When I sat next to a perky Filipina lady at a Christian radio fund-raising event who teased she was an embalmer in a mortuary (that’s what they call them out west), I couldn’t imagine my life would change forever. It was October 2015 and I was closing in on a year and a half of shut doors and rejection letters in search of gainful employment. I had no explanation on paper how I was thriving in this season. I always had enough money for tithing, food, housing, utilities and I had to borrow little from investments and family. I was making some ends meet by dog walking, house sitting and working in a donation boutique at a crisis pregnancy center. I was able to serve God in so many ways that part of me didn’t want it to end. I fell in love with Spirit-led days! But God had other plans…
I asked the nice lady if her company was hiring and she said they were always hiring. I’ve learned that the business lures people in with the hope of “helping families” but it’s challenging in the first year when working on commission and building your pipeline. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had but God has been faithful on this interesting path with the grim reaper.
We all have a plethora of stories and you have to have a morbid sense of humor to do this. I remember paperwork I had to do so a son could take his dad’s urn on one last kayak ride before placing him in the cremation garden. Or the time I watched in horror as the funeral director tried to fit the cremated remains of a large man into an urn that barely fit. And I was the one who had to tell the sister to be careful, that the top may come off. The many times that loved ones lost their minds because of a delay in headstone engraving or grave-site sod that wasn’t perfect. This was all part of their process – to have some control over the uncontrollable. A favorite follow-up visit was with a recent widower who was giddy that a woman he met on Christian Mingle was coming in that weekend. We all grieve in our own way and time!
The main reason I wanted to share my story was the most profound thing I’ve ever heard about death from a wonderful writer, Lysa TerKeurst. She said it’s not just the person you lost, it’s the holiday celebrations you’ll never share, the grandchildren you’ll never bounce on your knees together, the vacations you’ll never take… It’s life after death!
People I meet in everyday life who don’t even know what I do confide in me about their grief journey and I sometimes share this hoping it’ll help. It’s not something you can put in a box, tie with a bow and place on a shelf. It’ll linger as long as you have memories of your loved one and there’s definitely no time limit or formula for grief. And, if you’re on the other side of someone who is struggling, be there for them. Get in the mud. Don’t try and rush the process because every soul is different and special.
I love so many families I’ve met and I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned in order to help others a tiny bit on their unique journey. I’ve never lost someone close to me and I have no idea how it’ll feel when I push the button to load their body into the cremation retort (oh yeah, I will) but I know with God, I won’t have to do it alone.
Christina M. Parmelee
Sela Pet Services