Thoughts on death growing up in funeral home
This fall as the colors fade to brown, my family is undergoing another change - the family home of 80 years is for sale. This ending is a hard goodbye to a place that held so much of life for us. And it makes me laugh to think of all of the life in that house, because this particular home is also a funeral home. Yep, my grandparents operated a funeral home - the place that many people go to have a memorial for their loved one. So growing up, there were lots of funerals, caskets, open caskets with bodies in them, and mourners. And me and my cousins. While there was a service happening, we were always respectful, quiet, not seen or heard. But at all other times, my cousins and I would be running playfully through the halls, giggling and laughing. We played tag around the grave markers in the sales lot. We played hide and seek among the caskets. Death was very much a part of our lives. And I’ve noticed that this society of ours, sometimes tries to hide death, to let the ending go unnoticed. When you grow up in a funeral home, you’ve got to notice the ending.
Yes, there is an ending that comes with death, but there is also a beginning. The body ends and the soul begins a new adventure. It was so obvious at the funeral home: that a body was just a body. And there is so much more to life than a body! The laughter, the giggling, the playing, the love, the spirit. In the novel A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle creates a species of animal that doesn’t have eyes and can not see. This creature says, “We look not at the things which are what you would call seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal. But the things which are not seen are eternal.” Yes, these bodies are seen and temporal. Yet all those things that we can not see –the spirit, the love, the light, the life—is eternal. This we can not see, but we can know.
When the body stops working in this incarnation, it is the ultimate of endings. Yet, our lives are filled with all different kinds of endings: the sale of a home, the death of a relationship, the death of a job, or the ending of era. We experience these endings throughout our lives. Every day ends and begins again, each season ends and a new one begins. And just like when a soul leaves a body, and there are different opportunities for the soul, with every ending in our lives a rebirth is possible. Rebirth is possible throughout our lives in bodies. With every ending, there is the opportunity for a beginning.
Sometimes, though, we cling to whatever we still want to be a part of our lives. Sometimes we simply refuse to acknowledge that a “death” has happened. And when we so specifically say no to the ending, it is a lot more challenging to say yes to the rebirth. We want things to be the way they were and we cling to the past, hoping for a different ending or no ending at all.
The truth is, when we say no to what is, we hold on to the pain. But as we choose to say yes, (not yes I really wanted this to happen, but yes this is what happened) the pain starts to release. And the rebirth begins. The beginning starts. The new job, the new relationship, the new adventure has an opportunity to take root.
I learned about rebirth as a child through my dear Uncle Keith. When my grandparents died, Uncle Keith, left the job of his life as a librarian to lead the family business. He was reborn as a funeral director as he rededicated his life’s work to bring light to people in their darkest moments. He brought compassion, attention to detail, and flair. And the symbol he chose for every funeral was a shaft of wheat. The wheat has to die, so that the seeds can be sown. It is a traditional symbol of resurrection in Christian faiths, and the life of the soul. In the darkness, even in the darkest dark of the death of the body, there is light. A new path for the soul; a new field to sow. Teaching this became Uncle Keith’s life’s purpose. He transformed like a butterfly from librarian to light keeper.
Death is an end and a beginning, a step; it’s not a problem and it’s not a failure. But society would have us believe that death equals failure; that death is scary, and that death is unfamiliar. Yet, death happens every day, and some day to each one of us. I believe the more we talk about it, the less scary and spooky and fearful death feels. Talking about death will not make it happen sooner. Death is a part of life, and for those of us left living – if we are willing to talk about death—we can support each other in times of loss and grief.
Maybe you have not experienced a person’s life ending in a body recently, but maybe you are mourning the end of a marriage, your child’s childhood, the change of the seasons, or something only you would understand. Give yourself the time and the space to move from the place of resistance, of “no this did not happen” to acceptance. Say “yes, this did happen’.” Maybe you can even find gratitude for the change, and dare to dream the new beginning. Dare to be the happiest version of yourself now.
Let’s take a look at this idea of endings and beginnings in meditation:
Click here for the meditation recording
Grief is hard, especially if you feel alone. If you feel like talking about death or grief, please do! Find a friend with a good ear. And I would encourage you to do the same for a friend in need. Consider being there in a space of love, acceptance, and light. How can you be a light in their darkness? Be the sun for the newly sown wheat.