How Death Brought Me Back To Life

Mom died of brain cancer 25 years ago and it was the hardest single death I've experienced thus far. I joked for years that I started with the worst and everything after that was easy by comparison...I was wrong.

One of the weirdest things I've noticed about being in my 40s is that you have to start watching your friends die from things that you used to think were for older people. I've lost friends to heart attack, diabetes complications, stroke, cancer, you name it. I think in your teens and 20s if you have close death, it's primarily to accident or dumbassery.

2014 started off like any other year, but in May I lost a friend to cancer. With his life circumstances and the progress of the disease, it almost seemed a cruel joke for him to go. I took it really hard. Then came June and I got completely floored by the suicide of someone I loved dearly. To be honest, I'm still trying to recover from that one. It was at this point that my depression started overwhelming me and functioning became a struggle. I quickly discovered that the only thing that could motivate me out of the house and that would give me any sense of happiness, was helping others in grief.

I had several more friend deaths quickly following, including a dear friend's child. I was unprepared for the classmates at the kid funeral, that was the most heartbreaking sound on earth. The deaths continued, every few months or so there would be another one and then in the summer of 2015 on the day of my birthday party, my stepmom died unexpectedly in a bizarre home accident. Lots of familial responsibilities ensued and I've completely lost all enthusiasm about my birthday. The bright side of her death is that I've reclaimed family that I thought were lost to me, which is priceless.

The friend deaths continued, then in January of 2016 I lost my Charlie-Dad. He'd spent 25 years telling us that he had everything arranged, but when the time came it turned out not to be true. There was no will, no instructions at the funeral home, just a sealed letter and an insurance policy for us. There was so much family drama around his death and property that I had to walk away from a whole chunk of the family for my own sanity. I'm really glad he and Mom are back together, that's the bright side in that whole thing.

Once Dad passed, I'd basically hit rock bottom. I was in so many layers of grief I couldn't even fathom what “normal” looked like. I'd been so depressed for so long that I developed extreme social anxiety and stopped wanting to leave the house or interact with strangers. Don't get me wrong, there were many bright spots in the dark fabric of my world: I became the queen of self-help internet research; I discovered Brene Brown and her work has changed my life; I have an amazing group of friends who are super supportive of me and my crazy; I love my home and my kittehs and it's a cozy place for me; they expanded delivery everything in my neighborhood so I can still eat and not have to go out; I could go on, but you get the idea.

I had a good friend who got a day job at a funeral home and it fascinated me to hear her work stories and see her work-related posts. So in early 2016 when she mentioned a part time job working with her, after some initial cautiousness about having to people, I pursued the work lead. Gods know I hadn't had a steady budgetable income in many years, and definitely not since the string of deaths started.

The sales pitch in my head went something like this...I've always been curious about this industry but when I was younger it was primarily family run and hard to get hired into, so I gave up the thought. (Modern day it's big corporate and it's easier to get into.) I had friends in high school who drove hearses and I wanted one myself, until I realized the cost of maintaining one and went more budget-minded with a vehicle. I've been doing gravestone rubbings since I was a kid, have always preferred the cemetery as a quiet getaway spot, and also it's my favorite picnic location. I've been a goth since before that was a widely recognized term, and have varied between gloomy and perky goth since high school. It's an industry where I wouldn't be the weirdest kid in the room, which is a thing that rarely happens. Because of my deep grief, I'm most comfortable around others who are grieving. It's a compassionate industry by nature so they're more likely to be kind to me than other corporate gigs.

When my uncle passed unexpectedly in a race car accident in March, I paid close attention to the funeral home staff and observed how they acted and what they did. They were uber professional (as they also had been for my stepmother's) so I offset my grief with starting to learn about the industry. It helped.

In early April when I got hired on the new part time day job, I went in with the attitude that I'd do my best, whatever that looked like, and if it wasn't a good fit then no harm and no foul. Here I am almost a year later, considering it a career change. I absolutely enjoy my job. I work at 2 funeral homes and a cemetery which is a perfect amount of variety to keep my attention. I've been doing this for almost a year and still have SO much to learn. I'm fascinated by getting to watch the various cultures and their death customs. I'm totally not freaked out by dead bodies or ghosts...I'm actually more comfortable with the dead than the living most of the time. I'm getting to help people in the worst times of their lives and I'm surrounded by kind-hearted coworkers. Overall this seems to be a perfect fit for me for now, and with all I've been through getting to this point.

Because I've found passion about a thing again, I started researching death-related things and found the Death Positive ( movement. I'm all about this. Death is a thing that happens to all of us and we need to be having conversations about our wishes, pre-planning our after-death care, and taking the stigma out of this subject. It's important. No one can escape it. If you avoid the subject, you risk completely screwing over your family after your death.

Death education is crucial and I'm going to start doing it wherever possible. Let's talk about death, baby, let's talk about you and me...okay horrible joke, and now it's on loop in my head. Y'all join me in this, we can change things.


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