We all have dates that changed our lives. This is mine.

August 2, 2000 – We all have dates that changed our lives. This is mine.

My mother, brother, and I were pulling in the driveway from the grocery store, when my grandmother, Aunt, and Uncle came walking up.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bestdesigns

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bestdesigns

Every one of them had a look of pain in their face, and my grandmother’s eyes were red and swollen. I remember my grandmother asking to speak with my mom in private.  So my brother and I stayed and put the groceries away. I vividly remember looking at my brother, who was only 7 at the time, and saying this is not good, someone has died. I then proceeded to mention names grandpa, great grandma, and our other grandparents. Never once did it cross my mind my father and uncle would be the victims. After what seemed like forever, but in actuality maybe 10-15 minutes, my mother and grandmother stepped back into the garage and as delicately as they could told my brother and I there had been an accident with dad and they weren’t sure how bad it was, but that we needed to leave now and head to Barstow. My heart sank, and I immediately felt tears stream down my face. I was not expecting to hear “dad” come out of their mouths. My brother and I silently did as we were told and got in our van with my family.  For two hours everyone sat silent. My head was racing with thoughts, “Are we going to the hospital? What kind of shape is dad in?” and so many others.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/oriontrail

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/oriontrail

It was dark when we arrived. We were in the middle of the desert, when my aunt met us at the door. She didn’t even wait a minute before she blurted out, “they didn’t make it, they didn’t make it.” 

My jaw hit the floor; I was in a complete state of shock. No movement or sound came from the van. When I couldn’t take it anymore I got out and went and lay in the dirt staring at the stars.  At 12 years old I remember looking into the sky in the middle of the desert asking God why? Why did you have to do this?

My mother was incapable of making the arrangements so my father’s mother stepped in. She went to O’Connor Mortuary.  Being only 12 years old, my mother chose to keep me out of the arrangements.  She had no idea how much that exclusion would impact the path of my life.

I sat quietly letting the process take place until I found out that we would not be attending the viewing of my father and uncle.  My mother said that she could not bring herself to view, and presumed the same for me without ever asking what I wanted.  I knew I needed to see them both in order to process that they would not be coming home.  But trying to get my mother to understand my point of view was very hard.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/erzetic

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/erzetic

A counselor my mom was seeing helped my mother to change her mind. Although she was still insistent upon not viewing herself, saying that, “the image of my father would forever be engrained in my head.”

But I knew that for myself, viewing was the only way I could start grieving properly.

I saw both my father and uncle, and still maintain that was the best decision for myself. I knew I needed to see the proof, and that hearing they were gone, was not enough. I in no way shape or form regret my decision, and when I close my eyes, I do not see an image of them lying there.

I am able to remember all the great times we had together, and that is what gets me through the difficult days.

I believe fate and a true passion to help grieving families, has circled me back to O’Connor Mortuary. I have said this all along, and still maintain, O’Connor feels like home. I now work here as a Service Assistant, helping families through their viewings & ceremonies. Getting to help people in what I know to be the worst days of their lives is how I honor my dad & uncle. This is where I’m supposed to be. I feel truly blessed to be working here, getting to do what I love everyday.

 

What has your experience with Viewing been?

Would you choose to view your loved one like me or make the choice not to?

Why or why not?

Erin

About Erin

My name is Erin. I grew up in Canyon Lake, CA. I love water sports, sailing, off-roading, and riding horses. I am not afraid to try new things; I think its great to go outside your comfort zone. I am just beginning my journey here at O’Connor Mortuary. I feel extremely honored to be able to help families in their time of need. I was lucky enough to have O’Connor take care of my family with the sudden passing of my father and uncle. I try to always look at the glass as half full, with that being said I feel as though an unexpected tragedy occurred in my life, but it brought me into a career that I am truly passionate about.
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  • Jeff Turner

    Erin,
    What a heart wrenching account from the heart and mind of a twelve year old girl. I am so glad you followed that innate sense that you needed to see your father. I have seen the damage avoidance and actions in the name of “protecting” someone can do. There are many instances where we have had to work hard to help navigate families to view or allow viewing and I know the benefit. The mystery is almost always worse than the reality. It is one of the most profound encounters we have the responsibility to direct and recommend to those who are in our care. Educating and encouraging families to do what they need to do and not just what they tell us they want, is what makes this a profession rather than an industry.

    Thank you for being willing to be vulnerable today in the telling of this life changing event. It is very special to us that you are “home” with us where you belong. I know your story will help many as they navigate similar waters. You will find opportunities in your career to educate and recommend viewing and ceremony because you know people need these events and because you know they work.

