Rutherford Funeral Home
There’s a silence sometimes, that rises in the room after they leave, after the conversation. I can feel it. It spreads out like molasses poured into a jar, clinging to the wall. Sticky. Not easily forgotten. It isn’t so much the words that were spoken, but the sensibility left behind.
It doesn’t happen all the time. It happens in those appointments when emotion reigns. It happens too, when we share ourselves. Their life, my life, their hurt… mine. Instinctual understanding. “I feel you now as I felt it then.” It could’ve been the death of a baby. It could’ve been a parent, a mother, a brother. But already this death has affected life – yours and mine in some way not yet describable, and it’s only been a day between.
I’ve known funeral directors who’ve said the job was to “direct”: control the operations of; manage or govern. I’ve always known it to be “guide”: show or indicate the way. That’s where I sit when I’m across from them. Every one different, every one on shaky ground, every one grieving in some way whether they know that or not. They speak about their dead, but I hear love and devotion, I hear regret, gratitude, I hear anger or indecision. And as I said – sometimes they leave the residue, thick, of what they’ve told me – left behind like shed clothing that they couldn’t wear any longer. Tossed aside on their way to the door as I see them out.
I recall, when I was a film student at York University and we watched foreign films to learn differing ways of filmmaking. In many Japanese movies the camera would hold on a room where a conversation or argument was taking place, and the characters would walk in and out of frame. And when the scene was over and they finally walked off, the camera held the shot for several moments – an empty room where something just happened. Forced to witness. Forced to reflect. The room becomes a vessel for all of the tragedy, the joy or the hope played out.
Sometimes when they leave the funeral home, the room swells like those in the films. It fills up with hope or despair. Sometimes both. Certainly gratitude. But that trickles in later, like a leak into the heart or from the heart. I’m not sure. A strange mixture of honour and shyness in making some difference in this sometimes helpless and hopeless world – born out of their loss and from the privilege of washing in the water of someone else’s grief. Knowing that I will be the one who, for a time, is stronger than they, and will be a part of their support.
I hear tell of burnout. I’ve heard of dissociated care. I know that when the “job” is done, I should return home without an afterthought, but that’s not me. I can’t recognize myself within the world unless it’s the world of all happenstance, theirs and mine. Afterall, I live in that space constantly and that space feeds and informs everything. The room in which I sit with them is the room of this city, is the room of this country, is the room of this world, and I will exit the room one long day in the future. Always the future.
And so, what can be done and how long can it be done for? I hope these days that I assemble into a life are worthy days. I hope that they say something. I hope that they show themselves to be fruitful in small ways – for friends I’ve known, for my beloved and benevolent daughter, for my partner who shares her sometimes beautiful, sometimes broken, but always bountiful soul with me… and for strangers who sometimes reveal themselves beyond a conversation about the weather.
I hope the room I’m in keeps breathing and doesn’t choke on a sudden intake of breath. Too much shock or sadness. Slow and steady it goes; breathing in and breathing out. Filling it up with stories never completely forgotten. I’ll listen for them. I’ll feel the room filling – hefty breaths of pure and wondrous emotion. And all of it healing. Then after, with all affections spent, with the people gone and the door closed – I let the silence of the empty room where something just happened, rest, and restore itself to four walls and a few chairs.
UNTIL SOON. LIVE WELL.