Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dead Yet?

I wrote this part of a chapter yesterday:

Rick, Johnny and Ian walked into Forest Lawn's mortuary and funeral services office to finalize the purchase of my father's plot. They'd been there before. They'd met with a tiny European man with an accent, who showed them the grassy knoll where my father would be buried. The same man greeted them when they walked in the door. Rick expected a hello, or a courtesy smile and head tilt. He received neither. Instead, the accented European man said to the three of them, "Dead yet?"

I told a friend of mine about this experience the other day, which I only recently learned about from my uncle, and she shared a similar, jarring experience. Her family member died suddenly of a heart attack. She was still in shock several days later when she was at the funeral home making the arrangements. As the sales guy went over the options, he began to make jokes. About the type of casket—"oh you don't want that one, that's a girly casket, I bet this guy'd want a manly casket, I mean, not that he gets a say now, guffaw, guffaw..." People can be so insensitive.

Is it really insensitivity? Are people just trying to make light of a tough situation? Do I expect too much from people who provide services for the dead and still need to functionally communicate with the living? Am I wrong to expect sensitivity or genuine caring from these people?

I am grateful that I wasn't with my uncles and cousin that day at Forest Lawn. And I am grateful I wasn't there with my friend at that funeral home. Had I been in either of those places, I just might have lost my composure.

Or I would have sat in the chair like my friend did, dumbfounded that the words were coming out of this man's face at all. She actually had the courage to ask him to tone the humor down a bit. He apologized and then went right back to doing business as usual, poor humor, and all.

Or I would have laughed heartily as my cousin impersonated the European accent all the way back to the hospital. We Reids enjoy a good bit of dry humor.

While hindsight might offer a lot of options, in the moment, it's hard to know what you'll say or do. I can only hope that the next time I walk into a funeral home because someone I love has died, that I'm treated with respect and humility, not sales and bad judgment.

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