    Blessings,
    Jeff Turner

    • Erin Fodor

      Thank you Jeff. I know now and understand that my mother thought she was trying to protect my brother and I. But I just don’t know where I would be today, if the events of the funeral had happen differently. Everything happens for a reason I strongly believe that. Apparently God had bigger and better plans for my father and uncle.
      I can’t wait to see what the future holds. I hope I can key in on that certain family member who is unable to be heard or voice their opinion, and explain to the opposing family members the importance of viewing and ceremony.

  • Anne

    Erin,
    Your blog kept me spellbound. I guess because I lost both my parents at age 4 and 5 and I know what that feels like. I am so thankful that even though I was so young, no one kept me in the dark about the events. In fact, my mother was in the front room for two days for people to drop in and pay their respects. It helped me immensely have a proper respect for ceremony at a very young age.
    It naturally followed that I would choose to be personally involved in making sure my husband’s services were all they should be, earlier this year. I instinctively knew what had to be done and did it. I did not shut out my daughter in the arrangements, but had her at my side for every meeting and all the plans. In hindsight, perhaps the grandkids could have been there, too, but we did not think of that. We did, however make sure that songs that they wanted would be included in the music track for the viewing.
    We also chose to have Bella, Lou’s Bernese Mountain dog at the viewing. This dog has been grieving along with me and has lost weight since Lou’s death, but she was better for being part of things than I think she would have been otherwise.
    She has an uncanny sense when I need to be “held” and encourages me to move from my chair to the couch, where she jumps right up beside me and loves my neck. The cat immediately comes up and joins us.
    I am so sorry you lost your daddy before so many of the events of life that you needed him. I know what that feels like. I am glad you are here. Our private pain helps us be better for our families than we would otherwise. It changes things from a job to a calling.
    Hugs.
    Anne

    • Erin Fodor

      Anne,

      Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry you have had to deal with such loss in your lifetime. I have a lot of respect for your mother to be able to receive family and friends condolences, and not keep you in the dark. My mother shut down, she held it together the best she could for my younger brother and I. But even tell this day she struggles. I thank you for allowing your daughter to be apart of the arrangements. I strongly believe if there is an interest in participating: by anyone in the family, then this is there way of beginning to grieve the loss. I absolutely love you had Bella there, she too needed to be able to grieve.
      Plus I’m sure her kind face and unconditional love was great to have for
      you and your family. I know without our family dog, I would have had a few more dark days.

  • Chuck Ricciardi

    Erin,
    Thank you for sharing your very personal story with us. It still amazes me that at twelve you had such conviction of how “you” needed to begin this journey. We as adults tend to either forget that our children are grieving just as hard as adults or that we must protect them and shield them from the pain. As you know there is no shielding from the pain, it penetrates everything about us and around us. Your mom was not acting out of malice but if I dare say ignorance. We witness this almost daily here, families struggling with this decision. As the experts we have seen the power, meaning and healing of viewing and seeing your deceased loved one. Of any of the rituals that help heal and send us on a healthy journey of grieving, viewing has got to be number one. In 22 years and thousands of families helped I cannot recall one person ever regretting taking that step, not one. Now it is not easy and it has it’s very difficult moments but anything worth it’s salt in this world is rarely easy. When Matthew died we did not hesitate to see him again, I had to, period, just like you. I’m so glad you have joined our team, you are going to be an incredible help to so many. God Bless.

    Chuck

    • Erin Fodor

      Thank you Chuck.
      I would say my mom was acting out of a sort of ignorance. We differ a lot in personalities. And, I just knew my needs were different then hers. I’m so glad you had the chance to view Michael. For myself, if given the chance, I would always choose to view.

      Thank you for all your guidance.

      -Erin

  • Kendra Starr

    I could not stop crying. Being in this business myself we see and hear the stories of loved ones. This is truly a story a will tell those who need it. Thank you for sharing.

    • Erin Fodor

      Kendra,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I appreciate the comments and please feel free to share my story. I really do feel strongly, that viewing is beneficial. No matter the age, sometimes you need the proof to really start the grieving process.

  • Jenn

    Erin,

    Your story has always amazed me, when I first met you and you told it to me I just thought you were so brave and it reminded me of why we do what we do. It is to help the families when they need us the most and to help find a bit of healing in a tragic situation. I am so glad you had the strength to view your Uncle and Father and glad that you feel that was the best decision for yourself. I think I too would want to have that last moment with a loved one if they were able to be viewed. Thank you for sharing it publicly, I think it will help others who may question whether to view or not. xoxo

    • Erin Fodor

      Thank you Jenn!

