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Many funeral directors get up day after day and night after night to juggle the many hats which make up the work we do. This line of work is very different than most and it is not often easy. It seems to me, however, that we are not limited to the hats we wear. We put our bodies, minds, and very souls into our work. Sometimes, quite literally, we put our backs into it as well. From our heads to our toes, our investments are of great importance for many as they walk through the deep pain of loss.
Heads: Thinking, sensing, listening, speaking. We are detail oriented, sometimes to a fault. From selecting the perfect shade of lipstick for a beautiful 98 year old to catching a typo in an obituary just before it goes to press, our eyes and ears are in tune with each and every aspect of our job. We listen as you talk about your father’s service in Vietnam. We hear the fear in your voice over the phone when you call to say your sister is in hospice and you don’t know what to do next. Words fail as we try to string together some measure of comfort. The best we can do is offer some steps, some options, some structure to a harsh reality.
Hands: Gripping, moving, stitching, shaking. We extend our hands to you as you enter the office. This is not the place you planned on coming to today. Moments ago, gloves were stripped after transferring your little boy from the dressing table to the casket. His wounds are now stitched closed and his blue blazer is perfectly buttoned. It was the least we could do. Our hands shiver just a little when we grasp the steering wheel to leave work. They will feel the memory of his body’s weight for quite some time.
Hearts: Beating, bleeding, breaking, bearing. Sweat builds under suit jackets after a few minutes of rushing around cleaning up from visitation last night and putting the chairs back in their proper places. Blood pumps through every inch of the circulatory system as the embalming machine whirs beside the table. Hearts beat until they don’t anymore and the difference is striking. We catch our breath as pulses race along with the ringing phone. These are not the answers we wanted. We know this funeral will be a challenging one. There are many moving parts and we will miss family dinner tonight. Again.
Sometimes we can offer little else but a shoulder to cry on or a faint smile to try to break the silence. Backs often ache after transferring bodies from one place to another each and every day. The concept of “dead weight” is an unfortunate certainty for us. Dr. Scholl’s has probably made a killing trying to soothe our sore feet. Dress shoes are only so dressy once they are dusted with the fine powder blanketing the crematory. Knees bend while polishing the black leather, and when they touch the ground they stay just a few seconds longer as if to offer a final goodbye to those already at rest.