And So Begins My New Life

Join me as I embark on a new life and new career in Funeral Services.

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Location: Southeast, United States

I'm a Funeral Services graduate embarking on a new career. I graduated high school in 1981, served honorably in the United States Navy from 1982-1986, been married since 1986, and have one son. I've relocated to a new state and have begun working in my chosen profession of Funeral Services, and I've never been happier.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Story For You

This post is different from any I've ever done. This is a short story I wrote a couple of weeks ago. I hope you like it.

The hearse slowly pulled up to the house, the lone occupant double-checking the address before parking in the dimly lit street and getting out. The full moon was brilliant, lighting up the pre-dawn sky like a pale sun, washing everything in a silvery glow; a stark contrast to the dark task at hand.
The driver opened the door, the dim interior light of the vehicle an unwelcome intrusion into his somber mood. Slowly he got out of the funeral coach and looked up and down the street, wary of any traffic that might be stirring at this early hour. Witnesses were not desirable to this task, but usually unavoidable at all but the most inconvenient of hours, such as this. Curious neighbors, usually, seeing a hearse and knowing death had come calling. Driven by a morbid desire to know who and how, they would gather timidly on their lawns, watching from afar, hoping for a sight or a story to tell to their coworkers or friends, or anybody that would listen. Some would boldly approach and ask questions. The driver always answered politely, but volunteering as little information as possible.
Slowly he made his way to the front door, studying the path he would have to navigate with his stretcher; a narrow driveway with one car crowding the tiny concrete slab. He hoped the driver would volunteer to move it.
Attached to the driveway was a sidewalk, parallel to the house, then taking a 90° turn at the last moment to end at the front door; an inconvenience, but a minor one. His stretcher was easy to maneuver, he could handle it. His biggest concern was the layout of the inside of the house. Narrow hallways that would make it difficult to get the stretcher into the death room, lots of heavy furniture, messy clutter; these were some difficulties he had faced in the past.
He rang the bell, knowing the hospice nurse was waiting on the other side, ready to have the task complete so she could go home and get some much needed sleep. The door opened almost immediately; she must have seen him pull up. He introduced himself as she showed him in. He looked around the room; a large living room, open and spacious. Good. He followed the nurse into the dining room, where she had set up her temporary office; paperwork and clipboards, medicines and equipment laid out casually on the handsome oak dining table.
Most everything he needed to know he had taken at the initial call; name of the deceased, date and time of death, location. Now he needed a few more items before he could proceed. Primary physician: the hospice doctor. Next of kin: none. That was sad, he thought, to die alone, with no family or friends to comfort you. Only a nurse, unknown until very recently.
She showed him to the adjoining room, until recently a sun-room. Curtains now covered the windows, but the moonlight spilled in through a small gap, landing on a table which held a glass of water, a bottle of pills, some crumpled tissues. A hospital bed filled the room, and various blankets and pillows were stacked on a nearby chair. The body lay in the bed, head tilted to one side, eyes closed, mouth slightly agape. Hands folded across the stomach by the nurse, a sign of respect for the deceased. This body was small. Good, he thought, easy to manage. Larger bodies were problematic for one person, but not impossible. Anyway, nurses could be counted on to help, if necessary. But with small persons, he usually didn’t trouble them. Their work was done by the time his presence was necessary; no sense making them work harder than they had to.
He inspected the body, looking for IV lines, bandages, sores, bodily fluids, anything that could make this task more unpleasant. The nurse had done her job well; the body was clean and ready for the final journey. He paused a moment, looking at the aged skin, so discolored from ruptured capillaries. Even the lightest bump could lead to serious bruising. Even an injection or IV needle could cause drastic damage to the skin. He hoped he held up better as he aged.
He looked around the room, making sure he had room to bring the stretcher right up to the bed. The chair needed to be moved, but only a little. After carefully pushing it to one side, out of the way, he found the bed controls and raised the bed to its highest position. He told the nurse he would be back in a moment with the stretcher.
On his way back through the living room, he looked around. A few pictures in frames dotted the walls and some of the furniture. A husband and wife in their early years, perhaps. More pictures, same couple. Different settings; a sandy beach, a cool, green hillside, an amusement park, an antiques market, a cruise ship. In each picture the couple is a little bit older, but in all of them they are as happy as in their youngest days. Suddenly the pictures are no longer of a couple, but of the person in the bed. The spouse died, the driver thinks, leaving the other behind alone to mourn. He hoped his end, when it came, would be more fitting than this sad testimony.
He stepped out into the silvery darkness, once again scanning the street. A lone vehicle approached, moving too slowly for his liking. Suddenly a newspaper came sailing out the window, and he realized it was merely the newspaper man, making his morning deliveries. He wondered if the person in the house had a subscription. What would happen to all the papers yet to be delivered? Would the neighbors tell the newspaper of the death and have the subscription cancelled, or would this simple task be overlooked in the pressing details to be handled in the days ahead? Would the papers pile up on the doorstep, a mute testimony to the lonely end of a life?
Quickly the driver returned to his vehicle, opening the back door and pulling out the stretcher. He made an adjustment to the cot cover, neatening it up and smoothing it out. After all, this job was as much about appearances as it was about service. He rolled the stretcher up the driveway, maneuvering carefully around the car. It would have been nice to have it moved, but he could deal with it. Down the sidewalk and around the bend, through the front door and into the house, the wheels clattering slightly on the rough texture of the concrete sidewalk.
He brought the stretcher into the death room, lining it up next to the bed. He removed the cover and unfastened the straps, letting them dangle over the side and out of the way. He reached into his pocket and brought out a pair of latex gloves. Safety first. He remembered a patient he had picked up a few weeks ago. A young man, gaunt and emaciated. The nurses had told him cancer, but when the death certificate had come back from the doctor, the “Cause of Death” section contained but one word: AIDS. He put on the gloves and thought, always play it safe.

