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.
So, I was fired from the funeral home.
One day shy of the one year anniversary of the first time I was fired.
Ahhhh, life. You never, ever, ever fail to keep me on my toes.
I missed class yesterday morning, which never happens. I set my alarm for the wrong time, I mixed up my days, totally goofed – but this meant that I could go into work early, and I was really excited to go into work. I miss work, I hate that school takes me away from work and that I don’t get to be as present as I want to be, as involved as I long to be. I didn’t text Tom and tell him that I was sneaking in a few hours early because I wanted to surprise him. Yesterday was the first day that felt like fall to me, the leaves are starting to change, the air was nice and cool, the sun was bright. I felt fine, I remember thinking that – I feel fine today. I walked into the funeral home with a vial of shaved citrine in my hand (said to bring success in ones career) and an Elvis magnet, stoked to add them to the rest of the oddities collected on my desk.
I made it as far as the doorway. I didn’t even get to put my bag down.
Well, it is unofficially and undeniably already here – my very own case of summertime sadness (thanks, Lana, for giving such a clever name to that listless and unfulfilled feeling that haunts me from late May until early September).
I’ve got a lot going on these days. I’m working full-time as apprentice funeral director/embalmer, I’m going to school full-time (which involves traveling an hour and a half away twice a week to Piedmont Tech for biology classes after work – meaning I don’t get home until nearly 11 PM at night) – this plus the rest of the coursework for other classes and trying to maintain sanity as I learn an entirely new career that isn’t quite so simple (I mean, embalming a human body is a little more complicated than working as a cashier at Target, and I can say that with confidence, as I have done both) – my point being, I don’t feel good. I’m stressed, and stress is hard for me, because I take it to a bad place. I take it to a place of blame and self doubt and it is truly the sickest and cruelest thing I could ever do to myself. I feel sad a lot lately. I feel overwhelmed and stretched thin and all of the things that I love seem to go abandoned – like blogging, reading, crafting, etc. I know – at least I hope and pray – that all of this will be worth it in the end, when I have that degree and my apprenticeship is complete, but it is hard to give away your time when you feel like you have none to give, I guess. Especially now, during my personal hardest time of the year.
I’ve always been prone to summertime sadness – while everyone else is orgasming at the first mention of summer rolling in, I withdraw, isolate myself, go away inside – I’m mean, snappy, frustrated easily, angry – I don’t know why this is. I just know that I have never felt joy in this time. It has always felt like something to be suffered (probably because I have the good common sense to be revolted by 95 degree heat). And mentally, as far as my levels and mania and ups & downs go – this is where I always find myself at my worst and most desperate. So to have an already heaping amount of external stress dumped on top of a place where I’m already trying to hold a hand over an open wound in myself feels like a mountain I’m too tired to climb again this year. Already, my teeth are gritted, shoulders hunched, “can’t can’t can’t can’t” a steady mantra on repeat in my mind.
I thought that taking a mini vacation to Disney World before this semester began would be a really good thing for me, and in some ways it was (pics to come later) – I flew again for the first time in years and got over that major fear (HALLELUJAH), and that felt AMAZING – plus I had a great time with my best friends at one of my favorite places in the universe, so you really can’t complain about that. Sadly, some “triflin’ shit” got in the way of pure & total rest & bliss, and it put quite a bit of a damper on my relaxation, but that was also a learning opportunity, too, which I’m grateful for – I’m quite used to trying to constantly be everything for everyone, and I worry to the moon and back about everyone’s happiness but my own. Fortunately, the aforementioned “triflin’ shit” helped me to put my foot down and realize that sometimes I deserve to be happy, too. And I think that was a big step for me – and having that notion cinched in my mind is something I’m going to carry with me into the summertime sadness – I DESERVE TO BE HAPPY, TOO. There. I said it. It’s on the internet, so it must be true.
I think something important for me, at least during my bouts of summertime sadness, is to be mindful of my triggers, so I can at least step around the landmines as best I can vs losing my damn leg to one. But how to get past the depression? That, I have no clue. This is how I always end up around the beginning of September plotting my suicide and being irrational and out of control to the point that none of us – my family, my friends, myself – know how to handle me- I get so down that I can’t see up, only straight ahead.
I guess I just wanted to chat with myself on my blog and rationalize what I’m feeling. The first step to getting over or past any hurdle is to accept it, and I accept it – I’ve got the damn summertime sadness. It’s a real thing, it’s valid, and I’ve got to somehow gird my loins and try to make it through. And mostly I think I just needed a good whine, and writing always makes me feel better. I get so damn hung up about writing and trying to make it perfect, but none of it will ever be perfect – and I guess I’d rather post lots and lots of sullen or meaningless crap than look back and wish I had taken the time and wonder what I was thinking way back when.
