Perfect

I’m watching Samuel Johnson’s emotional appearance on the 7pm Project with lettuce on my Peter Alexanders and tomato on my chin. Chomping at my Subway sandwich, I am engaged in my favourite news programme and tonight they are celebrating the life of Samuel’s sister, Connie. This morning the nation officially said goodbye to a very brave woman who battled cancer most of her life. It appears Samuel is still in the suit he wore at his sister’s funeral as he speaks of her on the panel, proud and grateful for the nation’s support.

I send my love whole heartedly but I was inspired to drop my sandwich and dive to my computer to write when Samuel said something that strikes a chord for me. Tears in his eyes, he says to the panel and the country watching, “The service was perfect. I know it is unusual to say that about a funeral…but it really was.” His words were followed by footage of his sister living life to the fullest.

I personally believe “perfect” is the perfect word to describe the celebration of one’s life. I write this also in the midst of a text conversation I had with my friend literally moments ago. I know you may think the two topics don’t relate, but allow me to explain.

I have a silly photoshoot next week for my website. I would prefer to be tucked away in my study, coffee stains on my desk and tapping away at my keyboard than in front of a camera lens. But, in a high tech society I am forced to develop a website for my book and have glossy images of me posing, smiling, hugging books etc etc. I could not choose between a few dresses I plan to hire, so I sent a few options to my friend via text message. One of the dresses was black lace and very funeral like. I had chosen it because of this, but was unsure. My friend loved this gown, saying it adhered to the death theme of my book and future work.“But I’m trying to stay away from stigma colours. I go on and on in my novel about how the funeral industry isn’t all doom and gloom, and wearing the black dress is going against my message.” I decided to stick with the pastel colours and sparkles.

Moments later, Samuel is on the panel of the 7PM Project saying “perfect” was not a great word choice to describe a funeral.

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Connie and her brother Samuel developed the Love Your Sister organisation to raise money and awareness.

The celebration of somebody’s life is just that, a celebration! Yes, it is heart breaking, your body feels like it’s going to fail you as you embark upon the frightening and disabling steps of grief. I have experienced this personally many times, and been there for countless families at their time of need as a funeral director. But, I believe, and this is just me of course, unless the death was due to a murder, suicide or horrific accident, funerals should be a less morbid event. Bring in the doves. Bring in the balloons. Call in the bagpiper! Don’t wear black, why not wear a bright dress or stunning tie? I know it’s not a birthday party, but we are all born and die. Our birth is celebrated annually with cake and presents so perhaps we should start celebrating the end of our lives more brilliantly? I’m not saying reach for the balloons and streamers, but a little less black, a few more hugs and smiles. I think Samuel Johnson has it spot on.

I want a bloody disco ball and buffet at my funeral! Everyone has to wear bright red lipstick and my casket custom made and painted a pastel green.

Connie was a hero. Strong and beautiful and our hearts are indeed broken tonight following her beautiful service. But let’s remember her as a Warrior! Let’s remember that cute smile and brave eyes and start using the word “perfect” a little more.

xo

You can donate to Connie and Sam’s organisation at:

http://www.loveyoursister.org

Discover more of Connie’s amazing journey here:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-08/connie-johnsons-long-fight-to-cure-cancer/8849384

 

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DVDs and Legacies

 

‘One day we won’t need to do this!’ my Daddy chuckled as he popped the rented VCR into the player to rewind. Adhering to the video rental store policies, he had a pile of tapes to spin back to the opening scene for the next person who chose to hire them. ‘One day movies will be on discs just like a CD!’

I had just finished a phone call with grandma interstate, using a giant telephone with a long coiled chord. ‘I miss grandma, I sighed, gazing into my scrambled eggs for dinner. ‘I wish we could see faces through the phone when we talk to them.’

Decades later, I am “Face –timing” my sister in North Queensland and Dad is dusting his DVD collection.

One balmy Brisbane evening, I find myself sipping wine and redecorating my living room. Blowing dust off book covers and fluffing my cushions, I remember the well-known sayings: “You can’t take it with you!” and “You don’t want to be the richest one in the cemetery!”

