Diversity in Death: Lessons Learned from A Giant, 2 Families, and a Hare Krishna

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:

Photo Source: Reddit - pbs.twimg.com

Photo Source: Reddit – pbs.twimg.com

•        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.

Photo Source:  womennewsnetwork.net

Photo Source: womennewsnetwork.net

•        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?

 

 

Carrie

About Carrie

Hi there! I'm Carrie and I am a licensed embalmer, crematory manager & funeral director at O'Connor Mortuary. I am so blessed to have found my calling in life & am grateful to practice it at an amazing place like O'Connor. I began as a part time service director in 2004 while I was finishing mortuary school then served my embalming apprenticeship & worked my way up from there. I'm experienced in all areas of the funeral profession & love every aspect of it. I live in Huntington Beach where I enjoy riding my bike or skateboard on the boardwalk, spending quality time with friends or relaxing at home with my pets. Thank you so much for reading my blogs, I'd love to have you comment as well!
This entry was posted in Ceremonies, Community and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Lori Bristol

    Carrie,
    I have the privilege to not only call you friend, but to watch you immerse yourself emotionally into the families you serve. You pour your heart into your work and give your all to each family. Comforting people is why I believe we are called to this industry. You have been a wonderful teacher and friend to me as I have begun my journey in the funeral business. Thank you for sharing your experiences. MWAH!!!

  • Fitz

    Carrie,
    What an awesome blog! You truly have a gift to connect with the diverse group of families we serve each year. Thank you for being open and honest and sharing your experiences.
    Fitz

  • Neil

    Carrie –
    I love this blog post, this is a great perceptive on life & death.
    During the last 25 years of serving our community I have had the privilege of serving many different cultures, ethnic & religious groups. The most recent profound family I served was a local native American Catholic family. The family planned many different ceremonies that gave their community & family the opportunity to be involved. So many people in our community embraced being involved, it was beautiful to see.

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Carrie, I love the fact that through serving families during their darkest hours, you are able to take away “lessons learned” and apply them to your own life. I so admire the work you do and and I am glad to have had the privilege to learn from you as you have cared for and comforted families. I think you are pretty amazing!

  • Carrie, I think this post touches on topics we haven’t yet even begun to explore. Identifying the different & unique needs of our families is vital to the quality of our service, but knowing how to personally and emotionally hear and respond to their grief can be vital to helping them break into the grief process. I’m so interested in how deeply you’ve taken these lessons and how much you seem to know who you are in the midst of a family that may be very different from yours. You are grounded in you but that doesn’t preclude you from flowing easily and effortlessly into the cultural and beautifully diverse lives of the families you serve.

    Well done & so profound!

  • Jeff Turner

    Oh Careless Bayer,

    You make me so proud to be a colleague and be a part of your team here at O’Connor. The “Careless” nickname only because you are accident prone and have sacrificed your body on occasion in pursuit of providing excellence. “Carrie” is the perfect name for you. Your parents chose wisely for you are “all in” with your families and your team.

    I love what you have written here and how this profession does lend itself to breaking down the barriers that we often create. The false narratives that tell us to build walls between us and others that don’t look, act or believe what we do. I think of all of the opportunities I have missed over the years to make a new friend because of fear and prejudices in my life. The beauty of realizing I have been a fool is the discovery that I do not have to remain one. I can change.

    I look forward to spending the rest of my career in your presence and hope you will make the final arrangements for me when I go.

    Blessings,

    Jeff

  • Anne

    Carrie
    What a beautiful, well written blog. I love that we are all different yet can be unified in the basic needs of humankind. This walk through the death process of someone very close is still so tender in me. All I know is that although I love everyone here at O’Connor, I was blessed to have you care for Lou and I not only through the funeral process, but through many parts of his illness. I know your heart, and I love it.
    Anne

  • Sharon Watkins

    Carrie
    Thank you for thoughts on diversity and the wonderful way you serve all the diverse cultures, backgrounds and religious (or non-religious) people each day here at the mortuary. You are loved and admired for the care and concern you give EVERYONE. It is a special gift you have.

    Your comments caused me to ponder the growth I have had since joining the O’Connor team and having the privilege of getting to know so many different types of people. I am grateful for the diversity we have in those who choose to use our many services – whether at time of need or pre-need.
    Everyone is important – everyone needs care and understanding not matter our culture, background, religion or family status. That is just part of being human.
    It is a joy for me to serve side by side with you and the rest of the O’Connor team.

  • Christopher Iverson

    Carrie,

    Watching you shepherd families through their losses and services has been a great pleasure for me that has spanned many years working together. You are the ultimate “Care Bear” when it comes to helping families, and these are usually the family’s words, not mine. Serving our communities as a Licensed Funeral Director and Licensed Embalmer isn’t for everyone…but we are so blessed that is is for you. Thank you for all you do. You ARE amazing!

  • Yes you are, but your families are also so lucky to have you! Hope those dumplings were delicious!

  • Jenn

    Wow, what a neat article Carrie, another reason I look up to you, I too have tried to take away something from every case that reaches me on a personal level, especially when I get the opportunity to meet the family which isn’t always the case. I think you are a great resource and mentor and look forward to learning more from you!

  • Greg Forster

    Hi Carrie,

    With Diversity, one needs both strength of character, control over one’s emotions and, especially, tolerance, tact, common sense and most of all, sensitivity and adaptability. You manage to possess strength in all of these areas, and you do it with consistent grace. Just observing you has both challenged me and provided a role model for me and others to follow and I, for one, thank you for this.

    I am totally with you in the Diversity department. I grew up in an environment where strength was found in sameness, consistency, rigidity and throughly pre-planned expectations of a daily, weekly life.

    How lucky we are then, to have the courage to break out of this mold and embrace the simple joy of “new”.

    Just yesterday, a Hindu service had just concluded, the family was talking animatedly and warmly, the atmosphere was correct for me to enter the room and see for myself the results of their service.

    I can’t tell you how happy I am that I did so! “Happy—Plus!” Relatives came up to me and introduced themselves, not stiffly, but warmly…genuinely. I met the gentleman’s wife of 67 years and she was a lovely lady who took and then held my hand. I was shown the symbols and told of the rubrics used in their service…a total delight to behold and enjoy and empathize one’s feelings with. I left educated, refreshed and, yes, a little sad that I had not had the opportunity to join with this family in embracing their love of ceremony and of tradition and of each other.

    The more people that one meets the more opportunity there is to realize that in diversity there is so much sameness. In a myriad of expression one can always search for love. In so many places…in so many faces…indeed…sometimes…we can find it…and find it we do, such a joy it is when found in the eyes of one who could have been a stranger from another land…or, simply, from another emotion.

    Thank you, Greg

  • Hiro

    “Subtle diversity can yield the greatest experiences.” So true. And to recognize differences with an open heart enriches everyone’s life. Living fully means there are new experiences and lessons to be learned everyday. Thanks for sharing Carrie!

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Carrie:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with our very diverse cultural communities. This really helps to better understand that cultural diversity, though strange to “our” way of celebrating death, really can and should, bring us together as a nation and as a community. Understanding the complexities and rituals of the death process is extremely interesting.

    I have experienced so much over the years being with O’Connor’s, and have appreciated becoming a “life long learner” of other ethnic and religious groups. The diversity that seems to tear people apart, can really be the catalyst to better understanding those who are our neighbors and friends, bringing us closer together.

    We all, at some point, experience death and its’ mystery. But faith and being open minded, can bring us all a sense of peace. You have done that for me, Carrie. Thank you for being a perfect roll model.