Feel free to leave your favorite summer suggestions in the comments – just remember, I hate the outdoors, all people, places that aren’t air conditioned, and basically everything. Just kidding – I’d love to know your tips and tricks for summer fun – or, even more importantly, what helps you get through your own version of “summertime sadness”.
Till next time xx
Below is the first submission I made to my first class when I returned to school in February of 2014 to become a funeral director. We were asked to introduce ourselves, and I remember how exciting that felt – I was saying it out loud (well, typing it, really) for the first time: I’m here to become a funeral director. I’M GOING TO BE A FUNERAL DIRECTOR!
Now that I AM a funeral director & am back in school once again, this time pursuing my associate’s degree in mortuary science, I had to laugh at how Miss America I was about it all in the beginning – because this time around, I’m pretty I’VE F’ING HAD IT, bloodshot eyes & constant thoughts of murder about it all.
Long story short – I guess it is kind of adorable to look back and see how sweet and excited I was about it all in the beginning. This first semester back has been so damn difficult and draining, I won’t lie – I’ve had a few moments where I’ve been up to my eyeballs in never-ending work & have thought “weeeeeeellll do I REAAAAALLLY need to embalm, too?” (the answer is yes) – so I kinda needed to get back to that vibe – because at the rate I’m losing sanity this time around, I’m thisclose to abandoning my career and going to sell pretzels at Disney World for the rest of my life. Anyway, read on!
“For the past eight years, I have been working as a Cosmetologist, with a focus primarily on makeup application and hair cutting. My time at Piedmont Technical College will be spent earning my Certificate in Funeral Services. For some, the jump from Cosmetologist to Funeral Director seems like a huge leap, but many of the same qualities necessary for a successful Cosmetologist can be translated into a future career in Funeral Services. While the idea of re-entering education as an adult did seem intimidating at first, I am looking forward to the challenge. I am excited to experience the next chapter in my life as a student.
Aside from my professional aspirations, I am a native of Greenville, South Carolina. I love to travel and see as much of the world as I can. I am always up for a spontaneous road trip spent in the company of good friends. I also like to go to as many concerts as I can, because music is very important to me, and is a huge part of how my friends and I bond. When I am at home, I enjoy spending my downtime time reading a good book, knitting, catching up on TV shows, or spending time with my family.”
Cute, right? I know, I know.
Back to the books.
Whenever I try to write these days, I feel a sense of panic that I can’t really put words to. Writing used to be my most natural and craved form of expression – every word, every exchange, every thought had to be documented once, twice, three times over. I was religious in my documentation, the telltale hump on the middle finger on my right hand always red and swollen. My diaries were my friends, my confidents, the only people who knew the truth about who I was, what I had done, and how I hurt. Like a fool, I took for granted the person I was and the life that I was naturally living, and instead used to cry to the fates and beg the universe for a life worth writing about. And then when one fell into my lap, when things were hot and fast and out of control, when I had EVERYTHING to suddenly write about – the pages slammed shut and I put away the pen.
I rationalized this because a lot of things that I needed to say were hard. And some things are just too hard to write about. So … I stopped, pretty much completely.
Can you blame me, honestly? It’s like, you try as hard as you can and work with a furious fervor to squirrel away the things that hurt into a place where they aren’t constantly falling back into your immediate line of vision – and writing is just purposely recalling blinding, white hot pain for the sake of …?
What was the point of recalling what I barely made it through the first time? Then again, didn’t I always want this? Countless pages in countless diaries, wishing one life away to make room for another? Oh, how I wanted to be a real, bonafide adult, like the ones on TV – to have all the mythical secrets of adulthood unlocked and for the taking. Wasn’t that the story that I kept waiting to write?
It is this narcissistic and frustrating combination of finite disinterest and fleeting whimsy that seems to be where I spend most of my time these days. All of the time that I wished away is exactly where I wish I could run like hell to now. Most days, I feel like a battery in a car that won’t turn over – you try as you might, but the damn thing just won’t do it. Everything in my life, not just writing, falls into two categories – hard, or not. If it is hard, if it even SEEMS hard, I don’t even bother looking at it. Writing is hard, so I don’t do that anymore. Facing my fears is hard, so I’ll just turn away and not look. It isn’t that I don’t want to move forward, or that I don’t want to be present or progressive – I just can’t find the strength. But here I am. Ashley the adult!
