True to their word, the sisters arrived exactly 30 minutes after their call. I invited them into the funeral home, and we had a seat in the gathering room to talk for a few minutes before we dove into the purpose of their visit. The two sisters are actually cousins of mine. My cousins were here to make arrangements for their mother, my great aunt. We began visiting and then moved into the purpose of their visit. Their mother had entered into assisted living the week prior, so now we needed to protect certain of her assets by planning her final arrangements and assigning her assets to the funeral home for her future needs. As we began the arrangement phase, the older sister asked if it would be okay if she were excused. Her younger sister was all right with her leaving, so my younger cousin set about planning her mother’s funeral needs.
Over the last few years, I have worried deeply over my cousin’s well-being. She is a young widow whose husband passed three years ago from lung cancer. A short three months later, she lost her young granddaughter to congenital disease. I attended her husband’s funeral, and I could see that she was struggling. I was unable to attend her granddaughter’s service as it was in a different area. Nevertheless, when I would see my cousin in town or at her older sister’s house, I could see that she was carrying a tremendous burden of grief in her heart.
I love being a funeral director. Helping people through the worst week of life is challenging and rewarding. There is, however, a drawback. When people are gravely ill or recovering from loss, I am not usually the person they, nor their family, want to see. This is particularly the case within my own family. When I have a great aunt or cousin who is in the hospital, my presence is not always welcome. I can understand this, my work carries a certain stigma with it, especially near the end of life; but it is difficult for me. I have always been a person who would visit the infirmed and try to help those near loss find acceptance and peace. Now where I have always been welcome in the past, I am shunned. I have noticed over the past few years that this has been the case with my younger cousin. My work reminds her of her losses, and through no fault from either of us, she is less comfortable around me that she was before her significant losses. This arrangement conference offered us time to be together, and her insightful sister recognized that her younger sister might benefit more in a one on one situation. Thus, I found myself alone in the room with my grieving cousin and found herself alone with me.
We began her conference by discussing choices and service options. As we continued planning things for her mother, I could see her relaxing little by little. During our conference, our words would drift to their experiences of losing her husband and her granddaughter. Her pain runs deep within the core of her existence, and it broke my heart to see it. My cousin is a few years younger than I am, and I treasure my fond memories of her running around in diapers at my great-grandmother’s house. Later, as we grew up, she and another of my younger cousins, came out west to spend a summer with my younger sister. I remember seeing the three of them talk about their impending teen years and learning about hairstyles and makeup. They were all three so sweet, but this little cousin was a bit shy which served to make her even more adorable than she already was. It was a great summer, and I think all three of the girls gleaned treasured lifelong memories.
We spoke of the trial of experiencing a loved one’s severe pain and journey to death. During the final phase of her beloved husband’s lung cancer, they were blessed with their beautiful granddaughter. She was born with an illness that would prematurely end her life. My cousin, choking back tears, said that when her granddaughter was born, she questioned why Heavenly Father would send her another tragedy when she was already experiencing one. After awhile, she and her dying husband realized that Heavenly Father sent her granddaughter to be there for the two of them, to help them refocus their love and hope on someone more powerful that the tragedies they were experiencing. Even though her granddaughter was a baby, she would lay on her granddaddy’s chest with love and affection. At her tiny age, she would lay perfectly still because she instinctive understood that her movements would cause him excruciating pain. When her granddaughter needed consoling, only grandma could accomplish the mission.
My cousin’s granddaughter could not speak. She could not walk. She could not develop along with other children her same age. I saw her granddaughter a few times. Her condition was noticeable and severe. My cousin admitted that prior to having a special needs granddaughter, she, like so many others, would shy away from special needs individuals. She continued, “Having and loving one, however, opened my mind and heart. Now when I see a special needs person, I am not fearful or bothered by them. Instead, my heart goes out to them. She continued, “When my husband was dying, I had a special need for comfort and love. No way could I have made it through the overwhelming sadness and pain without help. Heavenly Father seeing my suffering sent me the only possible solution; he sent me a special needs child. She was pure, she was filled with light, and she came from up above for me and Milo (her husband) to love. It made things easier for Milo to have an innocent child love him; it made things easier for me knowing that he was no longer alone won the sad journey. Together they returned to heaven, loving and helping each other overcome the great sadness they had been dealt. Together they will greet me when I join them.”
I held back tears as I witnessed her anguish and I was reminded of the little girl in diapers at my great-grandmother’s house. I did not know then that her life would be so tragic and that she would one day sit in my funeral home sharing her story of loss and love. In sharing her story with me, I learned so much about her. I realized that she is a woman of great fortitude, that she surpasses many in our family with her unyielding testimony of the purpose of life and the journey thereafter, and that her heart is tender and holds a special place for those who suffer. She is a wonderful woman, and I love her as I always have, with reverence and great esteem. As she left the funeral home, I thought of my great-grandmother and how proud she must be over my dear younger cousin. She has survived tragedies of life and loss and has emerged triumphantly.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am the owner and Managing Funeral Director at Queen City Funeral Home in Queen City Texas. I am an author, syndicated columnist, and co-founder of Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.