When my grandmother died she looked grotesque. She suffered a sudden heart attack and was given CPR for quite a while before they stopped. When I walked in, a huge tube was in her mouth with flecks of blood, cords connected to her arms, her eyes were slightly open and she just looked the most un-grandma I could ever imagine. It felt traumatic, it was hard to look at and yet I needed to keep looking. I needed to know something about what her last moments had been like and I needed to just sit and be there with her for a while.
The whole time I kept thinking to myself, “this is not the last way you’ll see her, it can’t be. We’ll have a viewing – the girls will take care of her.
Grandma, I promise, you’ll look beautiful the next time I see you.”
I thought about the young women, friends of mine, who work in the Care Center here at O’Connor – I’ve seen the transformations they bring about and heard families gush over the beautiful peace they see and feel when viewing their loved one. I began to think about how Grandma would look after they bathed her, massaged her tensed muscles, curled her hair just the way she liked it and put on the “Fuschia Shock” shade of lipstick that she loved so much.
“She will look so much better,” I thought, “Oh, I can’t wait for that, I need that. She needs that.”
I felt so much peace knowing that she wouldn’t be left or buried looking the way that she did.
I’m 6 years now into the funeral profession and can I tell you that it was very strange to be on the other side of these events. We were the family coming in for the visitation, not those “other” people, the ones that death happens to. Death hits each of us with a low, solid punch and I was so relieved to not be immune. People assume you’re “comfortable” with death when you work at a mortuary, and the truth is, you get used to hearing the stories, well, some of the stories, but death is never “comfortable” no matter how much exposure you have.
Making our way to the visitation I felt anxious and excited – a strange blend of what I knew I needed and what was going to be hard to face. I walked in to the the lobby at O’Connor and saw my coworkers – they’re pained faces smiling and simultaneously acknowledging the pain of my visit. It was strange to be here but not working, wearing my blue jeans and sandals. I was hugged and told to “go see her” and knew they would be waiting outside while I walked through the doors to see grandma.
This is what I saw:
So beautiful! Her favorite colors had always been mauves and lavenders and the room just seemed to burst with these gorgeous colors.
My mom was so overwhelmed she said, “I just want to take a picture and show it to her, she would love this so much!” – folks, it doesn’t get better than that. It was incredible. When you can create a service so perfectly fitting that you wish they were there to see it, you can be confident that you have perfectly honored their life.
The next few hours were spent adding things in the casket, photos, a broach on her sweater, and this darling pin I found in her house.
She had always loved Koala bears and I always thought of her when I saw them. When I placed the tiny pin in the corner of her casket I could hear her laugh. I felt like we were laughing together at this silly but precious detail – she would have loved it, laughed and cried (she was always doing that) and squeezed my hand saying, “Oh, honey, it’s just beautiful.”