You want to know somethin’? I don’t know a funeral director who doesn’t collect something, from coins to books. We are house -proud and love our guests to visit beautiful, comfortable surroundings. We can’t pop our ceiling-high book collection into our coffin but what we can do is leave them behind as legacy for our loved ones. Our nephews, nieces, children and grandchildren can polish our DVDs when we are gone and remember when movies were played on disc rather than streamed online. They can trace their fingers across ageing book pages and remember us as they dust the mementos from the home we once cared for.

So, no. We can’t take our material belongings with us. But we certainly leave them behind for others to cherish, and if we are blessed to have that eternal love, we will be the richest one in the cemetery after all.

Pedicures and Bucket Lists

Last Saturday I was faced with my own death.

Now that I have your attention, that’s not entirely true.

There was plenty of blood, (warm blood freaks me out) screaming, morphine, (that part was fun) and an ambulance ride to a country hospital in the middle of nowhere. (It was actually a township of over twelve thousand, but for a city girl like me, we may as well have been in Willawarrin).*

It was meant to be a relaxing weekend camping with the family in bushland that resembled the woods in The Blair Witch Project. The trees were tall and slender, unlike common thick gum trees and wild horses slurped from the pretty lake lined with daffodils. It didn’t feel like we were only two hours inland from the city.  I could have been lost somewhere in the majestic American wilderness we see on our movie screens.

My life had been busy lately, so I stretched out my limbs on the chair by the campfire, cracked open a beer and breathed in the fresh air with what I am sure was a fat smile stretched across my face. The adventure was panning out nicely. We ate scones that mum baked over the embers and played games my siblings and I loved as kids, from Truth or Dare to Spotlight, a game of hide and seek in the dark where the seeker can use only the beam of a torchlight.

Best camping trip ever.

Until the next morning.

Of course, Emma Jane (that’s me – clumsy, blonde, unsteady me) stepped on an ancient, rusty drill part that had clearly been in the ground for months, even years. Yep, that piece of nasty, corroded metal was probably untouched for a long time and of course I came along and impaled myself right on top of it. I went into shock, something I had never experienced before. I couldn’t stop trembling, my vision was blurry and I don’t remember much, except dad lifted me to a tent and lied me down where we waited for the ambulance.

Ambulance? No! I was just about to drive into town and retrieve fresh coffee! No! No! NO! I Waaant coffee!

‘Relax,’ my brother instructed, squeezing my hand. ‘You’re turning blue.’

Right. This may have been one of those times that I listened to someone when they told me to relax. I could die here.

Well, at the time it certainly felt like it. My niece was crying at the top of her lungs, holding me and promising me she would never leave me. ‘You’re my only Aunty!’ ‘You can find another one,’ my four year old nephew rolled his eyes and headed to the Esky to help himself to a drink. Aunties could be replaced was his philosophy as he sucked on his juice, clearly bored.

But, as I lied there awaiting the ambulance with my niece sobbing on my enhanced chest and my dad holding my leg in the air so the foreign rod in the sole of my foot didn’t touch the ground, I wondered, What if I did die?  What if this led to a life threatening infection? Or worse! What if my foot and leg was amputated?

Most people I know have a bucket list. They have considered all of the things they want to do before they die. I am forever going on about how the western world dismiss death and prefer to ignore its existence. I am drumming into brains that we need to acknowledge our mortality in order to live full and prosperous lives. But, here I was, on my metaphoric death bed and I have never even thought about a bucket list. And everyone else has! Was I the one who needed my head checked after all? (Don’t answer that).

I hadn’t thought about my funeral, what colour lipstick to wear during my open casket or how I would like my hair set by the mortician. (You know, the important stuff). I am faced with death every day as a funeral director and believe it or not, I have never even considered the things I would like to do before I die.                         I’m sure you’re thinking I’m a crazy hypocrite, continuously reminding the world to live life to the fullest! Achieve your dreams! Live everyday as if it’s your last! Love whole heartedly and tell your family you love them each day! And there I was with not even a bucket list.

