These evenings are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.
The evening started cheerfully enough as families filtered in and re-connected with different staff members that helped them. There are always hugs but then the context of our relationship tends to hit and the mood grows somber. For many, this is a night looked for and cherished for the healing it has brought. There is anxiety for some who don’t know what they will experience or maybe don’t want to experience anything. For others, it’s a struggle just to walk through the doors.
As families take their seats the silence in the room becomes profound. By the time 7 o’clock comes the hearts brimming with emotion and memory are ready to be poured out.
But this year our service opened differently.
2013 has been a particularly prominent year of loss for the staff at O’Connor. People sometimes think that funeral directors & mortuary employees have hearts that are hardened to grief, that somehow our exposure could make us immune. If working at a mortuary meant you didn’t feel grief we would receive thousands of applications a day.
Chuck said it well when he wrote, “Doing what we do, I swear some people think we are immune to the pain and angst that a loved one’s death can bring. We are not and I know it is the hardest thing we can go through in this life.” If you remember his blog from a month ago, you’ll recall that he does know what he’s talking about.
But, you see, it’s actually the exact opposite. Most of us at O’Connor have experienced a personal, family death first-hand. We aren’t inexperienced or hardened against grief. We have had death forced on us just like the families we serve. We feel called to this job not because of what we can’t feel, but because of what we have felt.
In 2013, 9 of our employees experienced a close, family death. That means roughly 1/4 of our staff is actively grieving a significant loss.
As candles were lit and pictures played I was struck by two things:
1. Everyone gathered in that room was connected, one to the other, by grief. We had 70 different families who chose to be there, to remember, to honor their loved one before others. For some families this was the only service held for their loved one, or the only one they were able to attend. It’s an evening with many purposes as unique as the individual but all centered on their grief.
That connection was palpable. I observed a compassionate person offer Kleenex across the aisle to a teary stranger. I watched as whole families, a spouse, or a group of friends stood as they heard the name they were there for read aloud.
2. The second thing I found particularly profound was that because of this grief-connection, there was a sense of community rather than the aloneness that usually accompanies grief. While grief can be isolating in it’s specificity & uniqueness, it is difficult to stand in a room surrounded by weepy families and think that you are alone in your pain. I think many found it encouraging to be reminded that others have lost, others are facing a first Christmas without that special someone, others will be crying through the holidays, like you.
Our speaker, a Hospice Chaplain commented on the need to have grace for yourself. Grief is messy, there’s no clear road. Take out the “I should be’s” and just be where you are.
If you’d like more information for yourself or others you know that are having a particularly hard Christmas & Holiday season, click here to see the different grief-specific brochures available. “When You Grieve During the Holidays” is particularly poignant.