Open Seven Days a Week … and Weekends
Do you remember the Beatles tune … Eight Days a Week?
Well there were times, back in the sixties, when I felt the title of that song was a commentary on my role in the funeral business. Death takes no ?days off? nor does it mind a clock or pay attention to statutory holidays. Many a Christmas day was spent in the morgue, having juggled church, gift opening and turkey dinner in ways all too familiar to funeral directors around the world.
Ours is truly a unique profession. Doctors turn their patients over to us … along with the grieving loved ones carrying their black baggage … those who barely understand the impact of what has happened. They come to us with very few tools to help them cope with their feelings. I understand many of today?s health care professionals, nurses in particular, receive training in ?Grief Counselling? and many doctors work the geriatric ward as part of internship, but that was not always so. For many of them, discussing ?end-of-life issues and death? meant that they had failed. The subject was avoided at all costs and they often deferred to ?The Minister?. Those were the days.
Sadly, within the reality of today?s world, most families come to us without support of clergy or a faith home. Some hospitals have staff chaplains who are available to talk on the ward or in their offices, but even they tell me that today?s mourning family has little understanding of what comes next. Even those overworked clergy hasten to shuffle them off to a ?Good Undertaker? who will make the journey easier.
Alas, the broken ones come to us in their midnight hour, searching for answers to questions about their new reality. Their lifeline is the cell phone and they have no idea of how to take the next step. We answer their call in any manner of ways, but regardless of how we do it, the essence of caring is there. We may be about to blow out the birthday candles or to leave for a weekend getaway, but when that phone rings we are the voice that assures them that everything will be OK. In those first minutes they bond with us, total strangers, more intimately than they may ever do with their closest friends. Ours is a position not many professionals share. Ours is a position of sacred trust.
In retirement, on Sundays I still mind the phones for our ?family owned? operation here in Metro Vancouver. Staying connected makes me feel involved, but I remain fully aware of those days when there was no one I trusted to take calls. ?Eight Days a Week? was my mantra. Back in those days it was unheard of to schedule arrangements around personal plans.
Thankfully, the face of today?s funeral home is radically different than it was then. Families have their own ?busy-ness? to tend to and they wedge funeral arrangements into convenient slots. As a result, they understand more readily the reasons why they can?t come knocking at 10:00 pm. From the staff aspect, the funeral professional of today finds it much easier to schedule days-off and holidays, but the reality is constantly there … when death comes calling, we have no choice but to answer because we are open … seven days a week … AND WEEKENDS!
In the long run, I don?t lament that statement, I celebrate it. When my phone rings at 3:00 am this Sunday, and I have the chance to assure one of the broken ones that ?everything will be OK?, I will just be doing the job that makes me a ?Good Undertaker? … the name granted me by the doctors and ministers of yesteryear. A name I shy from, yet a name I embrace.