Every day, I’m toeing the line between desperate to make a point and exhausted by the idea of even trying. Working around the deceased has made me siamese, one single body split, fighting two alternative visions. There are only so many times that you can artfully arrange the shell of what used to be a human being into a fancy casket before you make yourself look down and wonder what the hell we are all really doing here in this life. When death becomes real to you, really, really real, everything matters SO much. The fear of wasting a second of your life is all-consuming. I panic so often about not doing it (life) right – the same old fear of not living “a life worth writing about” – yet similarly, I can’t help but feel that nothing truly matters in the grand scheme of things, because we all leave the same way – alone, and with nothing. Both viewpoints are right in their own ways, but there has to be some sort of middle ground that doesn’t leave me hollow inside and terrified of facing reality.
I have to laugh now when I think about the desperation of wanting to carve out “a life worth writing about” – it’s sort of like walking willingly into quicksand. Before you know what you’ve done, you’ve gotten so far off track – one leg stuck in the muck, no escape foreseeable. I have spent SO much of my time in this life wishing for something better, something bigger, SOMETHING WORTH WRITING ABOUT – but I have very rarely been willing to actually work towards the promise of a better tomorrow. If wishing hard enough created reality, I would be the richest woman in all the world. But instead I am poor, because I have robbed myself blind. I’ve stolen my own ambition, I’ve bartered away my strength and confidence, and I’ve crippled and hobbled the purest and best part of me – my imagination – and replaced it all with cynicism and fear.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop wishing everything away, to stop questioning everything so damn much and just take each day one at a time. Because we do all die, and you don’t get a second chance, and you should never waste your time worrying or being afraid. Instead of letting that reality be my touchstone, I have spent nearly 30 years wringing my hands and wondering if I’m doing it all wrong. An entire life that has always been a game that I am playing against myself and am still somehow losing. If I could go back in time, i would shake my old self by the shoulders and tell her that life was and will always be worth writing about, even on the hardest day, and to never, ever lose that good and pure part of yourself. It doesn’t have to be extraordinary to be documented. Face your fears, every single one of them. Don’t NOT try because something might not come from it.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my time here – none of us ever really get it all right – but the biggest one that I ever made was putting down my pen and shutting myself up because I got scared. It may take everything that I’ve got, and it may truly be for nothing in the end – but a life worth living, much less writing about, would not mean a damn thing without this, my purest expression, my most honest release. And I know that I can do this, because just like I know without a doubt that I would go back in time to tell my younger self to never stop writing, my younger self would visit me in the future and be shocked that I ever had.
l-r: 1. My classmates, professors, and I after the ceremony. 2. My certificate. 3. My FUNERAL DIRECTOR PIN!
On Tuesday of this week, I went to the pinning ceremony at my school for the 2015 graduates of the funeral services program. As most of you know, I have never attended a graduation in my life (okay, well, kindergarten, but does that really count?) and I had little interest in breaking my own poor attendance streak by attending this ceremony. I didn’t really know what to expect from it, and didn’t really care – after all, I have recently been “burned” by the funeral industry, and it felt silly to be lauded for something that I am not currently an active part of. But my family and my friends convinced me to go, and like most everything you end up going to that you originally didn’t want to, it was completely worth it. In actuality, it turned out to be a really touching and life changing moment for me.
In October of this year, I was fired from the funeral home that I had been working at since December of 2014 – and naturally, this did not thrill me (to put it lightly). I felt angry, betrayed, used, taken advantage of, hurt – and above all things, horrifically and terribly afraid. I wasn’t afraid of not having money – I knew I could easily find a job doing hair or, if worse came to worse, I could sign up for unemployment to get me through until whatever came next. What I was surprised to find, as the shock of everything started to wear off and I was able to take a good, clean look at my thoughts, was that the only thing that I was afraid of was never feeling as complete and as whole and as exactly where I was supposed to be in life, if this was it for me, as far as the funeral business went. I was afraid to lose what all this has meant to me, and the gift that it has given to me.
Despite how much it all has meant to me and how furiously I have fought for all of this, the whole thing has been a very sore spot in my heart for the last few months. Thinking about it, missing it, resenting the things I was forced to do and endure during my time at that mortuary, being pissed as all holy hell for what had to happen – those kinds of things took a mental toll on me, and I started to find myself asking “Well, do I even still really want to do this?” After all, I’m a blank slate right now, a page waiting to be turned – I could keep foraging on with this funeral stuff, or I could pick up and be someone else entirely. I hated to think that way, and I hated the idea that two terrible people and one bad experience could rob me of something that means the world to me, but I also had to be honest and confront what I was feeling.
Thus, the conflict with the ceremony. Like I said, it felt silly to go to this thing and have people say nice stuff about me – me, who was fired, me, who couldn’t cut it, me, who lost everything – but I went (mostly so that my mother could finally watch me walk for SOMETHING), expecting nothing, and leaving with everything.
