It just so happened that my husband had recently retired from the military and we were relocating to a flyover state the following morning. The dilemma was, how to get my grandmother home for burial and how to move my family, along with our business 1,800 miles, in a different direction, on the same day. The stress was unbearable.
With the help of very dear friends, a large moving van was packed with our business assets, and household belongings; my vehicle was trailered behind it, for towing. Tired and mourning the loss of my beloved grandmother, I called a taxi and went to the funeral home to prepare my grandmother for her trip home, and to say goodbye.
I was very apprehensive as I had never before touched a dead person. I loved my grandmother so deeply, however, that I had committed to not only touching her, but dressing, cosmetizing and casketing her. It would be the last thing I would ever do for my grandmother, and I was determined to do it. She had done so much for me throughout my life and I knew that had the tables been turned, she would be there dressing me, protecting my modesty and preparing me for my final resting place on earth. I was tired and nervous, but I knew I would do it no matter how difficult it might be.
To my surprise, dressing, cosmetizing and casketing my grandmother was an amazingly spiritually rewarding experience. All of the love I had for her was magnified during the event. I believe, had I not had those final moments to serve my grandmother, my grief recovery would have been much more difficult, especially considering the immense stress under which I was functioning. When I arrived home that evening, I was at peace. My heart was full of love, and my soul was calm and ready to recover from the loss of a woman who had meant so much to me during her life.
The following morning, I loaded my children, our dog and our cat into the moving van, and moved our entire household, along with our business, 1,800 miles to the state where my husband was waiting for us. He had preceded us in order to prepare our new home for our family. Upon arrival, my dog of 12 years died. The trip and change of climate was just too much for him. It was then that I announced to my husband, that I wanted to become a funeral director.
At the time, I had no idea the changes and hardships this decision would make in our lives. We had just arrived at our new home, and now we would have to uproot, travel and move in order raise the money to pay for, and attain, the required degree. Upon graduation, we would have to decide where to open our funeral home, and where to make our new home. My family would become nomads for over ten years and would travel, back and forth, over 16 states. The sacrifice was enormous.
Unfortunately, upon graduation, the banking crisis was in full bloom in our country’s economy, and so new start-up funding was frozen. My husband and my brother were hosting an early morning radio show, and they received an announcement that a neighboring town was offering bridge money for businesses willing to locate within their city limits. After their program had ended, we drove over to the town to attend their new main street ribbon cutting ceremony, and I asked a city council member about the available funds. She told me to come to their Economic Development Council (EDC) meeting that evening and present my business proposal. Fortunately, I had worked with the Small Business Administration (SBA) for the previous five years, so my business plan was prepared.
My husband and I attended the EDC meeting that evening and the city offered us a bridge loan. This loan and collateralizing my family’s trust fund, our primary business, and our assets were enough security to qualify for a business loan, from the local bank. After ten years, our dream was finally becoming a reality. After ten years of forced full-time R.V.'ing, working on the road, and being separated from each other most of the time; I thought our family would finally get a break and settle into a life of comfort and security again. Wow, I misjudged our future by a long shot.
At this juncture in life, I was an experienced businesswoman. I held one of the largest contracts with the world’s largest retailer and had consistently placed as one of their finest 25 partner stores within a store program. I was proficient in negotiating, operating, supplying, scheduling and managing multiple teams within my business. This experience along with my collateral is what, I am sure, offered the bank enough confidence in me to lend their funds to my endeavor. Had I known the obstacles this venture would bring to my door, I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to pursue it, but pursue it with vigor is what my husband, my daughters, my grandchildren, my siblings, my parents and I did. It is what we continue to do every single day, and it is what we will continue to do for the rest of our lives. We have invested too much blood, sweat and tears to give it up. We are committed to its success.
We are now working our fifth year in the funeral business. During the past 15 years of this journey, we have endured many hardships. Our home, in the flyover state, was vandalized numerous times. Our front door was stolen during the middle of winter, and our house was filled with snow, wild animals, and vagrants. We repaired our home and at our full expense, housed two homeless families for twelve years. Our home was robbed, and all of our belongings and memories were stolen from us. My children’s baby pictures, their christening dresses and first locks of hair were stolen. My husband’s military uniforms, medals, and commendations were stolen. My great grandmother’s heirloom lamp, my stamp collection, our clothes, antique furniture, musical instruments and many other things were stolen from us during our absence. Things we will never recover, things we will regret no longer having. We have endured life-changing illness and debilitating injuries from being without available healthcare.
In the community where we live, we were denied advertising for our new business, we were denied police recognition and escorts for our clients, and because it is a small town, we have been looked upon as outsiders even though it is the area of my ancestry, my birth, and my childhood.
Our lives here have been difficult, yet richly rewarding. We have made new and wonderful friends. We have helped many people through the worst experience life has to offer. We have grown spiritually, and we have developed new skills. We have been blessed with new grandchildren. Now that we are stationary, we have taken the opportunity to address our health needs. Structure has re-infused itself into our lifestyle, and our reputation for kind and caring business owners is growing.
This past week, we finally had each of our daughters and our grandchildren home for the week. We have not enjoyed that blessing for nearly 15 years. As I sit and reflect back upon this journey, I realize it has been a monumental endeavor. Had I known the hardships it would impose upon us, I am sure I would have thought more deeply about it before embarking upon it, however, in the end, I feel certain, I would have followed my heart.
I am blessed with a husband, parents, children and grandchildren who love me and believe in my dream. What more could a wife, a daughter, a mother and a grandmother ask for?
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and professional speaker. 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.