      Without you and the team in the care center, viewing wouldn’t be possible. Your work is profound and makes a huge impact on the family’s experience. Thank you for being so remarkable, and know from the family’s point of view; you are truly a godsend for making their loved ones look so good!

  • Erin,
    Beautiful blog. There’s so much power in your story & the full-circle effect is simply amazing. I love the heart that is in you for other people. You do your dad & uncle right by honoring them this way and by turning a potentially life-wrecking tragedy into something that has strengthened you to help others.
    Thank you for writing & sharing this, I think this message will give a lot of people something to think about.

    Molly

    • Erin Fodor

      Thank you Molly! I appreciate the kind words.

  • Lori

    Erin,
    Like you, the day my father died is permanently ingrained in my mind. I do not remember the whole day, but there are vivid snapshots.
    Unlike you, I was never given a choice to view him. There was no viewing, period. Due to his manner of death I do not think my family even considered it an option.
    It is through working at O’Connor and seeing the miracles that the Care Center can work for families who think their loved one is not viewable that I have seen these families begin their grief journey in a much healthier way.
    I am so glad you have joined the O’Connor team. Who better to walk alongside families during their most difficult journey than someone who has experienced it first hand.
    I am very excited to see what your future holds, although I do not need a crystal ball to tell me your future is very bright!
    XOXO
    Lori

    • Erin Fodor

      I am so sorry to hear that Lori. I wish you and your family had been able to view your father. I can
      imagine the difficulty in not being given a choice.

      The O’Connor care team does amazing work here. I recently saw the actual
      crash site photos, and the reconstruction that had to take place on my father was unreal, but the care center pulled it off. And, to them I will be eternally grateful.

      Thank you for your guidance and friendship; you are an amazing person Lori!

  • Neil

    Erin –
    Life is such an amazing journey! I am so touched that you have joined our family, who could have believed this would be your path. I am so sorry for the death of you father and uncle. LIfe is very painful & unfair at times. Your intuition guided you to see both your dad & your uncle, I am glad you had the boldness to listen to your guiding light. I am so proud of you, you could have denied your self the opportunity to not view your father & uncle. I truly believe you are here at O’Connor Mortuary for a significant purpose, this is not by chance. You have already made a tremendous impact on the families we serve and our teammates. In time you will be able to guide others by your life’s experience and your wisdom.

    I do believe in viewing, it has helped me in my grief.
    Every time I have attended a viewing, I was grateful for the opportunity to say goodbye and support the rest of the friends & family who are grieving. We are communal people, we where not designed to walk this journey alone.

    Thank you for being you! I am damn proud to be in YOUR life!XOXO

    • Erin Fodor

      Thank you for the kind and encouraging words Neil. I strongly believe everything in life happens for a reason, and from this tragedy I have found my calling in life. I am extremely grateful to be working here at O’Connor’s and I am eager to see what the future holds. Thank you again for all your support and direction!!

  • Fitz

    Erin,
    I was so touched by your blog. You are truly an amazing person and so wise beyond your years. Thank you for sharing your feelings and thank you for choosing to follow your heart and work with us. We are so lucky to have you as part of our team and in our lives. Viewing and ceremony are the key components to a healthy grief journey. Your experience and wisdom will be invaluable to those you serve and shepherd through your day. Your future is so bright and I look forward being part your continual growth and development.
    Fitz

    • Erin Fodor

      Thank you Fitz! I truly am blessed to be working here. I look forward to learning as much as possible and being the shepherd a family needs.

  • Greg Forster

    Erin,

    What a beautiful way to frame the tragic loss that you were given and have, beyond your years, used to improve the purpose of your own life.

    How wise you were at the age of 12 to know the value of family viewing. You knew even then that your heart could not accept this fact until your mind had validated it. The tragedy would have been so magnified if you had not had the opportunity. The tragedy would have never left you in a manner in which you could have dealt with it so properly. Instead of growth, you might have felt hollowness, incompleteness and bitterness.

    I was also fortunate when my time came when each of my parents passed to have this moment of acceptance. I had a simple, quiet I.D. viewing alone, but for me it was enough. It was enough. It was enough in the way for me to accept that these people were gone and to be able to say “yes” to my memories of them and what their lives were, both the good and the not so good. To be able to accept the lessons of life that I needed to internalize in order to make my own life ever more meaningful.

    Simply just to make sense of it.

    You have made our lives more meaningful with your sharing.

    You are a step above so many others that have not learned this lesson…and…look at you…you have so many years ahead in which to share it!

    Good Luck!