But, then as I nuzzled into my niece’s strawberry scented hair as she sobbed, I realised, I didn’t need one. I am no hypocrite. I am the total opposite. I subconsciously live my life to the fullest every waking moment and I live my life so wonderfully, that really, (I mean this as un-morbidly as possible) it’s quite safe to say I would have died happy then and there. Mark Twain once said, A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. As the ambulance arrived and pain relief was pumped into my veins, I looked around at my wonderful loved ones and I was grateful for them. Then, as I was assessed and put to sleep, I revisited the years I spent travelling the world, hiking mountains, camping around New Zealand on my own and pitching a tent anywhere I liked. I made global friends, ate unusual foods and bathed in freshwater springs naked. And then, I thought about all of the souls I have buried and cremated. I thought about all of the families I have helped over the years, the hands I have held through grief, the hugs, the affirmations, the privilege. I was ridiculously blessed.

I don’t need a list to remind me to live fully, and not for one moment do I think it’s a bad idea if it works for you. Lists just aren’t for me. Gosh, I don’t even write a shopping list. All I am trying to say, maybe we don’t need to be so serious about it all, crossing off activities on wish lists. If you simply live in the moment, you will be pleasantly surprised at how many things you achieve and accomplish without even realising it. Of course, if swimming with Orcas in Iceland is on your bucket list it will require conscious effort and a travel agent, but I’m talking about inner peace. Love. Living each day as if it’s your last, just incase.

Lovey dovey stuff aside. I did learn one thing. You know how your grandma used to say ‘always wear fresh undies incase you’re in a car accident,’ or something along those lines? She was right.

On the Thursday before the camping trip, I was booked in for a pedicure. I missed the appointment but it didn’t matter. I was only going camping anyway, right? No one would notice my toes. The whole time I was lying on the ground with the drill part hanging out of my foot, I was so embarrassed at my rough feet, unclipped toenails and chipped varnish. Everyone laughed at the state of my feet and when the cute doctor assessed my wound, I cringed. Would he take a snap shot of my disgusting feet while I was sleeping and share it with his mates? ‘Hey Guys! Check out the ogre I have in emergency right now!’

So. I don’t have a bucket list. But I do have a new list. A list of grooming essentials before I go camping, just incase I end up going into emergency surgery, because let’s face it, when I’m around, there’ll always be be some sort of dilemma.

 

 

*Willawarrin is a tiny, remote country town with 304 residents. Consisting of a pub, a town hall and post office, you’ll miss it if you blink. I grew up here.

The Cabinet maker (A history lesson) in the midst of Dying to Know Day

A few years ago, I giggled over my coffee cup listening to the ageing funeral directors deliver a history lesson in the lunch room. I found it unusual when they said our funeral home was once set in a furniture warehouse! That sounded so weird! A student of the death care industry, I listened attentively as they reminisced about the ‘Good Ol’ days,’ when they built the coffins themselves and the industry was run mainly by men.

‘Oh! Women have ruined it!” Bob, a-close-to-retiring funeral director scoffed, wiping his spectacles. He had been an undertaker for almost  thirty years. ‘Ever since women took charge, it’s been a bloody party! Balloons and bloody mints. I miss the days it was simple – a funeral was a bloody funeral. No bells and whistles!’

Recently, I was researching the history of funerals during the Victorian Era for a piece I was writing, and I discovered most funeral homes in fact, were part of a cabinet making or furniture business!

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Photo courtesy of ‘The Facts of Death.’ 1993
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Photo courtesy of ‘The Facts of Death.’ 1993

In the late 19th century, there were no funeral homes like we see today. Instead, there were “Undertaking Establishments.” These were an office used only for the transactions and paperwork and were usually attached to a livery barn or cabinet making factory. Many of the early undertakers were furniture makers and building caskets was an extension of their business. For them, undertaking was a second business rather than a primary profession – they built the coffins as well as their usual products. The farewell took place in the home where the family kept the body from decomposing by using large bags of ice, no fancy mortuaries or body holding fridges! The family often washed and dressed their loved one themselves and if they did not feel comfortable bathing the deceased, they would call a professional “Layer out of the dead.”

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Photo courtesy of ‘The Facts of Death.’ 1993

In fact, if you died in a hospital, it meant you had no family to take care of you. If you were apart of a family and fell ill, medical operations were carried out in the home and if you died, well, you stayed there.

