Wednesday, December 4, 2013

In The Face of Tragedy

Often I am asked, "How do you do it? How do you keep your composure in the face of tragedy?"
The truth is that it is very difficult at times. While no death is easy, an older person that has lived a long life and has died naturally is a much different story than someone who's life has been cut short too early.
I offer you this very real story of one of those tragedies. A story of a young father who's left his children much too early.
Caleb Wilde is a funeral director/ blogger and recently posted this to his blog "Confessions of a Funeral Director".

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I picked up the phone with my rehearsed, “Hello.  This is the Wilde Funeral Home.  Caleb speaking.”  The voice on the other end says abruptly, “I have a problem … my son-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident yesterday.”
Now that I know the nature of her call, the next five or six sentences are as rehearsed as the first.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you” she says.
I pause … waiting to see if the silence elicits any farther response; and, at the same time I’m contemplating if I should deviate from the script and ask her about details of the death.
Keeping with the script, I continue on, inquiring about the hospital he’s at, the name of her daughter, her daughter’s phone number and then the hardest question of them all:
“Do you know if you want embalming or cremation?” I say with hesitation.
And what proceeded was her only scripted response.
“It depends on the condition of his body.  The coroner told us he slammed into a tree without his helmet on, but they wouldn’t tell us anymore.  If he’s bad … cremation.  If he’s okay … embalming.”
We went over the plan of action, which consists of me calling the hospital to see if her son-in-law’s released, calling the coroner to inquire about the condition of the body and then calling her back to let her know a time she could come in to the funeral home and make arrangements.
I called the coroner’s office.
Got the release from the hospital.
And an hour later I was standing in the morgue unzipping the body bag to see if the body of this 40 year old man was viewable.  It was the back of the head that hit the tree … something we could fix for his wife and four young children (ages 5 to 13), so they could see their husband and daddy one last time.
15 hours of restoration.  He still didn’t look right.  Dead people never look right.  We’re so used to seeing them alive that dead is never accurate … but this was different.  This was a motorcycle accident that threw a man into a tree.
We gave the wife the choice to continue on with the public viewing or close the lid and she chose to keep it open, sharing the reality and source of her pain in all its distortion … sharing it even with her four young children and all their schoolmates that came out in support, many of whom saw unperfected death for the very first time.
The scheduled end of the viewing came and went but people kept coming to view.
Finally the last person filed past the casket and the family knew the time to say their last good-bye had approached.
The viewing was held in a church, with the casket positioned at the front of a totally full sanctuary.  As a way to provide privacy to the family, we turned the open casket around so that the lid blocked the view from the pews … creating a private space where tears could be shed in all their honest shock.
And the sanctuary echoed with the cries of four weeping children and their mother … making time stand silent.
The grandfather came up to the casket, wrapped his arms around the children and said, “This is hard for you to understand.”  The tear soaked porcelain skin cheeks.  The last look of their father’s physical body save the memories their young minds have stored.
In those moments as the sanctuary resounded with the cries produced by an inexplicable death, there wasn’t a person in the room who understood.
Yet all tried to understand.  All grasped for an explanation.
In these moments — as we watched these young children — we all became like them.  With all the well intended cliches emptied of meaning, we allowed our minds to reconcile with what our hearts were telling us: we simply can’t understand something that doesn’t make sense.
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We can't explain every death. 
But what I can offer you is that every life has a purpose.
We may not know right away why someone had to die,
But I trust that there is a master plan and we must go on.
Go on with a purpose and an appreciation for the lives that have touched our own.
Each day, we interact with others.
Each day we have the opportunity to help someone in need.
You just never know, who in the crowd,
standing beside you in line
or passing you in the street,
might be raised in spirit, 
or even lifted from despair,
by the kindness in your glance 
or the comfort of your smile.

But they may never forget.

And that, is how we do it.

5 comments:

jaz@octoberfarm said...

great post! i know all of this only too well.

MorningAJ said...

That's very moving. I think we've lost a lot because we tend not to talk about death any more. People discuss their sex lives quite openly, but just try asking someone whether they want to be cremated or buried, and what music they want at their funeral, and you get looked at as if you farted in front of the pope. We should be more open about it, and the effects it has on the bereaved.
Thank you for being one who does open lines of discussion.

Stew Adams said...

That is a difficult question that no one wants to answer. It gives a life a finality. Which is something no one wants to consider.
In our business, we serve those that are left behind to cope. We need to show strength to be leaned on and compassion with understanding.

We really are here to help.

betty said...

Truly agree with what Caleb Wilde said; some deaths just don't make sense, but glad that there are you and others out there that walk with the family through the terrible tragedy of it all and do it with kindess and compassion. And I agree with your words that every life has a purpose, no matter how brief that life might be. And we may never see what that purpose was this side of eternity.

betty

John Gray said...

Betty said it all