Growing Up In a Funeral Home
I was born in Vernon, BC in 1969. My father established the Pleasant Valley Funeral Home there in approximately 1975. At the early age of 6 I was hanging around the funeral home during its construction, and also after its completion. The life of a Funeral Director/Owner is definitely tied to the business and there would be many times when we as kids (my older brother and sister and I) would have to wait for Dad to finish up his work for the day before we could go out as a family. I recall running around the funeral home playing tag or hide and seek. I, being the youngest and smallest, was exceptionally good at scooting under the pews in the chapel.
My father was always conscientious to ensure that we would not wander into the morgue if there was an embalming/preparation of a body underway, but it would not be uncommon for us to be around a deceased person once they were prepared for the funeral and ready for a viewing. I recall asking my father once, “What are you painting daddy?” as he was applying the final make-up touches on a woman. He explained it wasn’t paint but make-up, and why she needed to have some colour to restore her appearance. I wanted to see, but I was only 6 and thus quite short. Dad picked me up so I could have a good look. Of all the questions I could have asked (What is dead? Where is Heaven?), I asked my Dad, “Where are her legs?” It appears that 6 years olds ask very obvious questions! The question makes complete sense when you realize that only half of the lid of a casket is opened for viewing the deceased. My Father took away the flowers that were sitting on the bottom half of the casket and opened up the whole lid, removing any mysterious, preconceived ideas of what might have happened to her legs. I was satisfied and ran off to play with my siblings.
I am thankful for the way in which my father made the end of life as natural and unthreatening as he did. It was simply understood that everyone is born and everyone dies. I have come to realize that my upbringing and the natural day to day understanding of the fact “in the midst of life we are surrounded by death” is not the norm, yet I wouldn’t want to have had it any other way. I was never overwhelmed with grief, darkness, or melancholy. I just understood that this is the way the world is. I feel we need to be open with our children to talk about death (i.e. loss, separation), because it is going to happen and it is a great common denominator in all of our lives. When we learn to accept the reality of it, we are then able to heal after a death occurs.