As many times as I am asked, “what do you do for work?” is the same number of times that I get a look that says, “what”? Most people don’t venture to ask what my work as an aftercare coordinator for funeral service is about. I think they hear the word “funeral” and it stops them in their tracks. I have often conjured up a vision in my mind of the person saluting me away with a hand gesture of some sort accompanied by some unspoken words something along the lines of, “Oh no, I am not going there, not interested, don’t’ want to know, hope to not to have to ever see you.”
I never started on a path that would lead me to work in funeral service. It was not on any radar in my life, by any means. After my own personal, very hard and difficult experience of loss and grief, I landed in the world of funeral service. I felt that because of the lack of understanding and support that I did not get from the people in my life, and so desperately needed, motivated me to do something to make a difference for someone else. I was not quite sure how I was going to do that, all I knew is I had to figure it out.
Each person experiences loss in relationship to the depth of love they feel for the person who has died-we have all heard that grief is the price we pay for love-so very true are those words.
One of the first really difficult things I found myself having to navigate after my loss, was the reality that my loss would not be considered as difficult as others. I lost my infant daughter who died after living only 2 hours and 9 minutes. We named her Aubrie Marie. The people in my life assumed that I had lost a pregnancy. I did not loose a pregnancy, I experienced the loss of a child! Any mother who conceives a child and then looses that child at any time, is a mother who then has the unimaginable title of “Bereaved Parent”.
As any parent who lost a child would think, my child died and was not supposed to. Regardless of the amount of time Aubrie breathed on this earth, she was every bit a child of mine who was loved beyond any words or description. There were many realities that I had to face while grieving in a world that I no longer knew.
To this very day, almost 30 years later, when I think back and reflect on what was helpful and what did make a difference for me, be it big or small, one very clear piece of my story is how the funeral director treated me and my husband. When we were told our daughter died the next thing we were told was, “you need to call a funeral home”.
In the shock and horror of what we were experiencing and the inability to fully understand what had happened, I remember thinking, “why do we need to call a funeral home”. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was in shock and I was devastated. At that point in my life, I had only been to very few funerals. The latest having been the funeral for my mother, who died suddenly and unexpectedly 10 months before Aubrie was born and died. My mother died in NJ, I was living in NY.
I couldn’t tell you what the name of the funeral home was or what it looked like, what the funeral directors name was and I know I never spoke to a funeral director during my mothers calling hours or funeral. My sisters who lived in NJ at the time handled all of the arrangements along side my stepfather. I was not included in anything. I have a faded memory of sitting many rows back in the viewing room. Nobody approached me to offer condolences. That is about all I remember.
When Aubrie died, I can tell you what funeral home helped us, I know the name of the funeral director, I have a clear memory of the beautiful area they prepared for us and how beautifully they cared for and prepared our daughter-even after they explained the fact that babies don’t “keep” well, our baby was in perfect condition. A week would pass from the time they took her body into their care to the day of her burial. They dressed her in a precious christening gown, one that I would not have thought to get, had they not suggested it. They also suggested that we bring anything we wanted to put in the tiny casket to surround her with. Which we did.
The funeral home brought our baby to her final resting place up on top of a hill overlooking the city that we lived in, buried above my grandmother’s grave. They took care of everything. They charged us nothing and they even gave us pictures that they had taken of her after she was prepared for us to visit with her. Those pictures are my most precious treasures. It was my experience with our funeral director that impacted me so greatly that it was a funeral director who I went to when I began to “figure out” what I was going to do to make a difference for someone else following the loss of their loved ones!
My life work was born out of wanting to help others while creating a legacy for my daughter and out of the hope that funeral homes would partner with me to create and provide a meaningful way to support grieving families. Had the experience with my funeral home when I lost Aubrie had been anything like the experience I had with my mother, I don’t believe that I would be able say that I have spent 28 years supporting grieving families on behalf of many, many extraordinarily compassionate and caring funeral directors. My affiliations with funeral directors have been and continues to be among my greatest blessings. I am grateful for their support and friendship and trust that they place in me with supporting their families.
I have been invited to submit an article for the November/December Aftercare issue. I look forward to sharing it with you. My hope is to give you a valuable perspective about Aftercare and share with you why I can say with 100% of certainty that Aftercare, done right, does make a profound difference about how people feel about funeral service and specifically about your funeral home. Families remember how they are made to feel; they don’t remember much else about their funeral home experience! FBA
Linda Findlay is the founder of Mourning Discoveries, Grief Support Services. She is a 28-year career “Aftercare Coordinator”, a published author, an advocate for bereaved families and the founder and co- creator of Journeys of Hope Grief Support Outreach Programs, coordinating and hosting Seminars & Events including the first and only Bereavement Cruise that provides extensive programming exclusively for grieving families. Linda has developed the most comprehensive aftercare programs that are used in over 300 funeral homes in 25 states. Linda has supported and worked with thousands of grieving families across this country. She has visited and provided support for grieving families in their homes and through Funeral Homes, Hospices and faith-based organizations. She has created, facilitated, participated in and coordinated hundreds of workshops, services of remembrances, and support groups. Linda is a lay counselor for a Christian Care Ministry in Greenville SC. Her highest honor is to enter people’s lives and help make a difference. Linda can be reached at 315-725-6132 or visit her websites at: www.mouringdiscoveries.com and www.j3hhh.com or email her at [email protected]