Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Funerals 'R 'Us

I have made a discovery. I have had an “aha” moment. I’ve been looking for one of those ever since I began my job as a church lady/chick. I was certain that working so closely to help God’s work get done would certainly present a clarity for me. An answer to my questions of faith. 9 months into the job, I believe that those ideas were frivolous fantasy. The fact of the matter is that faith is faith, and a church is a building that houses a miniature world and when you enter the doors or spend any time within the confines of the church walls, you enter a slide show of life. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee of a clear message from God showing up on your outlook inbox, though.

The minutes of a day in the life of a church lady are filled with variety, just like life is. I find a macabre-Addams Familyesk humor in some aspects of the job. Take funeral planning for instance…. funerals can offer so many opportunities for mass chaos. It seems ironic the amount of energy it takes to help someone rest in peace.

A Funeral is a bipolar beast. The initial announcement brings up all sorts of emotions in people. Sadness, of course. Shock, grief, relief, confusion, bitterness, you name it-and disequilibrium flows through the hallways like forced air. Sitting in the church lady’s chair, I am privy to all of that.

A call comes in. A quiet voice whispers that a loved one has passed. I used to keep an ongoing list of quick responses such as “ well, it was her time…… Oh, I’m so sorry….. She’s with God now,………He’s in a better place now…..” . Now, I look at those silly comments and I think to myself, “ how the heck would I know if it is or it isn’t her time?... ..I don’t know who God is much less where he resides, nor do I know if he/she is receiving guests….. as far as better place goes, well there are days when I’m thinking any place is better than the place my life sits at the moment, so I’m not sold on that comment whole heartedly.

Now a days, I just say simpler things like, “ I’m so sorry, what can I do for you? …or if they are in house when the news is shared, I offer a hug. The fact of the matter is that nothing helps the pain of loss, nothing that we have control over anyway. There are instances when family talks for weeks about how much a loved one is hanging on, how they wish it would just be over, then, when it is, well.. it’s hard to let go regardless. And so the hourglass slows a bit, as the sand runs through us when we hear the news….

Then POP! It’s time to plan! Throwing a funeral is in some ways similar to throwing a surprise birthday party without the surprise. I haven’t yet been to a service for the dead that includes having the congregation pop up out of their pews when the body or urn enters to yell surprise.. No, can’t say that I’ve heard of that one. But the details are similar. Instead of invites, there’s the obituary. Instead of cake and icecream, there’s a family meal or light reception. Instead of chaperones, we have ushers. Event directors? See-Altar Guild. Caterers? Call the Bereavement Committee. Instead of gifts, there are memorials. Someone asked me once, how many _____( religion withheld, substitute as you see fit) does it take to change a lightbulb? The answer is NONE- as it is a memorial gift and can’t be touched.

No Karaoke band or DJ,- music comes via organ. Reception toasts or roasts? – Funerals offer sermons, and childhood stories. The two events parallel in many ways. The biggest difference is the time factor. 48 hours tops to pull a Funeral extravaganza together. Take the details for the birthday party and caffeinate them the hold on.

I came into work this morning, and poked my head into my boss’s office. The doorknob was warm and that is never good. If he’s got frenetic energy going, his whole office temp raises 10 degrees. I knew I was in trouble when I opened the door as my glasses fogged. There he sat, facing his computer typing away a mile a minute. The keyboard was puffing out smoke with each stroke. His phone receiver lay splayed out on his desk hissing. The cool hallway air hit him up side his head and he snapped around to face me. “We’ve got a lot to do, to pull together. We need ushers, quick quick, and an organist. Ben is handling the food, but we need to tell the bereavement committee so they won’t cook, too. I’m working on my sermon for Sunday, I have 3 counseling sessions today before lunch, and my article for the newsletter was due yesterday, I’ve got to visit the family, we don’t have the flowers figured out yet, there’s some issue with flower urn size and delivery time……I ran 6 miles before breakfast, and had a pre-dawn meeting before my usual weekly breakfast meeting. I think its gonna be a busy day.” Now, a few months ago, I might have dropped my morning mail and run away. I know better now. This is the process at work. The process of planning a funeral. …so I stayed in my position, one hand holding onto the door frame, the other on the door knob. I looked at him and said all that I could say, “okay” and I left him to his tasks. I entered my office, prioritizing as I went. First things first. I checked my desktop jar of MnM/peanuts. I figured he’d be in for a protein/chocolate fix momentarily. I refilled my container of comfort foods and sat at my desk. I called and arranged and waited and called back and before the day was over, the pieces had started coming together.

Part II
The Big Day

Church Chick

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