Monday, March 9, 2015

A Funeral Director's Grief

Have you ever thought a person was off the mark, then suddenly found yourself in their situation and realized it was actually you who was off the mark? I guess the quote, “Don’t judge another person until you have walked a mile in their shoes,” is a truism.
As a funeral director, I often have clients who opt out of services for their decedent. There are numerous reasons for doing so, and I have always defended my clients in their choices. Some forego services as it was the express wish of their decedent, “If they didn’t care enough to come see me when I was alive, I don’t want them gawking at me when I’m dead.” Some have depleted their accounts, “After such a long illness, we just don’t have the funds.” Others are near exhaustion from the death experience, “We have been through so much, we just don’t think we can bare anything else.” I understand these claims and have always supported them.
Recently, I lost a very dear relative. The onset of his death was swift, and I was out of town as one of my children had undergone extreme surgery. I followed the events leading to his death through social media. He became gravely ill and had emergency surgery from which he was unable to recover. I loved this cousin so very much and admired both he and his wife for their kind generosity to others. His children decided to forego services, stating, “they had each had their private time with him before he passed.” What a wonderful blessing for them. I would hope that everyone has ample time with a parent before their death, reality, however, shows that this is a rare gift.
As my parents and cousins have come to me asking why his children opted out of services, I have come to realize certain facts of which I was once unaware.  People may not visit the infirmed for a number reasons.  Often elderly friends and family are themselves infirmed or no longer enjoy driving privileges.  It rarely is a purposeful choice however to ignore a dying relative or friend.  It is usually just as painful to the absent loved one as it is to the dying loved one that they are unable to visit.
My heart was crushed by not having the opportunity to achieve a final farewell with my beloved cousin. I longed for a moment of communion and quiet reflection to psychologically transition into accepting his death and offering my final condolence. A vital person who had contributed love, kindness and leadership in my life had passed, and I needed an opportunity just to say farewell and accept that he was gone.
His children buried him without services, and I finally realized what friends and family of my clients who opted out of services were saying. My grief is empty. I feel robbed of my opportunity to say goodbye. The reality of his death seems elusive or ambiguous.
In analyzing this experience, I find that I am grateful to my cousins for opening my eyes to the complications brought on by the deprivation of an opportunity to say farewell to the deceased. In college, my professors taught us the advantages and importance of funeral services. I studied complicated grief but didn’t understand how a simple choice of foregoing services could be its onset. This experience has broadened my understanding and will allow me an insight that I can offer to my clients. In short, it has made me a better funeral director albeit a sad one.

My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and professional speaker. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.