son.
What does one say when there are no words? You listen.
What can you do when nothing you do can change what has happened?
That might be a column for another day, but not today.
Plans were made for his parents, siblings and best friend to see him in a casual, private setting, prior to the cremation. His father had been away on business for over a week and now needed to confront his new reality. . . one of his sons was dead.
This is part of my reality, but when you are removed from those involved, there is a bit of emotional insulation. Sometimes though, the insulation is ripped away and you stand there, emotionally naked.
I was waiting in the parking lot when they arrived and as they made their way to me, the father started sobbing and grabbed me in a bear hug.
What does one say when there are no words? You hug back.
As we made our way inside, everyone started crumbling. I took a few minutes to talk about what they would see and then took them in the room. The anquish was overwhelming.
Parents aren’t supposed to “bury” their children It is not the way things are supposed to be. There are very few things that scare me. Even during my years as an EMT/Firefighter I was rarely scared. Sometimes, after the fact, I questioned the sanity of what I had done, but I was rarely scared.
I fear hearing the doorbell ring and seeing my buddy, the coroner, at my door. That scares me.
I reminded myself of the reason I wanted to become a funeral director. It all began here when Teddy was able to calmly lead our family when my grandfather died and everything was falling apart. Over the years, I defined my job description as “mitigating chaos”.
Hugs, tears and calm, deliberate direction.
I did my best to be supportive and directive, but I cried with them and when they left, I sobbed for them. Sometimes my job sucks.
I got to go home to my family. I did a head count and everyone was accounted for. All healthy, safe and sound.
They had to go home, where he was found. A mental picture that his mother will take to her grave.
Tomorrow, I’ll get up and go back to work and do my job, but they will still have a dead son. Words cannot describe what that must be like. A parent’s worst nightmare.
There are two ways to be born and a million ways to die.
My advice to you (and to me): Life is short, dead is for a very long time. Be present and loving to those in your life. Tomorrow is not guaranteed and the less regrets the better.