October 9, 2013

I walked a mile with Sorrow.

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.
-Robert Browning Hamilton

It starts a little bit like this, "How long have you lived here, what brings you to Houston?" Pause, do I say my husband's work, because, then the question follows, "Oh, does he work in oil and gas?"

Not so much...

And if I give the answer, it's followed by an awkward cheesy joke, "Business must be dead!" or "Death and Taxes, at least it's a recession proof job." Or the alternative, "Ewww, gross" followed by the, "I could never do that." and the ever popular, "Isn't it depressing?"

I, on occasion, had the opportunity to help my husband study for school, something that struck me during one of our study sessions was the concept that - we are a death denying society. And yet, it's common to everyone of us, the same as we are born, we will all die. Nobody wants to talk about it, much less think about dealing with it, day in and day out, as a way to make a living. I admit, it sometimes makes me nervous. In some way, are we inviting this shadow over us, are we too comfortable with the discussion? I have reasoned that this doesn't really make any sense. That would mean the divorce lawyer was inviting an unhappy marriage, the doctor inviting disease or the psychologist inviting depression.

Many times people say things like, "I bet he has seen some strange things." Truthfully, he has never shared anything "strange" or "graphic" with me. What he has shared, the story of those left behind, not very often, because part of his "job" is to separate himself from the extreme of human emotions which he encounters. But on occasion he has shared stories of parents trying to make sense of a tragedy which took their son, a mother, bent over, aching in pain from the loss of a baby (not the first), children wailing over the loss of a father who took his own life. On those days he has asked for Tylenol to quiet his head from the pain, not from seeing what people think, someone deceased but from observing the hurt of the living.

When we started on this journey of going back to school, we explained to our children what daddy would be doing for a living. I asked our oldest son, only 7 at the time, if he understood and he replied, "Yes, when someone dies Dad will help their family." A simple explanation but so very true. His job is so much more about assisting the living, than dealing with the dead. There are few among us that could do both of those things.

I came across a blog, while looking at photography, at the beginning of the year, a woman who is an amazing photographer, she lost her young husband to cancer. She described the night he died, how he waited to go until he knew their children were asleep, how their family had gathered in their home and then she described "the men" who came to take him away. It hit me like a punch to the gut, you could feel the hurt in her words as she described them driving away in the night. I envisioned what it might feel like to walk into meet with that family, as the outsider, the necessary evil. To be met with nothing at the end of your service to them, but a sincere, "I hope I never see you again."

Many days his work involves the celebration of a life well-lived, with music, stories, photos, family and friends. Then there are those times when life is cut short, when children die before parents, when little ones never take a breath, when illness takes someone before their time or an accident takes someone by surprise. It makes me proud that he is able to stand with those families and guide them, at times when I could not. It makes me proud of my Aunt for recognizing the need to develop and support programs to help guide children through grief, when they may not otherwise find their way. Not a typical choice, to position yourself with this pain, to stand along side it. This type of work, this "job", it's important, not weird, not gross, not morbid, not strange.

I am grateful for this journey so far, I see the way it has stretched the man I already loved. I am proud of the way he chooses to spend his occasional days off during the week, volunteering at the grade school, improving our home, searching for fun little getaways, helping with laundry, dishes, etc... Not the most glamorous, but shaped by the experience which proves life is too short and there is never enough time with those you love.

It's not easy to run around drinking everything in and loving everybody like crazy. Life throws all kinds of things at us and a variety of reasons not to be happy. We wonder what if, what if we chose a different path, a different person, a different job, etc... It's easy to get frustrated with our children, our spouse, our co-workers, our friends, our families. People don't always treat us as they should. I am trying, I say trying, because many days I fail, to use this experience to increase my level of patience. Along with patience, using it to fuel the connections I make with people, listening more intently, loving more deeply. Not discounting or dismissing our daily struggles, but giving them less real estate in my head. Holding on tighter to the regular everyday amazing moments that make up life.

I am grateful for what many have considered or thought to be a strange, morbid or depressing choice.
It is what I have learned from sorrow, that has taught me more. The quiet moments, the silence, the reflection, were the human spirit breaks open and raw emotion sits, the center. In those I see beauty, potential and love, just plain and simple.

To all my friends and family spread out across the country tonight, I love you, I miss you.


  1. Mel,

    As you know, my dad and grandpa were funeral directors. So I can relate on so many levels.

    I have three friends from high school (your husband included), who have chosen this career path. I have to admit I was initially surprised that they would choose this path, but really, I am so proud of them. It is a very mature decision and occupation to choose.

    Being a funeral director/mortician is a unique profession that always piques curiosity. I have always countered the questions with, “It takes a very special person to be a funeral director.” My dad rarely, hardly ever spoke of the graphic details. If I had a question, he would answer it, but it was never something he would willingly divulge. But come to think of it, hardly ever spoke of the emotional details either. It was a hard job. I know it weighed heavily on him, especially when working in a small community where you are sure to know those who you encounter. There are times when I could feel him hug me tighter. There are times when I could sense his emotions, where he needed an escape. And that escape was always his family (and his golf, of course!).

    To this day, I have nothing but extreme pride for the work my father did. To be sensitive yet focused, comforting yet professional - it is a balance. To this day, he is still approached by little old ladies whose husbands he has helped laid to rest. They hug him and thank him. He was a part of one of the most, if not the most, delicate parts of their lives, in helping to navigate through the loss of their most loved. I hope that is how he is remembered.

    Children of funeral directors are kindred spirits. I experienced the “humiliation” at a grade school / middle school level lof having a dad in this unique profession. Especially on the handful of occasions where I was dropped off at school in a hearse. The mortification! And there are times when family members are required to pitch in - answering phones, making deliveries, etc. Those things can only be appreciated and understood by those who have lived the life. My siblings and I survived. Your kids will too. :) But I love that your son can sum up his father’s work so simply and beautifully.

    I think of your family often and I thank you for sharing this. It was so beautifully written.

    Take care,


  2. So beautifully said and a really important message Mel. Thanks for sharing this and thanks to you and your family for all that you do. xo