Today, death is ushered out the door pretty quickly, and some family (not all) shy away from the corpse as if it was contaminated. They leave the deceased alone in the room where they died until we, the professionals, swoop in with our gloves and stretchers to whisk them away to a place of mystery. I wish the western world were not so closed off to death and embraced the inevitable. Only days short of Dying to Know Day, I would like to announce: acknowledging death is healthy and kissing your deceased loved one on the hand or forehead is not going to harm you! Planning end of life is not morbid or macabre- accepting our final destination can actually help you lead a full and prosperous life!

I think we can all learn a thing or two from the history lesson of the Funeral. Bring back the days were families pitch in and help prep their loved ones, embracing their death and getting involved.

Want to join the conversation?

Visit http://www.dyingtoknowday.org

 

 

 

 

Grave Digging

Good morning!

So…

I wrote a book and it’s getting published. This has all been in the works for some time now, but signing that contract and embarking on the editing journey with my editor really has pulled me down off my cloud and into reality…this is really happening!

But I was having so much fun up there. Writing all day everyday, high on coffee by day, wine at night. It was paradise. When I landed an agent, and then a publisher, I cried happy tears for days. My dream had come true! I’m going to be an actual writer. Like, a real one. I’m going to see my book printed on paper and on bookshelves! The clouds were now laced with glitter and happiness. Aarggh! Life is so fun!

Then…

The hard work sets in. Most people would think writing a book is the hard part. I spend my life watching documentaries on authors and their writing process and it’s quite common to hear that writing the manuscript isn’t even that fun for them! Writing a book was the best, most interesting, sometimes confronting experience of my life. Okay, maybe not the most confronting. I bury bodies for a living, but it’s definitely been a great time. So that’s how I know I truly am a writer. It’s where I’m meant to be, at my computer writing stories. Heck, I have a drawer full of stories I wrote when I was a kid, and mum has a photo album at home which isn’t brimming with photos – instead, every page of the album is plastered with stories that were published in school magazines and newspapers. Writing is fun!

So here I am, skipping about, sipping lattes and wearing red lipstick on my smile just because, and then my wonderful agent emails me. She loves the quotes I have used in my manuscript. Like, really likes them. The quotes I have used mean a lot to me and really help bring to life parts of the story. Buuut, in this email, I am informed I do need permission to use all of these wonderful excerpts, which I kind of already knew, but I would approach that hurdle when I came to it. That hurdle, ladies and gents, is here and it’s very tall. I’m a short ass. I have some big jumps ahead of me because half of the quotes I have used in my book come from the mouths of people…who are dead.

So now I must embark on a journey of investigating where the quote was first published, get clearance letters signed and my publisher has to credit this use. And then there are fees payable and oh my! My day is going to be digging, digging, digging like a grave digger. Literally. I wish I could go and find the deceased heroes who said these wonderful things and ask their permission! (Insert a huge whining wail here). I would rather dig for bodies than this stuff.

But, I’m going to stay optimistic. Who knows what I will find? Someone bring me coffee.

 

 

Friends and Pasta sauce

I twirled al dente fettucine on the fine silverware and my tongue had its own kind of orgasm as the flavour danced about in my mouth.

I had one woman to thank for this incredible meal.

I had stumbled across a vibrant blog on social media during a trip to one of my favourite cities. On her blog she recommends some fantastic restaurants and cafes to visit while in town as well some stylish posts on fashion. I was hooked. I could not get enough of this blonde bombshell with huge knowledge on the food and wine biz.

If only I could be as cool as her! I could pretend all I wanted, but this girl had serious sass! I messaged her and before too long we had arranged to meet the next time I was in town. But, in the meantime…

Tonight, my  sister rang me a little disheartened. On a spiritual journey and embracing yoga and fitness, she has delved into this phase of her life whole heartedly. Even her young children are embracing this new way of life. It’s truly inspirational. Anyhow, tonight, as I applied my makeup ready to paint the town red in my heels, I had her on loud speaker as I swept shimmer across my eyelids.

‘My post was reported,’ she said sadly. I could hear her pouring a cup of tea. ‘The post wasn’t of any bad nature at all. It was just me in a sports top doing yoga,’ she sniffled. Had she been crying? Here was this beautiful young woman enriching her life and some trolls out there had the audacity to try and bring her down. An empath, this negativity effected her. Sweeping highlighter across my cheekbones and swigging my extra shot coffee, I tried to cheer her up with my best-I’ve-got-your-back-big sister voice.

