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.
• 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?