Monday, May 20, 2019

Hillside Chat

I'm an approachable person. My friend says I have "one of those faces" that seems to say "hey, come chat with me" even at times I'd prefer to be left alone. Sometimes it's annoying, but it has at other times resulted in some very interesting conversations. This blog is about an occasion in which being a funeral director became more than just being a funeral director thanks to one of those approachable moments. It's a long chat but I hope you enjoy it!

About a month ago, I helped with a service for a family that included a three hour, one-way trip to the mountains for a burial in a family cemetery. After the service the family meandered around between the cemetery and a family member's nearby home. My boss left to go and fill up the hearse for the drive home while I waited for the vault company to show (we don't leave a burial until the casket is in the ground and covered with dirt). As I sat on one of the velvet covered chairs under the big green canopy, a young girl (we'll call her Olivia) came and sat in the chair next to me. It was quiet for a minute as she was looking intently at the casket still hanging over the vault and the hole that would soon envelope it.

Me: It's very shiny, isn't it?
Olivia: (nodding) Will it go in that hole?
Me: Yes. But first it will go inside another larger box. (I lift the curtain veiling the vault to show her.) Then the dirt will go over that box and it will look like all the other graves here.
(Another quiet minute passed.)
Me: Was (name withheld) your grandfather?
Olivia: (nodding yes) This is my first funeral.
Me: Oh. Funerals can be really tricky when you're a kid. (She gave me a quizzical look.) Well, sometimes you may feel sad because you miss the person who has died. But sometimes you may feel bored because, well, funerals are kinda boring. And other times you may feel happy but the people around you are sad and you're not sure if it's okay to be happy. (Olivia kept staring at me intently so I continued.) The important thing to know is that it's okay to feel all of those things. (She relaxed into her chair and threw her arm over the back so that she was mostly facing me.)
Olivia: My dog died a couple of weeks ago and that made me really sad.
Me: That is really sad. I'm sorry to hear that.
Olivia: Have you had any pets die?
Me: You promise not to laugh? (she nodded) Well, I had a really special chicken, named Sally, who died a few years ago.
(She let out a giggle and then quickly covered her mouth with her hand to stop herself.)
Me: (chuckling) It's okay to laugh. She was a funny little bird.

With that, she really opened up. Suddenly I knew all about her family, her school, her best friends, her favorite music, and most importantly, her older brother. She shared how much she loves him and how they get along and play together soooo well UNTIL his other third grader friends come around and then he treats her like she's a baby and he wants nothing to do with her because "those third graders think they're the coolest."

Me: Ugh, third graders are the worst! you know who the third graders think are the coolest? (It was clear this question had never crossed her mind.) The fifth graders! (She almost gasped out loud.) And I don't know your brother but I consider myself a pretty good judge of character and Olivia, I think you are incredibly cool!

She gave me a sideways smile and about that time I noticed a little redheaded girl watching us from across the hill. I asked if they were cousins and Olivia wasn't sure but figured they must be related in one way or another. I shared how she reminded me of myself at that age -all red hair and freckled.

Me: Olivia, I'm going to give you a piece of very, very important advice. Are you ready? (her eyes widened) Always make friends with the redhead!

As if on cue, the little girl made her way over to us, looking as homely as ever with stringy red strands blowing in the wind and a mouth stained with grape Popsicle. She asked if Olivia would like to play. Olivia looked at her, then at me, then back to her and said, "Sure!" Off they went, exploring the hill, picking flowers, and laughing. Later, as her family was leaving, Olivia came running up to me, arms open wide and wrapped me in a huge hug. As she was skipping away, I called out to her, "Olivia, don't ever ARE the cool kid!" She smiled widely and ran to catch up to her parents.

So, there you have it. Funeral director? Or female empowerment coach? You be the judge. 😉

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