I don’t have much time to write anymore. I don’t have much time to do anything anymore. Working close to 50 hours a week as an intern funeral director and balancing that with the needs of an almost-2 and almost-3 year old in addition to all the regular crap like laundry and dishes and bill paying and there just isn’t much left. In some ways I feel the same way I did when each of the kids was a newborn…overwhelmed, anxious, excited, happy, sad and, of course, your biggest craving is for sleep, and you never seem to be able to get enough.
So here I am, 2 months into my one-year internship in Funeral Services and I want so badly to love it— I’m trying hard to love it all the time, but the thing about being an intern is that you have to learn how to do everything, and that includes (to a large degree), the less glamorous parts of funeral services. Such as vacuuming an entire funeral home (including Chapel), scrubbing urinals, picking up garbage, cleaning out rain gutters and hauling oversized funeral flower arrangements from the funeral home to the church and then cemetery. It’s all part of the job, and it’s all important work, but I’d be lying if I said it isn’t backbreaking, monotonous and stressful at times. I find I spend much of my day being anxious about whether or not I am doing something correctly and/or safely. Luckily the people I work with have been exceptionally patient and generous with their knowledge and there are moments that it all seems to mesh, and I feel really good. But there are also moments I want to burst into tears and run away. A lot of my anxiety has to do with how new everything is. There is a massive learning curve for me happening, but at the same time Funeral Services is not the type of industry that you can make very many mistakes in. The result of these two things is that I am living at a high level of stress most of the time.
Stella is what gets me through the hard days. The ones where I get home after 11pm at night, knowing I need to leave for work again by 6:45 the next morning, without seeing my kids or wife at all. The days there is a baby or young person lying on the embalming room table. The days when I make a mistake and 15 different people at the funeral home make jokes about it. The days I feel lost and overwhelmed; incompetent and useless. When I feel like giving up, admitting defeat and applying for another desk job, I reach inside and find my inner Stella Joy. The stubborn, fearless, unrelenting parts of her that I promised I would adopt to my own personality after she died. And then, somehow, just like she did, I keep on going. I can see huge changes in myself already and there are many things I’ve accomplished during this internship that I’m proud of, so I think that no matter what happens long-term I will be grateful for the growth and lessons I experience each and everyday. It’s sure as heck never boring!!!
I keep a Stella Star in my locker at work and when I’m rifling through in the morning looking for the appropriate outfit (we have funeral suits, evening suits, grubby clothes and embalming uniforms), it swings and clangs against the metal sides. Her photo always catches my eye as it’s crookedly taped to the wall next to my schedule. “Good morning, baby” I always think to myself.
Stella has been dead for almost 2 years now. I can hardly believe it. I can hardly believe it’s been that long since I felt the soft, warm weight of her body nestled into mine. It’s funny because during the first year I feel like I really needed concrete reminders of her. My “F**k you cancer- Stella bracelet, my Stella necklace, one of her little t-shirts, photos, etc. But now I feel as though she is steeped right into my pores and when I breathe and think and speak, she is part of all of it but without me thinking consciously about it. Just as she once physically lived in me, now she mentally lives in me. I am different because of her. I am better because of her. And I see her in her brothers as well. The boys are active. They are running, talking, leaping little people. It takes a team of us sometimes to spell each other off on all the energy the boys need to shake before they can collapse into bed. Even as Aimee and I are sitting in their room reading books to them, they are running around us, jumping from the bed and chasing each other in circles. Their energy is beautiful and their smiles as they sit side-by-side eating crackers from a bowl in their pyjamas and giggling as they wiggle their toes makes me want to freeze time and never leave that moment.
I can’t believe how much they are changing and growing. Much of Stella’s physical growth stopped at 26 months of age, so it’s been amazing to see the growth and changes in Sam, who is 33 months now (if you even count in months at that age). He hasn’t met anything he can’t climb, cocks his head to the side and says things like, “You fell Xavier? That’s why we don’t run here, we only walk”, tells me I’m beautiful and starts most sentences with “hey guys…” Hugo runs along behind him, a little ball of excitement and single-mindedness. I feel like I have finally arrived at the place that DIPG robbed Aimee and I of that warm June day in 2011. I have arrived at the moment and age where our kids are old enough to be signed up for soccer and gymnastics, to go on playdates without a parent, to talk and grow into their personalities. Time continues to march forward, and it seems impossible to think, or to say out loud, but Aimee and I and our family…we are okay. We are happy.
And being around death all the time certainly has a way of helping to keep me focused on what’s really important. Death really and truly is a random thing. The youngest body I’ve had on the table in the embalming room was a 15-week old baby. The oldest was a 103 year old man. But I’ve seen everything in between too. Young, old, frail, strong, sudden death, long illness, suicide, murder. It doesn’t matter how or what or when, it’s truly the one common denominator of all living things. And I’ve sat through dozens and dozens of funeral services now. I can tell you I’ve never once had anyone say in a service or eulogy that someone would be missed because their house was always cleaned and organized, or their clothing was ironed nicely. No one ever says they will miss the fancy car that person drove, or the expensive house they lived in, or the Rolex watch they wore. All these “things” we spend our lives collecting turn out to be totally meaningless after all. When someone dies, the stories that are told are about kind gestures, generosity, making other people feel good, loving and being loved. I try to remind myself of this on a daily basis when I start to feel overwhelmed by staying on top of work and life. Life isn’t laundry, life is laughter.
So, for any loyal blog readers left out there who have been checking in and seeing no updates for awhile, my apologies. We love that you still check in on us, and love that you still care. If I’m not writing, it’s probably because the boys and I are spending the evening looking at a rainbow and wishing on a star and by the time we finish…we’ve fallen asleep (o:
“Perhaps our eyes need to be washed with tears once in awhile, to help us see clearly again” - Alex Tan
Poppa reads the boys a story:
Big-girl Gracie reads to her cousins:
Hugo’s silly face:
Ice Cream for Stella:
Stella and Mama, September 2011: