One visitation is ending as another one is scheduled to begin. I usually do my best to avoid a scheduling conflict, but there are only so many hours in a day. The allotted times overlap by about 30 minutes, and I feel the need to stand in the hallway between the rooms until the swap takes place.
The first family is wrapping up early, and I am not sure why I am still standing in this spot, but I stay put. My post affords me the perspective of monitoring all entrances to the building, and I adopt the pretense of “Directing Guests to the Restrooms” when all the while I am primarily here to safeguard the transition.
Photo slideshows need to switch, but I wait until the last second to pull the plug on the TV. Doors are subtly closed and flowers are quietly shifted, but there is a muffled stir of activity in the background as the last few relatives say their final goodbyes. I move slowly but surely to close the casket after they leave, and we quickly refresh the refreshments in the reception area. A sparkling pitcher of ice water finds its place on the table next to the coffee, and I reach to toss an empty tissue box into the garbage. Right on cue, the second family rounds the corner. My pulse races as I move toward them as slowly and deliberately as possible.
I recognize it is this deliberateness which sets me apart in this moment. I have chosen to stand here in the in-between, not only between the two rooms, but between the living and the dead. This choice is one which I often question; it does not seem quite sane. Family after family enters these doors and each time I learn a little more about death, and a lot more about life.
More guests arrive as the clock ticks forward. They make their way to greet the family, circle by the casket, then their conversations settle around the refreshment table. An occasional laugh breaks out amidst the hushed tones. My eye catches the water pitcher as the disappearance of the last few drops signals a refill.
We carry on to each next thing, cycling through ups and downs as transitions between milestones mark time for us. Our view changes as life unfolds, and we can only hope to walk the journey with friendship and laughter, even at the very end.