Standing by the stretcher, with it between him and the bed, he was ready to begin. Gently, he placed one hand behind the neck. With the other he cradled the thigh, then pulled the body toward him, sliding it from the bed onto the stretcher. Most people assumed his job involved a lot of lifting. The reality was that more sliding than lifting occurred.
After some minor adjustments and getting the body well-centered on the stretcher, he fastened down the straps which held the body securely in place. One across the chest, the other across the legs. The straps were a necessary precaution. Without them it would be very easy for a body to slide off the stretcher, particularly while riding in the hearse. A corner taken too fast would be all it would take. This had never happened to the driver, but there was that one time where he was carrying a 600 lb. body and it tipped, stretcher and all, after a sudden, sharp turn. Fortunately, the body was too large and the hearse too small to prevent a complete tip over. The stretcher and body ended up at a 45 degree angle for the rest of the trip to the funeral home.
Placing the cot cover over the body, he thanked the nurse for everything and slowly began the trip back to the coach. At the front door he asked the nurse for one favor; to lift up the foot end of the stretcher and guide the wheels over the threshold. She did this easily, and he did the same at the head. Thanking her once again, he steered the stretcher down the sidewalk to the driveway. The nurse apologized for not thinking to move her car, but he assured her that was no problem.
Once past the car, he quickly maneuvered the stretcher into position at the rear of the hearse and opened the door. Best to have this done as quickly as possible. The less time he spent in plain view with the body, the better. This was not a spectator sport, after all, though sometimes people treated it as such. He placed the head of the stretcher into the hearse, then pulled the release lever while lifting. The wheel assembly unlocked and folded beneath the cot as he pushed the stretcher into the back of the coach.
Once the stretcher was fully inside, he closed the door and got back into the driver’s seat. Slowly, respectfully, he pulled away from the house at a snail’s pace. After a half block or so, he sped up, ready to be finished with this job. A few miles to the crematory, he thought. 20 minutes to unload, the drive back. By the time he returned, he figured, he would have just enough time to go home, shower, and get back to work for the regular business day. At least he would have time to shower. The calls he hated most were those that came just as he was rising for the workday. No time to shower or shave. The funeral home had a reputation for arriving quickly when called, unlike competing firms, which could sometimes take several hours to respond.
Finally he reached his destination. The sun slowly lit up the morning sky as he unlocked the rear door to the crematory. He walked in and turned on the lights, then headed straight for the log book. Consulting his notes, he recorded the name of the deceased, date and time of death, and date and time of delivery to the crematory in the log. Then he grabbed a cremation container and laid it out on the lift, the mechanical hoist which could raise or lower a body for easy placement on the cooler racks.
Quickly he unloaded the body, ready to go home and freshen up. He guided the stretcher next to the hoist, then slid the body off and into the cremation container. Sometimes he wished there were a more delicate way of effecting the transfer, but it worked effectively, if not with some dignity. He remembered the first time he attempted this transfer on his own. His co-worker had made the process look so easy; grab the sliding board which lay under the body, make sure the body and container were evenly lined up, then pull quickly. The body had slid off the stretcher, and with a dull thud had dropped neatly into the container. The first time the driver tried it, the body caught the edge of the container, which folded beneath the weight, and the body had started to slide to the floor. Fortunately, the coworker was at hand and caught it before it hit the deck. That experience had left him shaken for a few days, and he vowed never to let that happen again. So far he had been successful.
Closing the container, he guided the hoist into the cooler; a massive box, refrigerated to around 35 degrees or so, with rows of racks waiting to receive their gruesome cargo. Finding a convenient, open spot, he raised the bed of the hoist to the proper level, then slid the container into it’s berth. Rollers on the hoist and the racks made this a neat and easy task.
He maneuvered the hoist back to it’s proper place, then returned to the cooler, taking one last look around at the rows of boxes stacked in the cooler racks. Each box holding a body, a loved one, a wife, mother, husband, daughter, son, sister, brother. Each box a family in pain, loved ones in mourning for the life they lost. One last look around, making sure all is in place. He turned out the light, the cold and darkness overtaking the dead as the door slammed shut behind him.


Blogger Sank said...

Wow, well done my friend. You have a nice way of wroting.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Sank said...

wr I ting. Writing. Your writ'n iz gud.

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Coral said...

Well written!

An underlying sadness remains with me. I think that is to do with the fact he had no next of kin.

Everyone should have someone to mourn them, nes pas?

1:51 AM  
Blogger Granimore said...

Thanks, Sank. Your second comment made me laugh.

Thank you, Coral. We have had two or three calls in the past where either no family was available or involved.
And yes, it is a sad thing to see.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Alastair said...

Having been the minister responsible for leading a lot of funerals over the years, its moving to hear from the FD's point of view. I find it sad, too, when there are few or none to mourn - though in our villages that happens very seldom as most folks know nearly everyone here. Thank you for sharing.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Granimore said...

Thanks for stopping by, Alastair. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to eulogize someone to a very small audience. It's nice your community is so close-knit. My hometown is that way, too. I miss it.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Sharkbait said...

That was really, really wonderful. Thanks for putting this out there in the world.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Granimore said...

Thank you, Sharkbait.I appreciate you taking the time to read it and comment.

9:28 PM  

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