Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The funeral home visit

Tonight for Psychology of Death and Dying we visited a funeral home and spent about two hours talking with a funeral director and getting a tour of the building. The funeral director who talked with us was awesome--very honest and open about everything and with a good sense of humor. I was really surprised by how some of my classmates guy was texting while we were in the embalming room. Another girl showed up in her pajamas. I mean, even though we were there for class and not for a funeral, isn't there some sort of protocol for showing up at someone's place of business? Even though all of the bodies were hidden away, there's still a level of respect that I think should be upheld by people when they enter a place where the dead are.

Okay, the embalming room.

I've been to more funerals than I can count (the last time I did it was upward of 30), and I've been given a tour of a funeral home by Mark, the mortician who handled my grandma's funeral, but I have never stood inside the embalming room. I had to breathe pretty deeply. It was a lot more difficult than I thought: seeing and putting in concrete form all of the ideas that I have worked out in my head. Wally, the funeral director, said that he believes that funeral directors should be as open as possible, and I think that part of my nerves came from the fact that embalming has always been shrouded in such high levels of secrecy. It's the "back room" and morticians "do their work" there, and that's all we know.

When I left I had the same headache that I had for three days when my grandma died. I need to remember that it's perfectly okay for me to be nervous, upset, stressed, etc. when I confront the various aspects of death and dying that are foreign to me. I remember that I was scared out of my mind the first time I stood in front of a classroom, too. Fear and anxiety do not mean that I can't do the job; it just means that I need to get the training I need, occupationally, mentally and emotionally, to do the job. Wally told me that "working with the dead" is a relatively small part of the job--the funeral director primarily works with the living. It was really helpful to talk with him and to hear his ideas and philosophy on why he does what he does.

My headache, by the way, is gone.

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