I went into my apprenticeship preparing for the worst, forcing myself to Google autopsies while darkly wondering how many government lists I’d end up on. But the hidden grace of death care is knocking the air out of me.
Some surprising examples:
- I quietly watched a funeral director run his hand through a dead man’s hair prior to applying cosmetics, as if to say, “It’s okay. I’ve got you.” He then began to set the features (close the eyes and mouth). Witnessing him blowing glue dry with his own breath is the most weirdly intimate thing I’ve ever seen.
- Some families elect to only have their nearest and dearest in the room to spend time with a loved one before a burial or cremation. During a private goodbye, the funeral director should be available without hovering – a stealth lurk that defines the best waiters.
Only after the service, when we collect the body, do we find the love crumbs: a casket that is newly jeweled with Dr. McGillicuddy’s, a mouth that is siren-red from a final lipstick application, a lock of hair threaded through Dad’s beard so he doesn’t have to be cremated alone.
- I recently went on a removal to bring an older woman into our care. Her adult daughter and two granddaughters were present. Before I transported the woman to a cot, her daughter took a tissue from the bedside box and said, “Mom always stuffed these EVERYWHERE so she was never without one.”
I didn’t think much of it until later in the crematory, when we checked her for a pacemaker. A wad of tissues erupted from her pajama top.
I often think: This is so moving, and no one gets to see it.
I constantly wonder: What else is happening in the world that is this special, that we know nothing about?