The Funeral Director’s Daughter

10 Jun

I had an unusual upbringing in that the “home” I grew up in was also a funeral home. Yep, we lived there all the time and, no, I’m not sure if it’s like Six Feet Under because I’ve never watched that show.

As weird as it may sound, I never thought anything of it. It was the only thing I knew, and I was accustomed to my dad leaving in the middle of the night and bringing someone back with him. My parents kept me away from things children shouldn’t see, of course, but I did answer the phone and report to our small town “inquirers” who, exactly, had passed away. I’d rattle off the arrangements like an obituary column. “Visitation will be held here on Tuesday from 7-9 and the funeral will be Wednesday at 3:00 at the Methodist Church, with a graveside to follow at Overbrook Cemetery.” Even at 5 years old, I knew the drill when it came to a funeral. My dad worked on the body, then he and a helper would bring him/her in the viewing room where I would promptly climb up on a chair and check them out. (I was nosey from birth, I reckon.) The flowers would start to trickle in, and visitors would come in and out to sign the book and pay their respects.

My brother and I had to play quietly during this time, especially during visitation. We had hardwood floors upstairs in our playroom, so it was required that we skip the shoes, and instead only wear our socks during visitation. Every now and then, people who hadn’t seen us in a while would ask if we were around, so down the stairs we would go to hear Mrs. So-and-So talk about how big we were getting. When it came time for the funeral, we often went with our parents and played in the cemetery or the church while things were prepped for the service. Chad, my older brother, once slipped on a tombstone and cracked his head open. I don’t actually remember this occurring, only the stories of it, but I’m sure my mom and dad were not amused.

As we got older, our duties during funerals changed. My brother started helping my dad bring the bodies home, and I greeted people during visitations and drove the family’s car from time to time. (Yes, at our funeral home, it’s still old school – we have a “family car” and members of the immediate family are chauffeured to and from the funeral. Because, really, who wants to drive when they’re upset about a loved one passing? Some things just shouldn’t change with the times, you know?) But, my favorite “job” at funerals was being in charge of the flowers. Nowadays most people request charitable donations be made in lieu of flowers – but back then, wow – flowers were a big deal. (One time my mom told me that you could always tell how many friends the person had by the number of flowers at the service. She then gave me these instructions: If I die, and people don’t send a lot of flowers, just order a bunch and put fake names on them.)

Placing the flowers at the service certainly wasn’t hard, but I took pride in doing it. I wanted things to look nice for the family. Getting the same flowers to the cemetery before the family arrived after the church service was, however, stressful. As soon as the family exited the church, I’d ask random men in suits to help me toss the flowers into a van and off I’d go – breaking every traffic rule in the book to get there, with the blessing of our local police officers. (They knew to look out for me on funeral days.) When I got to the cemetery, I slung flowers out of the van at the speed of light. By the time the hearse and family car arrived, I had to have the flowers out and placed, van moved and be ready to greet people as they walked up. It was exhausting, but he paid me pretty well. (And I really didn’t have a choice.)

Growing up answering the question, “What does your dad do?” was kind of a bummer. Other kids had “cooler” responses like banker, policeman or doctor. My response was always an instant downer – and got retorts like, “Ew, gross!” (And, as I got older, the looks on the faces of guys who asked me out was one of horror. I’m pretty sure he enjoyed this.)

My dad had the same experiences that my brother and I had growing up, because he was also a funeral director’s kid. At 70 years old, he has been around death his whole life. Being a funeral director wasn’t the career path I chose, but I have a lot of respect for people who have. I’ve seen my dad calm mothers who have lost young children, or people who have just lost their spouse of 40 years. Going into a family’s home after they have just lost one of the most important people in their lives cannot be an easy thing to do. You walk in when their world is falling apart and help them plan something they have either dreaded for years or have never given a whole lot of thought to. My dad doesn’t save lives, fight fires or crime – but he does bring comfort to people when they’re hurting.

Being a funeral director’s daughter isn’t all that common, but I guess it’s pretty cool after all.

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8 Responses to “The Funeral Director’s Daughter”

  1. Charles Apple June 11, 2010 at 4:53 am #

    Ah, Geez. That brings back some powerful memories. Please tell Jack I said hello.

  2. Anonymous June 11, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Awesome post. I think your dad sounds like a great man.

  3. LG June 11, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    i found your blog through a friend's blog and i check it daily. you have a strong voice in your writing. this one about your dad is my favorite….until the next one becomes my favorite!

  4. The Straight and Narrow June 11, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    Mandi,I love this. Keep up the good work!Jen

  5. Ben June 11, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    Well said. I had never really thought about funeral director's this way.

  6. Mandi June 11, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    Charles-I will tell him you said hello. He will be thrilled! And, I'll let you know all the questions he asks me about you that I don't know the answer to. :)Thank you for the compliments, everyone. Y'all made my day!

  7. Anonymous June 13, 2010 at 11:42 pm #

    That was such a pleasure to read. I also think that it takes a very special person to handle those situations. Funeral Directors Daughter you are great.

  8. Anonymous June 15, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    I love your writing skills. You are very talented and I am always amazed how you make me laugh and then you bring the serious side in and get your point across. This is a God given talent — you should share with more people in bigger ways.

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