I miss the funeral home. I do. I often dream about it and I wake up with tears running hot down the sides of my face because for that one second between sleep and wake, I am groggy and think that I will be going there again soon, that it is just the middle of the night and work will be in the morning, in just a few hours. I dream about being in the prep room, about methodically slipping on my protective gear, about choosing chemicals, about clean incisions, about what it feels like to be doing something with my life that feels worthwhile.
I miss the street address (1313), I miss fighting for parking in our own damn lot because of the gymnastics kiddie camps and the pest control building that overflowed into our space. I always had to park in the spot that wasn’t really a spot, putting me in the danger zone for the hearse. I miss the damn hearse. I miss making my coffee before I started the day, still bleary eyed and incoherent. I miss hearing Tom’s muffled “Hey, sug!” through the bathroom door, because between the hour of 9-10, Tom could be found in what we called his “other office”. I miss sorting through the paperwork on my desk, I miss the whiteboard that we watched with religious vigilance that had the agenda and details of each service for the week. I miss the Vietnam Veteran that did grunt work for the place, who always hung around with a cigarette on his lip, gossiping like a preteen and calling me “booger”. He was a terrible racist and misogynist and was instrumental in getting me fired the first time, but I miss him anyway. He liked kit-kats, most candy, really, and he made me feel better when he told me that my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, who worked next door, was not nearly as pretty as I was.
I miss them – the families, and yes, the deceased. I miss hearing their stories and looking at their pictures and learning about who John Doe once was, because I earnestly wanted to know. I miss the quiet science of embalming. I miss the difficult cases – and especially the scandalous ones. I miss my respirator mask that made me look like a Stormtrooper. I miss finding true religion in the artistry of human anatomy. I miss the puppetry and illusion of a funeral. I miss hands grasped tightly in mine as I led them into the chapel towards an open casket – how the barrier between strangers became nonexistent when the vulnerability of death was introduced. And selfishly, I miss the phone calls and the letters – “I could have never survived this without Ashley, and I want to thank her for what she did for my family.” “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been there for us.” I wish I had snatched those down from the bulletin board we displayed them on before we left. I regret that a lot.
I miss it even though they poached another manager from another funeral home to replace Tom and replaced me with the owner’s wildly incompetent, garish wife. I miss it even though the owner and previous manager were liars, thieves, and con artists that made a mockery out of this industry that I love so much. I even miss the new building, the ugly one that no one liked, the one that was so poorly designed that we had to wheel bodies through the breakroom to get them to the back and had no refrigeration and inadequate plumbing. I miss running out in the parking lot to yell at the plumber who refused to service us because of the bodies and called someone’s deceased husband “it”. I miss it all on a Taylor Swift diss track level.
I know logically that for the time being, I am standing still for a reason. I’ve got to take my National Board Exams and I am preparing for that – and then I will find my next funeral home and continue my apprenticeships. Sooner than later, I know – but right now, from where I’m standing, sooner might as well be later because it all feels like forever to me. I just can’t stop looking back, you know? This was all supposed to be so different, I was so fortunate to have my apprenticeship going already while I was in school – in February of this year, my first apprenticeship would have been finished and I would be a licensed Funeral Director already. I think about that so much, but thinking about it doesn’t change it, as much as I wish it did.
I guess that’s the rub. Thinking about it doesn’t do anything for me at all, except hurt me and deter me. I’ve got to emotionally detach and unload. There is this massive part of me that is in mourning for this place and what it signified for me and I must, no pun intended, lay it to rest, or I’m not going to be able to move on. I’ve got to stop wishing so badly that I could go back, but I’m struggling so much, prolonging the grief, if you will – and I’m not allowing myself to accept that the door is closed – hell, the door is more the closed, it has been sealed shut and bricked over.
I accept that an important part of my life was spent there. Working at the funeral home was the closest thing to purposeful that I have ever felt. It was like discovering that I had wings and the ability to fly. But I also need to accept that I had those very same wings wrenched from my back TWICE and was left grounded and bloodied, and that just because I don’t like thinking about that part as much doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It did. And dreams are just that – dreams. Not something to cry over, or wallow in – just ghosts and shadows lingering in the twists and turns of your mind. And that’s what I have to learn to let this space that holds such dominion over me become – just ghosts and shadows. Memories. Recalled when I choose, and not a punishment I allow myself to be sentenced to repeatedly. This is a don’t touch the eye of the stove moment – if it hurts, for God’s sake, stop.
Rest in peace, they say. I guess it’s time for me to wish for the same – for the past, and for the sake of my present.