    Greg

    • Erin Fodor

      Thank you Greg. I’m glad you had the experience of viewing both your parents. Whether it is a simple viewing or not, I believe you just need that final alone time with your loved one to pay your final respects.

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Erin,
    I was so moved reading your blog. Thank you for having the strength to share such a deeply personal experience. I know by sharing your story you will help many people who struggle with “should I or shouldn’t I allow my children to view and be a part of the ceremony.” When my brother died, we had the privilege of being with him at the hospital when they took him off life support. Although it was the most painful moment of my life, I cannot imagine not having that opportunity to be with him and say my final goodbyes.

    I am so glad you are a part of the team here at O’Connor. You have a true gift and you will be a blessing to families you serve.

    Becky

    • Erin Fodor

      Thank you for sharing Becky. I commend you on being both incredibly brave and strong. Being with your loved one at their last moments are truly special. I am so glad you had the opportunity to say your final good byes.

  • Sharon Watkins

    Erin
    Thank you so much for sharing with us more about your life and journey. I am so sorry for your loss of your Dad and uncle, but know that it has all contributed to the great woman that you are today. I’m so glad you found your way back to O’Connor Mortuary to pay forward what was done for your family in your time of need. I know that everything happens for a reason – even if we don’t ever know the reason in this life. One day we will see the bigger picture and how our strength grew as a result (or blessing) from our challenges and losses.
    I’m so glad that I get to rub shoulders with you here at O’Connor for a few more months.
    Sincerely,
    Sharon

    • Erin Fodor

      Thank you Sharon for your kind words. I’ve enjoyed immensely the chance to
      get to know you. I hope we can work together on a few more luncheons soon!

  • Elsa

    Erin,
    Thank You for inviting us into such a difficult and private time of your life. Personally, I have also found it healing to view and spend some time with loved ones that have passed. I feel that it allows your mind to process what reality so abruptly brings to life. I Can not even begin to understand the pain that you must have gone through at such a young age. It is so great to have you here apart of our team. I know that you will do great things here for the families that need that extra special guidance. You are definitely here for a purpose!
    Elsa

    • Erin Fodor

      Thanks Elsa! I have no doubts in my mind, that this is where I am meant to be. There is a sense of fulfillment when you see the weights lifted off of a family shoulders. And, to know you have a part in easing the families mind; it’s remarkable. I look forward to learning all I can from you!

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Erin,
    You are such a brave and strong girl, and it obviously started at a young age. Thank you for this window into who you are. You are in a loving and caring environment here at O’Connors, and sharing your gifts with those you encounter. Your dad and uncle would be so proud of you.
    Bravo sweet girl.

    Kari

    • Erin Fodor

      Thank you Kari, I always do my best to keep the two in my thoughts. They are key players in how my life has shaped up to be.

  • Erin Fodor

    Thanks for sharing Joe. I think you are an extremely strong person, and you have made the best out of a terrible situation. I agree with you I am better for seeing them both. I know viewing helped me tremendously, I wish my brother had been a little older to make the decision for himself. I feel he would have benefitted from
    the experience; he still battles with some unresolved issues. Thanks again for always being there for me, and I look forward to learn all I can from you.

  • Erin Fodor

    Thanks Michael, I am very much at a place of peace in my life. Sharing my father and uncles story really helps sometimes. I thank you for what you have taught me, and look forward to learning all I can!

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Erin,

    I always forget that we served your family here and that you had such a tragedy happen to you at such a young age. As a colleague and friend, I am amazed that you can work in this profession with the constant reminder around you. What a strong gal you are. At least stronger than I would ever be. I have alway directed families to viewing rather than not especially when they are hesitant. It is such a powerful moment and time that they spend with their loved one. Thank you for sharing such private thought with us all.

    • Erin Fodor

      Thanks Joanna! I can’t really explain it, but I have a sense of ease working here. I’m not sure if that is because this was the last place I was with my father or because I am able to help the families. Either way I am honored to be here, and I want to thank you for all your guidance and friendship.

  • Erin Fodor

    Thank you Shasta.

    I agree the image you have in your head can be much worse than reality. I know that feeling of calmness and peace you are talking about. Once I was able to see my father and uncle were at peace, and process they would not be coming home, it helped me tremendously. I’m glad you were able to view your brother; I
    know it was for the best!

  • Erin Fodor

    Tiffany,

    I am so sorry to hear about Kam. I can’t imagine being Alex’s age
    and trying to process this tragedy. I believe you made the right choice. I
    feel children need the physicality to relate the situation. It breaks my heart to hear that Alex’s thought he needed to go to the hospital. I am glad to hear although Kam will never be forgotten; the good, fun memories might now be overshadowing the loss. I’m here for you if you ever need anything. And,
    thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog. Miss you love.

