Quiet please

Tall (and sweating) in my funeral director suit, I stood at the back of the hearse,  people gathering for as far as the eye could see in oversized dark sunglasses and looking much better than me in their swanky suits.

The Entrance song began to play and I inhaled deeply.

‘Showtime…’ I told myself, about to conduct the company’s biggest funeral for the day.

‘Pall bearers, ready? Take your positions…’ I announced and six gentlemen stepped forward as I unlocked the coffin, reached in and grasped a handle. With all my strength I pulled the coffin forward on the rollers. I walked in front; an incredible honour, as the pall bearers carried their loved one close behind in her glossy coffin decorated with an impressive spray of lilies and white roses. As we entered the chapel, I snuck a glance at my assistant working on the media controls who winked at me and smiled. I could hear whimpers and sobs from the guests who stood from their seat as we passed. Once at the front of the chapel, I instructed the pall bearers to place the coffin on the rollers of the catafult that gleamed in spotlights with lavender tiling. A waterfall trickled down the windows behind the coffin, impressive greenery stood tall to soften the grim reality of why we were there.

‘Thank you, Gentlemen,’ I nodded and they stepped aside and joined their crying family members in the front row. My assistant met me at the front of the crowd as we positioned the coffin in the centre, bowed and handed the service over to the celebrant…for now.

As the celebrant ran the show, I hurriedly filled out paperwork while offering glasses of water to pale faces. The crowd spilled out into the carpark, cameras flashed and many were thanking me for being there.

An hour later, it was time for me walk down the aisle to lead the pallbearers to the hearse. The final song began to play, one I had never heard before. My paperwork instructed me to wait until two minutes and fourteen seconds into the piece before proceeding down the aisle. I watched my assistant at the media controls for the nod.

When it was time, my heels released and as I began to walk, the lyrics sang…‘Conductor, turn the final page…’ Goosebumps crawled over my body,  I was a conductor!

Suddenly, the husband of the deceased stood from his front seat and began to clap, followed by his three daughters, and like a Mexican wave the crowd rose to their feet clapping loudly as the final stretch of the song echoed throughout the chapel.

Change is a major factor in our jobs. Decisions are made by the family last minute – a surprise photo presentation, adding time to the service (which completely mucks up mountains of paperwork if you’re wondering)!  I have assisted on a funeral where a famous country singer popped up graveside as a surprise, slinking off amongst the headstones on the final strum of his guitar.

Today was no different. The family had organised a dove release, not mentioned in my paperwork of course. As we stepped out of the chapel, five white doves were released from their cane baskets and took off, swooping and gliding in perfect harmony.

Now… how on Earth are you supposed to compose yourself while there are magical doves performing in sync, a sternum shaking song playing and hundreds of people clapping? 

You just do.

You stay strong.

You hold your head up high.

You lock that bloody coffin in the back, you thank your guests and celebrant and you tick and sign your paperwork. Once back at the funeral home, you clock off and walk out to your car and slip into the driver’s seat. You wave to your colleagues as they pull out of the car park and then, you take a moment to sit and let a tear fall.

Holy F&ck.

Nothing…Nothing compares to this.

 

RIP JUDITH

 

 

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Beyond the grave

The Eulogy follows a common structure.

‘Mum was born in 1941 and lived in Newcastle until she met my dad in 1960…’

‘Dad grew up on a cattle station until he got a job promotion in Sydney and moved us to the big smoke…and along came our youngest sibling…’

Mum worked as a nurse until she retired and spent her days camping and fishing with dad…’

Not many speeches  shake us in our polished shoes. I want to know the guts of their life!  Their favourite dinner dishes and greatest passions in life. What gave them goosebumps? What made them smile with sparkles in their eyes? What made them slip into bed each night fulfilled and happy to be alive?

I guess we don’t hear of these details too often because sometimes the only person who knows these special stories is the person themselves, so how fricking cool would it be if the deceased could pop up for a couple of minutes to tell us!

Well that’s exactly what happened today.

No, the casket lid didn’t spring open.

