I lovingly blame Camus and my grandmother for this post.
For the past, maybe fifteen years or so, my mother has been the proud owner of a convenience store in small-town New Brunswick. Although it hasn’t always been that way, thanks to an incredible amount of dedication, hard work and self-sacrifice on my mom’s part, it is now quite a profitable business. That said, after all these years, you get tired and, for probably the past five or more, I’ve been hearing her speak of retirement.
But you know how it goes:
At some point, when my grandmother was sick and in palliative care, she asked my mother what she was doing. She thought my mother was done. Why was she still working at that store? My mother didn’t really have a good answer.
My grandmother passed away a year ago this week. When everything was said and done, my mother went in to pay the funeral director and they had a bit of a chat. The director was very impressed with my mother’s business savvy and how she treats her employees. He asked her to go into business with him.
My mother took it as a sign, or more likely a little cosmic joke from my grandmother, and since last year, she has now been the proud co-owner of a series of funeral homes. And by extension, I am the proud co-owner of a series of funeral homes.
It was a weird holiday season in many ways. My mom and I watched the entire first season of Six Feet Under on DVD. December was a busy month with lots of new clients coming in (you understand what I mean by that, right?) and I joined my mother at one of the funeral homes.
The funeral director is an incredibly kind and pleasant man. Honestly, you have never seen someone better suited to his job. He spoke to me in excited tones as my mother gave me a tour. The creepy factor was semi-high, but what creeped me out even more was the fact that I found this all to be so… normal. Perhaps 13 episodes of SFU had already prepared me for all this.
There is one small room that was filled with coffins. Seriously, jam packed. They were lining the walls from floor to ceiling. Some of them were open to show you the lining and they all came in a variety of colours. I kept expecting someone to climb out of a closed casket, but that’s just silly.
The dead bodies were in the other room.
The funeral director asked me if I wanted to see the preparation room. There was ‘someone’ in there and that I didn’t have to go if I was scared. I think the colour drained from my face as I bravely muttered that I wasn’t scared and I would go have a look. My mother laughed.
I was expecting the prep room to be bigger. They have the whole basement of a house in SFU, but this room was no bigger than my bedroom (eesh, I can’t believe I made THAT connection). A very large man was laid out under a sheet with his feet facing the door. I didn’t go in to see his face, because all I could stare at was a very blue foot with a very long toenail peeking out from beneath the sheet. There were jars and instruments and a big giant tube than ran from the man all the way into a toilet on the side of the room. My mind was racing: part scared and part contemplating the beautiful framing of this shot if it ever was a movie.
Because it was beautiful.
From the office, I could see someone had been laid out for a viewing. I couldn’t see the person’s head because the door frame was in the way, but once again I thought about camera angles and framing. The director (funny how he’s also called a director) told me about the kinds of conversations he has with people who bring in a loved (and sometimes not-so-loved) one. It’s crazy the level of humanity he is witness to on a daily basis; the things people still try to hide, even in death; the level of uncomfortableness around the subject; the family dynamics…
It gives you a lot to think about and I still do, even a month later.