Since losing my job, I have thought a lot about the whole experience, and what I kept coming back to was a feeling of not being enough. This wasn’t meant to bash myself in any way, it wasn’t an exercise in self abuse by any means – it was just an honest assessment of my worth in the funeral industry. And when it comes down to it …. I’m not worth so much. I can meet with families, I can plan and lead a funeral, I can do cosmetics and hair for the deceased – but that’s it. I can’t embalm. I can’t cremate. I can’t answer certain questions that were asked of me by families, because I didn’t have the education, experience, or know how to answer them. So, simply, the fact that there is an entire sect of this business that I am not trained in didn’t sit well with me. I am the kind of person who has an overwhelming want and need to know everything, to never be unprepared, and to be totally self reliant, and a tough look back at my time spent at the funeral home told me that if I was going to hang in, I was going to have to step it the f up.
In my quest to find “what comes next”, one of the things that I have given some thought to has been going back to school to complete the science portion of the program, IE learning to embalm. If I’m sticking around, I never again want to have to say “I don’t know” or to be the one in the room who is worth the least due to inability – but frankly, I just was not sure if I could stomach it. In fact, I was pretty sure that I couldn’t.
The reality is this: dead people can be gross. I mean, look how disgusting the living can be. Dead people are not exempt from the gross factor of humanity. And the things that you have to do to make them presentable, well …. let’s just say, it isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t that I didn’t want to embalm – I want to do anything and everything that I can to strengthen my overall skill set and keep my star in this industry burning bright – I just doubted myself. I mean, I can’t even eat chicken off of a bone, let alone carve into a dead person like a Thanksgiving turkey! So I just never let myself seriously consider it as an actual option, because I was so sure that I could never do it.
Well, it turns out, yep, I think I can. In fact, I think I most certainly can. Because as I sat there with my classmates on Tuesday at that ceremony that I didn’t even want to go to in the first place and listened to the guest speaker address us and congratulate us for the life that we have chosen despite the personal and emotional hardships we constantly endure for the sake of serving those who need us – I remembered exactly how I got here and why. And I heard it as clear as day in my mind. “You’re going to do the science program. You know you have to do this.”
It was just like that. I literally thought “Aww, shit.” to myself, because it was that clear to me. There is no choice – this is what comes next. So after the ceremony, I took my little fanny over the funeral services building, toured the facilities, met with a counselor, and here we are. Gearing up for round 2.
As I told my friend Jessica, when I was filling her in on the news – this need (because it is a full fledged need, not just a want) to help these people, this insatiable drive to do ANYTHING that I can to make what they are suffering any less painful, is absolutely shocking to me. I don’t even like to talk to strangers in the checkout line at the grocery store, but by God, if their mama just died, I will hold them to my bosom and comfort them from a place I didn’t even know I was capable of. I’ve never considered myself a nurturer, never considered myself maternal, never even considered myself particularly empathetic – so I don’t get it. But I guess it isn’t really for me to get. For some reason, this is what I am supposed to do. I mean, I’m going to have to take chemistry again, for God’s sake, so if I’m willing to do that, this crap must be for real.
In a lot of ways, and as much as I hate saying it – I think my old mortuary did my a favor by firing me. Because it literally fired me UP. Now don’t get me wrong -I still hate them with every ounce of hate in my body and still think they are insufferable megalomaniacs who deserve all they have coming to them – but everything happens in its own time and for its own reason. I almost feel like I needed the nearly full year of working in a funeral home as solely a director to get me to the point where I could become an embalmer, too. Some people can do both right out of the gate, and that’s amazing for them – but I needed to come into this on my own terms, in my own way, and at my own time. I guess it seems like if you are meant to do something, it will find you, no matter how long it takes. Mine found me at a pinning ceremony, on a day when I thought I was finished with every last bit of school forever, but, you know, whatever. It was my time. Part of me wants to say that I would have never imagined as a kid that I would grow up and build my life around death – but another part of me can so clearly look back with fondness at my weird little behind and just say “girl, you were always bound to catch this train.” So here I go. Time to catch my train.
So that’s the tale of my magical pinning ceremony. On top of coming to a major and life altering realization, I also just got to hang out with my friends, family, and peers, and come together over this really big thing that we all did, and that felt really dang amazing. And quite frankly, if I had missed the chance to exit a graduation ceremony while “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen played and we all laughed at the gorgeous irony of it all, I’d kick my own ass.
So, I guess I better dust off that ole Lisa Frank trapper keeper, because them school bells are about to ring a ding ding …. AGAIN. 2016, bring it. As far as I’m concerned, the only things that I can’t do are the ones that I never try.
(And as far as next year’s pinning ceremony is concerned …. well, count me in for that one, too.)