Twelve months ago, Robin, our deceased had a conversation with her daughter on the back porch. Unbeknown to Robin, her daughter was recording the entire conversation.

In charge of the media, I pressed play and you could hear a pin drop. It truly was incredible to hear the voice of the person in their coffin. The chapel was silent as Robin told stories of her adolescence, her boyfriends and left out no juicy bits! Robin’s daughter stood at the lectern, tears creeping down her flushed cheeks as her mother’s voice echoed throughout the four walls.

The recording finished, I pressed Stop, and Robin was gone forever.

Starving

I’m starving. Not for food, I just ate the tastiest Haloumi breakfast from my favourite café.

I’m starving to know what it’s like…to live a regular life.

What must it be like to have your life in order? To not fall in love so deeply all of the time? Able to have coffee with a stranger without falling head over heels with their smile? What’s it like to be ignorant to mortality?

I spend far too much money on random nights out, pavements catch my falls while I’m spinning on alcohol highs, I kiss girls, I hire limos on a Tuesday night, I kiss the limo driver, I order Rib eye at fancy restaurants and sleep in a two thousand dollar bed that hardly fits in my tiny bedroom of my rented cottage.

I should own the house.

I should have a partner. I should have loads of savings at my age and I should stop dancing on tables at age 32.

Or should I?

If I stopped all of this, would I then starve?

I hand lower people into the ground every day. I see the roots sprawling out from the dirt and I watch the coffin get buried with soil. How could I not live each day as if it’s the last???

Last Sunday, one of my best friends died overseas. I was unable to prep or bury him with oceans between us. Instead, I had to continue working on others in my own mortuary.

I wanted to hold his big hand and say goodbye. All I had was the latest comment he wrote on one of my Facebook photos.

Last Wednesday afternoon, I was asked to go and collect the next person who had succumbed to death from the coroner. Wrist tags in my hand and paper work informing me that Craig was only 34, I climbed into the van, turned up the radio as loud as it could go (the work cars have the BEST sound systems) and I cruised down the M1 with guys gawking at the young blonde in a suit driving a conspicuous van.

I approached the huge roller doors and pulled into the super secret parking space allocated for funeral vehicles. The familiar scent of body gases and innards slapped me in the face. It is a well known fact in the funeral industry; Emma Jane loves the forensic science unit! I feel like a cast member in a real life crime show. The police walking about, the yellow and black tape indicating where you must stand, blag body bags…it’s exciting! While the other funeral directors moan and groan when there is a transfer from the place, I am in that suit quicker than you can say mouth suture!

I took my stretcher inside just as Craig was wheeled out from the fridge.

‘Heart attack,’ the forensic pathologist’s assistant tossed me a pair of latex gloves.        So young to have a coronary, I thought to myself. I realised how I take my health for granted with a Big Mac in my tummy. I  opened the body bag to find a beautiful young man with long lashes looking back at me with sunken eyes. He was bleeding everywhere, I could hardly secure the name tags. I felt connected to him, I always am when we share similar ages. I had been allocated this job on my own so I had to use the lifting device secured to the ceiling above us.  Forensic Pathologists walking all around and bodies being brought in and out for collection by other funeral directors, I focused on clipping the straps under Craig’s knees and shoulders. With the push of a button, I watched as the device slowly lifted the man and he hovered mid air, droplets of blood falling to the floor like soft rain. I had seen this many times, we have a body lifter in our mortuary at the funeral home, but for some reason, as I watched poor young Craig hover, I felt like I was going to faint. He reminded me of my friend overseas who had just lost his own life to heart disease at such a young age. Remaining calm and professional, I grabbed my trolley and positioned it beneath him and the machine lowered the body. I strapped him in and with a few ticks on my paper work, I loaded him into the back of the van and jumped in. Bruno Mars was singing Uptown Funk.

As I drove back to the funeral home with a tear in my eye, I realised that there was no way I would ever stop living my life to the fullest. Life was far too short. So the extra cheese on my taco it is! Dancing on tables and that extra champagne!