Monday, March 30, 2009

Elise - The Funeral (Part II)

Elise had married into the family business four years ago with the understanding she would move on once she found work of her own. The dental office she had worked in for the past eight years had closed, and she had agreed to help out around her husband's funeral home while she searched the web for a new place to land. After a few months though, Elise found herself spending less time checking the new postings, and instead working around the office freeing up her husband Chris to focus his attention to family consultations and the restoration work taking place in the basement.

In those first few weeks she spent time down in the basement with Chris learning about the restorative process, and the steps taken to preserve the appearance of life long enough for the family to say good-bye. Very little of what she saw bothered her at first, but she quickly came to learn that in order to do her job, she couldn't see the process. On the table, the deceased lost their histories and personality and became projects. They were a series of fluids, stitches, realignments and positionings. They stopped being human, and in order to work with the families she needed to do everything in her power to remember the role these bodies had in the lives of the people who knew and loved them.

During viewings and services, Elise would stand out in the foyer and direct people to the bathrooms and water fountain. She would replace boxes of tissue, show distraught families to one of the private grieving rooms, and assist when Chris needed. Mostly though, she stood close to the wall, or sat on a stool just outside the office door, and watched the family members and friends come and go while listening to their conversations and cliched sentiment. People would tell each other that the man or woman in the casket looked good, or that they had lived a full life. People said the flowers were beautiful and took turns reminding each other that funerals are for the living.

For Elise though, funerals were only for the dead. She idealized their lives, making them all moral fun-loving people. They made mistakes, but atoned for them. They raised families who may be too selfish to see yet everything that was given to them. They loved hard, and forgave quickly. They stayed up with sick children, and lay down faithfully with their spouses. The indulged in kindnesses and had a genuine interest in the well being of strangers. They left the world a better place than it was when they first arrived.

Each and every funeral she worked, Elise purposefully created these histories for the deceased because she believed firmly in another oft said cliche: "Funerals bring out the worst in people."

It was at the funeral that the first whispers of pain and disappointment were whispered amongst scorned family. It was during the viewings that people would arrive after lunch-time cocktails and start sharing intimate secrets a touch too loudly to be discreet while stealing glances at the open casket. The only way to combat the ugliness and create an environment where she could still have compassion was to invent a living version of the corpse before her that she could love.

It came naturally to her, and after a few months, she didn't consciously realize she was doing it. With a glance at their slack gray skin, entire lives would suddenly be visible to her. A few months after that, she would even find herself drained and saddened at the end of her day, mourning the loss of the life she had created.

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