Diversity in Death: Lessons Learned from A Giant, 2 Families, and a Hare Krishna

Diversity is a constant in life. It teaches us how to be flexible under stress, to appreciate ourselves and each other. Diversity tells us that it’s OK to be curious and ask questions, to live and let live. Diversity isn’t always drastic. Subtle diversity can yield the greatest experiences. But is there diversity in death?  Absolutely!

I have served almost every kind of family you can think of in my 9 short years as a mortician. Families of strong faith and atheists, wealthy families and poor ones, families that can populate a small city and individuals who are the last ones left, families who are cultured and those who prefer simplicity. But what have I learned in the time I have spent with them? That judging people based on differences and unfamiliarity can rob you of the opportunity to learn about and bring amazing people into your life.

Here are a few lessons I’ll never forget:

•        The 16-Year-Old Giant – From the minute we met, his father was on the defense. His 16-year-old-son had died of complications due to hereditary Gigantism and he was distraught. I tried my hardest to soften him up but couldn’t do it nor, could I do anything right.  Finally, he blew up and told me there was no way I could understand what losing a child was like. I said gently, “You’re right. Your grief is your own. But I do know what I felt like when I lost mine.” His face dropped- his expression was a mix of embarrassment, pain and confusion. He burst into tears. He hugged me with every bit of his heart. He apologized over & over, asking for forgiveness. I looked up and smiled, telling him no apology was needed. His son’s services were perfect and I made a new friend.  He taught me to help others by being vulnerable.

•        2 In 2 Days –  2 young men, 2 different families, both in their early 20s, died tragically. The first family planned for a big personalized service. The next day, the second family wanted a simple cremation only. Two families in similar situations and yet so far apart in their style of grieving. How was I going to balance this? I threw myself into each family, learning everything I could about them and their sons. I nurtured each one in their own ways and gave them what they needed. From them I learned not to assume that everyone wants the same thing.

Photo Source: womennewsnetwork.net

Photo Source: womennewsnetwork.net

 

•        The Hare Krishna – I know very little about Hare Krishnas.  But this family truly impacted me. Their grandmother was chanted into a trance in which she died in perfect peace. Smiling. It was beautiful to hear her story. They ceremoniously dressed her in the most gorgeous sari, jewelry & face paint. They sprinkled her with precious oils, herbs & flowers.  They chanted, sang and prayed all the way thru her dressing and cremation, always making sure to involve me. The peace, love & pure joy was so far from the usual death experience, it was like nothing I’ve seen before. They taught me to allow mystery to draw me in & not be afraid.

I have learned to be seen as the diversity. I’m a mortician, initially seen as mysterious, weird or scary. But after a few moments of visiting, most people walk away with a whole new understanding of who I am, what I do & how much of a difference I can make for the families who need me.

  • Have you ever had a “diversity in death” experience?

  • What was it like & what did you take away from it?

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.

14 Comments

  1. Christopher Iverson says:

    Carrie,

    Watching you shepherd families through their losses and services has been a great pleasure for me that has spanned many years working together. You are the ultimate “Care Bear” when it comes to helping families, and these are usually the family’s words, not mine. Serving our communities as a Licensed Funeral Director and Licensed Embalmer isn’t for everyone…but we are so blessed that is is for you. Thank you for all you do. You ARE amazing!

  2. Sharon Watkins says:

    Carrie
    Thank you for thoughts on diversity and the wonderful way you serve all the diverse cultures, backgrounds and religious (or non-religious) people each day here at the mortuary. You are loved and admired for the care and concern you give EVERYONE. It is a special gift you have.

    Your comments caused me to ponder the growth I have had since joining the O’Connor team and having the privilege of getting to know so many different types of people. I am grateful for the diversity we have in those who choose to use our many services – whether at time of need or pre-need.
    Everyone is important – everyone needs care and understanding not matter our culture, background, religion or family status. That is just part of being human.
    It is a joy for me to serve side by side with you and the rest of the O’Connor team.

  3. Anne says:

    Carrie
    What a beautiful, well written blog. I love that we are all different yet can be unified in the basic needs of humankind. This walk through the death process of someone very close is still so tender in me. All I know is that although I love everyone here at O’Connor, I was blessed to have you care for Lou and I not only through the funeral process, but through many parts of his illness. I know your heart, and I love it.
    Anne

  4. Jeff Turner says:

    Oh Careless Bayer,

    You make me so proud to be a colleague and be a part of your team here at O’Connor. The “Careless” nickname only because you are accident prone and have sacrificed your body on occasion in pursuit of providing excellence. “Carrie” is the perfect name for you. Your parents chose wisely for you are “all in” with your families and your team.

    I love what you have written here and how this profession does lend itself to breaking down the barriers that we often create. The false narratives that tell us to build walls between us and others that don’t look, act or believe what we do. I think of all of the opportunities I have missed over the years to make a new friend because of fear and prejudices in my life. The beauty of realizing I have been a fool is the discovery that I do not have to remain one. I can change.

    I look forward to spending the rest of my career in your presence and hope you will make the final arrangements for me when I go.

    Blessings,

    Jeff

  5. Carrie, I think this post touches on topics we haven’t yet even begun to explore. Identifying the different & unique needs of our families is vital to the quality of our service, but knowing how to personally and emotionally hear and respond to their grief can be vital to helping them break into the grief process. I’m so interested in how deeply you’ve taken these lessons and how much you seem to know who you are in the midst of a family that may be very different from yours. You are grounded in you but that doesn’t preclude you from flowing easily and effortlessly into the cultural and beautifully diverse lives of the families you serve.

    Well done & so profound!

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