I don't recall how it came up but on Tuesday my male coworkers and I started talking about crying (since we are surrounded by it all the time). I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I had a good cry. You know, the kind of cry that just pours out from the depth of your soul and you have a hard time stopping once it starts...it feels good every once in a while to act like a big bawl baby.
As funeral directors we are trained to suppress emotions. We cannot be the one who loses it, standing by the casket. Many times as people are passing by the casket crying and I am standing right there but I have trained my mind to wander. I try to think about happy things in my life, my husband, our girls, our trip to Disney World, or anything remotely above all of the grief and despair going on around me. I have almost have this non-crying thing down to a science....sometimes.
I read in one of our trade magazine that alcoholism in the funeral industry is almost an epidemic. Heart attack, stroke and other sudden illnesses are common due to prolonged stress. Some jobs are very physically demanding but in the 8 years I have been directing I realize that it is the emotional exchange and the constant empathy that can literally drain the life of a funeral director. cheers to that irony....
Back to the story I really wanted to tell. While most of the time I work with families when someone has died, I also help families with pre-need arrangements. 90% of the time it is a healthy couple that is planning ahead to spare the kids from having to do it years down the road. We keep it light hearted~most people like to joke and say, "oh honey, just throw me in a ditch somewhere" and we all laugh because we know no one ever does that...wait, except for Lorena Bobbit...okay, bad joke~
So I met with Ruth* Wednesday. 72, dying with cancer, had endured already 8 rounds of radiation therapy already, the sweetest lady anyone could hope to meet. I had helped her last July when her second husband died. She had been one my favorites.
Ruth is the "darlin, baby, sweetie" kind of person, always speaking kindly of others, no matter what her circumstance might be. It pained me to go over to her house and see her without hair and in a wheel chair. I sat next to her and put my hand over hers and said, "thank you for having me over Ruth~how are you feeling today?" Her sense of humor and sweetness came out right away and she answered my question with a smile and "enough about me darlin...how are your girls doing?"
We got reaquainted and she then began to tell me her wishes. For the first time in a long time...my throat started getting that terrible knot in it~you know the knot that feels like a marble stuck in your throat? I wrote down all she was telling me and tried really to hard to find some happy thoughts...it wasn't working. The reality of the honor of being able to talk with this sweet lady about her loves, her dreams, her career, her hobbies, her family and her death, caught up with me.
It was time for our meeting to come to a close. I looked up and took her hand. She said, "I can't thank you enough for helping me today with all of this. Honey, I just know it will be next month."
I couldn't say much of anything. My heart was so sad that this sweet soul's time was up. With tears in my eyes and that damn lump in my throat, I choked, "You're welcome Ruth...goodbye ."
And with that, I walked out to my car and bawled and bawled and bawled...
That night, after I put the girls to bed, I thought to myself, wow... this has been a day.
And I poured myself a glass of red wine.