Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

Unless, like me, you have had the opportunity to work at a cemetery then you have no idea what an insane day Memorial Day can be.

Most folks think of Memorial Day as only an occasion to decorate the graves of their kin, their friends or neighbors or a BBQ day. Patriot folks will tell you that Decoration Day is for the military or first responders who laid down their lives in the service of their community, state, country. All of these ideas are a truth. But to someone who works in a cemetery it is utter chaos and a day that you just want to get right and live through until the next years tears, tirades and triumphs.

Nope the tears I'm speaking of are not the ones shed for lost loved ones, although that certainly holds true. It is the tears of folks who have lost remembrance of where their loved ones are buried or worse yet....are the ones who didn't ever know where their kin are buried, but need to know now. Those are the ones where you have to go back through decades of records of who is buried or entombed where in the cemetery and help these folks find the ones they lost. All this while a line of others are demanding that you hurry up because they too need to find "dear Aunt so and so that they never laid eyes on but they have their father in the car and he is getting hot and tired and they need to find Aunt so and so before he will let them leave and go have that BBQ. It was like preregistration for kindergarten. Crying, chaos and nobody knew the rule of only one person speaks at a time. And yes you did have to escort them to the bathroom because that is also one of the main duties of cemetery personnel to show the living where to pee while looking for the lost ones.

The tirades were from the ones who just knew that the cemetery was a shady bunch who moved the flowers that they had brought last month. Probably took them home to use for themselves. Why yes, every employee of the cemetery longed to take week old flowers home to decorate their tables. Martha Stewart really missed out on a reuse and redo when she didn't have instructions for how to make dead flowers come back for some of these folks. Of course, the plastic flowers were the ones that they really got a full head of steam up over. Because they are so very attractive and last so long on a grave. Had several folks say that they knew we probably resold the flowers to stores and made some extra money. And no I'm not kidding you. These folks didn't know the crows always had the best time with the flowers and had a good game of fly, swoop, grab and release. It made for a fun watching but not an easy retelling of why flowers were on another grave. A sense of humor in a cemetery is best left to crows and morticians.

And the triumphs of course were when someone just simply could not remember where someone they cared about was laid to rest. It felt great to be able to help them and they were grateful and happy and felt reconnected for that brief moment. I've always loved the book, Everything I learned about life, I learned in Kindergarten. I would say everything I never in my wildest dreams thought I would see,  I saw during my employment at Sunset Memorial Park.

Many experiences in life leave you gobsmacked and that was my experience. I never knew so many folks could be so angry (and yes I know it's because they never completed the 9 stages of grief and got stuck on "I'm mad that you left me") and hostile when coming to visit the cemetery. We even had a man pull a gun and demand to know where we had taken his wife because she was not where he had buried her. Talk about talking your way outta of a sticky wicket. He finally calmed down and put the gun back in the holster he was wearing but OMG. Only time in my life when I had a gun drawn on me. And I pray it is the last.

So you can tell I have a different perspective on Memorial Day than most folks. Growing up, we never went to anyone's grave to celebrate their life. We never decorated a grave to show respect and love. So I had no basis for the understanding of that practice. But I learned that it was a duty for some, a joy for others, and a urgent need for yet others. I looked upon the cemetery as only for the living, not for those who were gone. I also looked upon the opportunity that I was given during my employment as a blessing, a gift if you will. I never would have known so many passions for, with and about the dead. I would have missed out on seeing with my own eyes, thousands of living saying thank you to the dead. I would have missed poignant reuniting moments for hungry souls. I would have not known how very important it is to say goodbye, over and over if need be, so that you can move forward and be okay with the rest of the living you must do when someone goes before you.

As much as I look back and am glad I didn't stay at that job for very long, I'm also glad that I learned what I did from "babysitting the dead and helping the living find them" as my favorite mortician used to say, from my office in the mausoleum.

Everything in life is a lesson, you just have to take the proper viewpoint and then take advantage of the moment. Even after all of these years, when it comes to Memorial Day, my memories are of the living....crazy and precious.

