Last week I received a call from a participating funeral home in our non-profit’s mission. The funeral director told me that his funeral home would no longer present the quilt sets to surviving mothers upon the death of their infants. I was surprised that this funeral director wanted to stop offering this touching and healing service to his families, so I ventured to ask him how he had come to his decision. After a few uncomfortable moments of searching for his words, he blurted out that he was a man, and I was a woman. I was confused by his statement and asked him to explain further.
His explanation took me by surprise. I had never considered that his experience in serving a surviving mother would be any different than my own. It was, however, and his report caused me to consider that I had been remiss in preparing participating funeral directors, especially male funeral directors, for the emotional impact that this amazing service brings.
Last week my friend buried two infants from a set of triplets. Rather than preparing these infants as one generally does, he had to pick them up and swaddle them in the quilts supplied by Heaven Sent, Corp. In so doing, he was unsuspectingly pulled into the grief from which their mother was suffering. Ordinarily, a funeral director would set the babies in caskets, and that would be that. Preparing them for the quilt exchange caused his emotions to connect with them, their suffering mother, and the reality of their tragedy. The endearing action of picking up and swaddling these babies, even though deceased, suddenly brought forward the wonderful experiences of love he had enjoyed with his own babies. The reality that this suffering mother would never have such sweet opportunities with two of her babies caused him great sadness and pain.
The emotional awakening experienced by my friend was more than he had anticipated. It struck his heart as would a knife; the pain equally as sharp and menacing. His statement that he was a man, and I was a woman spoke to his discomfort within the differences between the acceptable grief expressions of the sexes.
As funeral directors, men and women perform funerals and cremations daily. People will often ask us how we endure such sorrow in our work. The answer is that a surviving family’s pain is not a funeral directors pain. Delivering services does not require an emotional investment. The fact that some funeral directors are aloof to their survivor’s sorrow and grief may be a necessary blockade enabling them to survive the demands of their jobs. One's spiritual nature, however, makes it very difficult when one sees another suffer, not to care or empathize with their anguish. This involuntary swelling of empathy causes us to care for others whether they are familiar to us or not. The realization my friend experienced, being unable to avoid connecting with his client’s sorrow, was more than he thought he could bear.
My friend has decided to remain in our program. His experience with these two lost babies brought a new focus into his work. The spiritual nature of the human experience; loving thy neighbor.
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.
For additional encouragement, read other articles or watch video “Grief Briefs,” please go to my website at www.MourningCoffee.com.