‘Do NOT let anyone stop you from inspiring others!’ I lectured, reaching for the lipstick. ‘If you stop posting just because of one bully, you never know how many others are missing out! Please, don’t let this stop you! You’re doing amazing and so many of your followers look up to you!’

‘Yeah,’ she sighed. ‘I’m tired. I’m going to go to bed.’

As a protective older sibling I naturally felt upset.

Before I headed out the door, I had some time to spare and opened my own messages. I had a message from one of my favourite bloggers. The sassy Queen from my favourite city! My heart grew like a flower as I read her beautiful words. This stunning woman who spent her days ice skating with friends and eating at the coolest places, shared with me another side to her- a secret blog that fed her soul. Death had touched her life dramatically and this outlet helped her heal and spread the word to others how you can come out at the other side of grief. A death maiden, I was dazzled and spent the next hour reading some of the most beautiful blog posts I’ve ever read. I was humbled this blogger felt she could share this with me but it also taught me something else.

IMG_6816 You just never know the suffering someone can be going through behind that shining smile. The clothes may be stylish, the friends may be abundant, but never think for one minute that they do not have another side. A spiritual side. A painful journey perhaps. It also reminded me that you should never stop reaching out to others with your passion, even if haters try and tear you down. My sister had only ever intended to spread love and inspiration, not to offend. She has a killer body and whoever reported her is clearly just jealous. And, then there are times I am exhausted and I would prefer to sleep than take that 2AM death call, share experiences on my blog or continue writing my book. But, I’m so glad I never stopped because this city blogger reached out to me! Little old me! I really cannot wait to meet with her over a huge glass of wine and pasta! But now, not only will we be discussing the city hot spots, we can discuss the spiritual world. Death. Life. The GUTS of this universe. This woman truly is remarkable and an inspiration. You really need to follow her.

I heard this quote somewhere, cheesy but it stuck with me. It went along the lines of ‘Don’t ever frown because you never know who could be falling in love with your smile.’

Something like that.

Don’t ever stop doing what you’re doing because you never know who you may be helping!

Keep sharing your light, love and passions and you and others will prosper!

 

You can follow Jessie’s yoga journey @jesskm1012

Follow Deb’s amazing spirit journey https://www.thejasmineintheforest.com/ and her delightful chic city blog https://www.sydneychic.com.au/

xoxo

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Keep Shining baby girl xo

Look at you!

 

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People ask: ‘Why Heels and Hearses?’

We can thank TV for the misconceptions of the death care industry – the mortuary often in dark basements with a greying man and a hunchback working in dim, flickering light. Warts on long noses mixing body parts in jars of bubbling liquid, hearse drivers resting their bellies on the steering wheels and ghoulish late night grave diggers.

SURPRISE!!!

The death care industry is nothing like this image many have created in their minds (okay, SOME hearse drivers have beer bellies), but the majority of us are young, fit and go to the beach on weekends. We have bright and fun hobbies and fantastic family and friends. I came up with Heels and Hearses to show you it’s not all gloomy cemeteries and blood splattered mortuary floors.

I love heels, fashion and combining my two passions – shoes and death care!

I looove driving the hearse, and often giggle to myself when guys gawk at the lights as if to say; ‘What is SHE doing driving a hearse?’

The funeral industry is alive (pun not intended) with bubbly young men and women who genuinely love and care for your loved one once they have taken their final breath. We live to serve you and ensure the deceased are well cared for, arriving at the cemetery or crematory safe and sound. It shouldn’t matter what we look like.

Young, blonde (except for in this picture, but I posted this pink monstrosity to make a point) and busty, I have often been victim to unusual glances by the public and even in the workplace by the older female funeral directors. They do not take me seriously and often ask; ‘Why are you working in a funeral home? Look at you!’

Look at me?

Why does my appearance matter when I am polishing a coffin or brushing a deceased’s hair for the final time?

It’s time young funeral professionals were celebrated! Glossy lips, cute heels and all!