Winter 2018

Your Life Matters

January 20, 2018

On the evening of December 23, 2014, I sat in front of my father at my mother’s favorite restaurant. It was the day before her funeral. As we were discussing the upcoming service, I started weeping. “I’m afraid no one will come,” I said, in between sobs. His lips formed into a soft smile as he said, “They will come.” “But it’ll be Christmas Eve. People are busy. What if no one shows up?” I could barely talk through my tears, but his smile never wavered. “I promise you,” he said, “they will come.” 

The next afternoon, my grandfather, my brother, and I sat in the chapel at the funeral home with our families, waiting for the slow hands on the clock to tell us that it was time to greet visitors. I sat nervously, afraid that when the chapel doors opened, there would be no one behind them. A funeral director walked in five minutes early and asked us if we were ready to see friends as there were already many waiting in the lobby. My heart beat fast. Yes, we’re ready. As the doors opened wide, we saw them come in, slowly, steadily, a room full of them! People I had never met, and people I’ve known my whole life. They filled the chapel with their warmth, their chatter, their hugs, and their stories. My dad was right. They showed up.

I met my mother’s best friend and together we wept at my mother’s side. She was supposed to get lunch with my mother the day after Christmas, but that day would never come. I met her work friends and her neighbors. I even met the Chick-fil-a manager who thought so much of my mother that she spent her Christmas Eve at a funeral. I listened as her friends told me stories about my mother, things I had never known. And they all knew me and my brother instantly because they told us that she had always shared photos with them over the years. In those moments, I knew that my mother was loved.

I delivered a eulogy along with my brother, looking from the podium out to what seemed to be a sea of people. I saw my dad sitting in the pews near the back. Although he and my mother divorced many years ago, he drove 10 hours to be there for us. I spoke through tears with a smile on my face. I even laughed, embracing the relief.

When I told my dad that I was afraid no one would come, what I really meant was that I was afraid that no one thought my mother’s life mattered. It sounds silly today, but you think and worry about silly things when someone you love dies. I desperately needed to know that my mother was important to those around her, and I was afraid that others would find the holiday more important than being there for my mom.

As my mother’s family and friends walked by to say goodbye one last time after the service, I held it together as best I could. I shook hands, I gave hugs, and from my heart, I thanked every person for being there. They will never know what it meant to me that day. Towards the end of the line was my dad. When he reached me, a huge wave of grief and relief hit me all at once. As he held me in a tight hug, I breathed through sobs on his shoulder. He was right. His promise was kept. They came.

What I forgot in my grief is that people matter. We all have a purpose to fulfill. What we do for work and for pleasure and how we raise our children and treat our friends all matter. There is a circle of people around all of us who are influenced by our actions. When we die, our life will have been meaningful to them. It could be your uncle or your brother, your best friend or the girl behind the counter, your Facebook friends or your twitter followers. Your circle can be intimately small or wide-reaching. You will die one day, and your life does matter to others.

Three years later, I now make funeral arrangements with families who have the same concern I did that cold, heartbreaking Florida evening. Some worry that they won’t schedule it at a time that works for everyone. Some worry that it won’t be a big crowd because of a holiday. Some worry that a myriad of trivial things will stop people from showing up. My response is always the same. Schedule the service at a time that works for you. I promise, they will come. 

Fall 2017

2018 Intentions

December 26, 2017

It’s the time of year when folks start thinking about resolutions, and we all know resolutions are meant to be broken. I have made them for years but once February rolls by, I’ve mostly forgotten about them. That’s because resolutions tend to be outlandish, sometimes unattainable, goals for ourselves instead of potential acts in true alignment with our purpose. This year, I’m setting intentions and for me, these are simply things I have been working on this year that I wish to continue into the next, and perhaps do them a little bigger or better.

While I’ve focused recently on writing about grief and death, one thing that grief shows us is that life is short. Even a long-lived life is short in comparison to the things we can hardly comprehend, like the age of our universe or the span of a century. It is our destiny to create meaning in our short lives. Setting intentions for the year allows us to expand our purpose and better ourselves slowly, with mindfulness and compassion.

In 2018, I will…

  • Turn 40 with grace and clarity. I have promised myself that I will drive to the SC mountains for a morning of sunrise yoga to celebrate my birthday and bring in a new decade with love and peace.
  • Focus on whole body wellness by concentrating on yoga, cardio, and nutrition. While I’ve always loved yoga, I haven’t yet made it a regular practice. This new year, it will become a consistent practice in my life along with the nutrition to support a more rigorous practice.
  • Get outdoors! I love hiking and walking trails but like yoga, I haven’t made it a regular part of my life. Nature brings me happiness; it is a natural mood-lifter and stabilizer for me. Less TV, more nature.
  • Attend one yoga festival. Asheville Yoga Festival, I’m looking at you!
  • Work towards preparation for a potential RYT 200 certification. I believe in callings and training to become a part-time yoga instructor focusing on resilience, grief, and recovery is something that has been tugging on me for a while. My body is not yet in the shape I need it to be to pursue this idea, but 2018 will certainly get me closer to this goal if it is to be.
  • Explore essential oils as part of an overall wellness plan. I’ve always loved working with essential oils, and I’d like to make them an even bigger part of my life next year.

While all of my intentions so far have centered on mind/body wellness, there is one very special to me that supports the next long-term step in my career as a funeral director and embalmer.

  • Work on building my personal financial foundation so that when the right offer to own a funeral home manifests itself in the future, I will be able to accept it. I know I’m still simply an apprentice, until March 2018 at least, but I have big dreams and owning a funeral home with my brother is one of them. I don’t know when or where it will happen but when it does, I will be ready.

Throughout the year, I plan to check in here with the progress of each of my intentions. This is a milestone year for me as I will be entering a new decade in my life while closing a chapter that began with the death of my mother three years ago. It was then that I decided to become a funeral director and embalmer and after earning a degree and apprenticing for two years, I will be fully licensed in March. I am full of hope and gratitude as I close in on 2017 and look forward to the new year.

 

Fall 2017

Three Years

December 16, 2017

I discovered this series of photos in January 2015. My mom died the month before, and my brother and I had just spent two days cleaning out her home. We saved going through her photos for last.

These were taken in 2000 during my mom’s visit to Wilmington to see me and my first son on his first birthday. I remember this being a stressful trip. My mom and I didn’t have a perfect relationship, especially when I was younger. I had a lot of resentments and in my naivety, I was unwilling to let them go. The only things I remember about this trip were the fight we had over dinner and the stress I felt by having my son’s routine disrupted. What my 22-year-old self couldn’t see and what my 36-year-old self could only see after losing her was that my mother loved me the best she knew how. She really loved me, and I spent a lot of wasted time in my younger years keeping her at a distance.

When I first discovered these photos 15 years after they were taken and one month after my mother’s death, I ugly cried with a heart full of regret. In four days, it will be three years since she died and I still regret that I didn’t do better. It’s probably the biggest regret of my life.

Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

I know we did the best we could. My mother loved me the best she knew how, and I loved her the best I knew how. I just didn’t know better until I lost her, and maybe that’s what I regret the most. I wish I knew better sooner.

My relationships changed dramatically after she died. If there was unfinished business with someone, I spoke it aloud so we could work it out. I never let anyone leave without them knowing how much I love them. I give more hugs and speak more truths in my personal relationships. And most importantly, I don’t ever allow small things to be big things any more.

If I could see her now, there are so many things I would share with my mom. I would ask her to tell me the stories of her life so I could know her better. I would spend more time with her and work harder on the relationship we were building together as adults. I would tell her I’m sorry. And I would let her know I love her so much that life without her is just not the same.