To the Very Last Person to Ever Touch My Daughter on Earth
|Avery Johanna McCarthy|
10.05.01 - 10.24.12
You were the very last person to ever touch my daughter on earth. You took her stilled, silent body and you washed her. You changed her into the clothes I had brought over in a brown paper bag. Her favorite blue jeans, a bright blue t-shirt with a tank top underneath. Years later, I'd panic, convinced I had forgotten to bring fresh, clean underwear. I contacted the people at the funeral home - can you believe we've become such good friends? I was told that when a family forgets something like that, they simply discretely provide it.
You helped me to understand that it was okay to put fuzzy socks on her feet. You patiently slipped them on her.
You took the down comforter I passed to your hands and listened as I explained through choppy breaths and a stream of tears that she'd need to be wrapped up in it - like a burrito. Because that's how she watched TV. Burrito wrapped in her blanket.
You wrapped her up tightly. And you laid her down gently for the very last time.
I honestly have no idea what compels someone to become a funeral director. I can't imagine many high school career counselors hear that one. In your case, this was a family business, but you could have done anything.
Instead, you chose to comfort the brokenhearted. You chose a profession where you see people at their weakest and most vulnerable. During the times where we are so lost we have literally no idea how we will behave. Some sit stone still, others rage. Some cry, others are in denial. Families fight in front of you, bringing up old, unnecessary wounds when all that should be done is to write the obituary and get it into the paper.
You see the absolute worst life has to offer. A front and center seat to the most horrible of all horribles. Children. Innocents. Disease. Accidents. Heartache. Fathers. Mothers. And those so alone no one comes to cry for them at all.
And yet, you aren't hardened. You aren't cold. You aren't even angry.
In fact, it seems the exact opposite; that your heart continues to grow and grow with unlimited compassion and a gentleness that seems to be unattainable for the rest of us. You love strangers in the most intimate of ways. You care for them. And you do it so gently. So beautifully. As if you know how truly honorable it is to dress the dead.
I wasn't able to see Avery after -- in fact, you looked me right in the eyes and asked me what my last memory of her was. I told you about that morning. How stunningly beautiful I noticed her to be. That she seemed bathed in golden light when she was standing at the bathroom mirror, when she was sitting in the passenger seat flicking on the CD. That light followed her all morning. I told you how she took my breath away when she sang. How I caught a glimpse of her as her older self but not quite - she looked like an angel. I explained how my words were at a complete loss when she looked back as she got out of the car: You know, Mom, I really am a God Girl. I smiled and shook my head, this sweet, sweet girl of mine, as she skipped away.
"Hold on to that," you said. "You don't need this."
I knew what you meant. You were saving me from a memory I didn't need to have. You took on for yourself what you knew I shouldn't have to be hurt by. An image that no mother should ever have to face. How many times have you done that? How many times have you chosen the heartache for yourself to save a stranger from theirs?
I can't imagine it's easy for you. In a society where we're keen on asking what people do for a living and griping about our jobs at dinner parties, where do you fit? When you haven't been to any of your child's soccer games and you miss the parent-teacher conference because you're answering someone else's crisis, how do you reconcile that? When you have to ditch last minute because a stranger's funeral had to be held that particular day, what do you feel when the pictures come back and your date is, once again, alone? How many people have you cared for, comforted, held up and yet they look away awkwardly when you pass them in the grocery store or at the gas station - not because of anything more than they're just trying desperately to figure out their new normal and they're afraid they're going to lose it so they pretend not to see you because that's the only way they know how to deal? How many times have you been avoided simply because of the job you do?
I imagine it might be very lonely for you at times.
I want to tell you thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I hope you know that what you do for others - what you did for me - will always mean more than anyone can ever explain. Thank you for choosing the hard road, the difficult journey. Thank you for showing up and taking the lead when everyone else is lost and has no idea what to do. Thank you for staying late. Thank you for listening to our stories. Thank you for making us feel that we matter. Thank you for your professionalism. Thank you for your kindness. And thank you for your compassion.
And, thank you, for tucking Avery in one very last time.
I just lost my 20 year old daughter 4 weeks ago so I share your pain. Fortunately, my uncle, whom I am very close with is a funeral director. Although, he doesn't take care of family members personally, his staff were wonderful. Right down to making sure she had her favourite band shirt on and her cow slippers.
I couldn't thank them enough for all they did for me and my family. They are truly special people.
This is one of the most beautiful blogs I have read in my life.
I know the light you are talking of, I remember seeing it in a youth who was a part of our youth group, the morning before he passed. That special light that can only radiate when someone is on their way to their eternal home.
You bring up something that we don't think about, and it makes me sad that I didn't thank the funeral directors my family worked with at our most difficult and painful time in our lives. You could not be more right about them. They are a gift and the kindness they show to the people they work with can not be shared enough. Thank you for sharing this beautiful article. May you find peace and the ability to continue on each day with the beautiful memories you have of your daughter. Thinking of you this morning.
I have been to far more funerals then I would care to; some beautiful, some not. It was very obvious which ones were run by people who cared. Thanks to all of you who do.
Susan from Clarkston, MI
A death changes everything and we get it. Every time I serve a family I ask God to give me the right words of comfort that the family needs to hear!
May God surround you with love during this difficult time.
This is why, we Funeral Directors, do what we do. This brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for such a heartfelt letter.
Your words are beautiful and that funeral director is walking a little taller! Love to you and prayers for easier days ahead.
Ginger B. Cannon
A lot of people believe we take on this job, with the ability to be emotionless. This is not the case. I often cry. I cry alone. I cry with families. I cry in my removal van after I have to take baby out of the arms of a mother- because I leave feeling like I have taken with me a couple's entire future. Everything they had planned.
Why do we choose this job? I'm not sure. It wasn't a family business for me. It was just a calling from a very young age- since I went to my first funeral at age 3. I knew I wanted to do this.
Thank you for your kind words and for your ability to be open and vulnerable- during an age where that is often mocked and frowned upon. I applaud you.