    Xoxo,

    Erin

  • Erin Fodor

    Thank you Mark for taking the time to read my blog. I am strongly in favor of viewing a loved one. I hope my story can in any way; help a family make the choice to view.

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Erin . . this story was so heartfelt. Thank you for sharing with our blog community your experience and how it helped you on your journey of grieving.
    Mine came in 1993 when my father died from lung cancer. He lived in Sun City just outside of Phoenix. I was able to travel there 2 weeks before he died and spend 5 days with him talking, remembering, confirming his salvation. It was such a blessing for me and I will cherish the time forever. I had asked my step-mother to please call me when the time was near. My dad wanted to die at home and I wanted to be there for him at the end. The rest is heartbreaking because my stepmother placed him in a hospice care home and he died alone . . no family beside him. After realizing that there was nothing I could do to change that situation, I called and said I would be there for the visitation. She said there would be no visitation, that he was dead now and no reason to look at him. “He will be cremated and I’ll let you know about the service.” I called the Mortuary and told them I would leave now and be there in 5 hours and could I visit with my dad alone. The director said I would need to get his wife’s approval in order to have an Identification viewing. I knew he would say that, but hoping that the rules in Arizona might be different. I call my step-mother and asked her permission. She acquiesced, but said I would have to pay the additional fee. I called the Mortuary back and told them what time I would be there. The director said I would have to view in a closed area in the back, and that he would be on a gurney with a sheet. I told him I didn’t care – I just wanted to see my dad one last time.
    All the way to Phoenix I reminisced about my life with my dad. It was very healing to begin that part of my journey of grief before I arrived. I walked in the front door and a gentlemen greeted me. I told him who I was and he said “We have no services today, so I placed your father in the Chapel. We’ve set his features, combed his hair and covered him in a blue velvet blanket. Please take all the time you need.”
    I walked in and there he was . . on the gurney, hair combed, features set, with the blue velvet blanket covering his now silent frame. I talked with him, placed my hands on him, kissed his forehead and sang some hymns from the past. Not for him, but for me. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that I was given that opportunity to say goodbye to my sweet daddy. And I will never forget the kindness of one director, who knew my need and fulfilled it. And . . . they did not charge me for the viewing!
    Erin, you and I both know how important the viewing part of healing is to a family. And we have a wonderful opportunity to help a family on their own journey. Thank you so much for your blog, for your caring and compassion. I’m so thankful that you have come “home” to us and will transfer your gifts to others!
    Lovingly,
    Pat

    • Erin Fodor

      Wow Pat that’s amazing! I love to hear success stories from other funeral homes. I’m so sorry to hear about your stepmother and the way she treated you, but thank goodness for the kind director who took care of you, and your father. I can imagine the emotion you may have been feeling when your stepmother told you there wouldn’t be a visitation. I know when I was denied at first, my initial reaction was to find a way. I’m grateful we both got to view our fathers, I know I am better for the experience.

  • Amy

    Erin,
    I can’t begin to imagine what that time was like for you. How you process all that is going on and try to know what is right. I commend you for being so strong and know what you need for yourself. I know that here is where you belong to encourage and shepherd other families who are experiencing the same walk as you once were. It is a pleasure to be in your company daily.
    Amy

    • Erin Fodor

      Thank you Amy! I look forward to work everyday, It is so rewarding.

  • Erin Fodor

    Thank you Carrie, I feel very fortunate to have known what I needed to start healing. Although it still took a lot of time and can still be painful. I know I would have a completely different outlook on life, if viewing had not been possible. I look forward to learning all I can from you! You are truly amazing at what you do!

  • Erin Fodor

    Thank you Shanya.
    It is incredibly hard when someone is there one day and gone the next. I know everyone has or will experience this, some more tragic than others. We just got robbed with our families’ losses. I can’t thank you enough for always being there for me. I appreciate you and your friendship. Much love XOXO

  • Erin Fodor

    Thank you Chris.
    I hope and pray your daughters DON’T experience loss for many.. many.. many.. years to come. I want to thank you for all of your help and support, and for answering my thousands of questions. You are a great mentor!

  • Erin Fodor

    I’m glad to hear that viewing has helped you. Thanks for sharing Tom!

  • Erin Fodor

    Tommy we miss you! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Wish you were still here to teach me everything you knew. I learned so much, but I know there was a lot more you had to share. Looking forward to the next time we meet!
    Thank you for everything XOXO
    Erin