Happy Memorial Day my lovelies, Smooches and Squoozes, Oma Linda

22 comments:

  1. Oma Linda, someone pulled a gun on you??? I don't know what I would have done? When I worked in retail, I had someone spit in my face, because I wouldn't return something. I could have punched that woman out! I didn't, I smiled, while she yelled! I really didn't know what Memorial Day was all about in the United States. Now I know ;o) Thanks for sharing your memories ;o) Big Hugs and happy Memorial Day ;o)

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    1. As I was typing that today, I thought geez, I hadn't even thought of that in years. It was kinda a surreal experience at the time and now, it's like it happened to someone else.
      Glad you didn't punch out the lady, although I wouldn't have blamed you. I don't think a lot of US citizens really have a grasp of Memorial Day. Not just a BBQ day, also not Veteran's Day, I think Remembrance Day was a better title.
      xoxo Oma Linda

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  2. Thanks for the unique perspective on something that would never have occurred to me about cemeteries. Live and learn!

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    1. Thanks. I don't know many folks would see it from that perspective. It's like the Santa Claus's that work at the mall. You don't know what it's like until you do the job.

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  3. Our cemetery is cared for by volunteers and donations. The ones who participate in either of those never complain. The ones who do nothing always have something horrible to say. I hand them a shovel and a rake and say, Have at it.

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    1. Sorry for the delay in answering your comment, sweet man has been on vacation so I've been juggling.

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  4. Death brings out the best and worst in people, and it sounds like you got to see the worst up close and personal. Seriously? They thought you re-sold their flowers? That's bizarre. I don't gain any comfort from visiting graveyards, and I don't think that the spirit of the dearly departed lives in the grave. Even when a relative passes, I don't see the point of rushing back for a funeral. They're already gone. Funerals are for the living, not for the dead; same as graveyards. There was a Memorial Day parade in the town nearest to where I grew up in the mountains, and that seemed kind of fitting; a big public display of gratitude put on and participated in by the whole community.

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    1. Sarah: I love small town parades for any and all holidays. We travel south to see their Twinkling time parade in Dec. East to see the Fourth of July and way north for the Memorial day parade. There is just nothing like the feeling of folks who still give a big one about community.

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  5. We have Remembrance Sunday here, which is the closest Sunday to 11th November, the end of WWI. That's our military remembrance, the rest is entirely up to you! Oh, and we cremate lots, it saves trying to hunt them down again ;o)

    The worst job I ever had was as a care assistant in a nursing home - the patients were lovely, the relatives were a nightmare, same kind of issues as you had, but thankfully, without the gun...

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    1. We have Veterans Day here as well and then Memorial day which used to be Rememberance or Decoration Day after the Civil War. It's all alot to keep straight really.

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  6. I hope you know that after reading this, I must write a story where a character is asked, "What do you do for work?" And he or she answers, "I show the living were to pee."

    Yep, I must...

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    1. Well I'm glad that I was able to add some humor to your day, my dear. I'll look forward to reading it where ever it shows up. xoxo

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  7. LOL!!!!!! Who ever would have thought!!! You could do a comedy routine with this one,no disrespect intended to the dearly departed. How utterly funny and crazy. And here I am thinking this would have been a nice quiet job!

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    1. You know Jeri, when I took the job, I too thought it would be quiet, but it's amazing how much of a ruchus the dead cause.....really

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  8. Never in my wildest dream would I have imagined such goings on in a cemetery. A gun??? Good grief. Anytime I have been, even to tidy family graves as a youngster, we pretty much had the place to ourselves but then we knew where we were going. I always liked the peace and quiet of a cemetery.

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    1. I always loved the after work, no phone calls, or angry/questioning folks. Sometimes I would just go sit out under a tree and watch all the animals that were in the cemetery. Foxes, squirrels, coyote, prairie dogs, and all manner of birds including road runners, quail and hummingbirds. The crows were the best though. They had such a great time of grab and swoop and drop.
      The gun thing happened twice actually but whose counting?

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  9. ~the tale you weaved shared the so many vast sides of cemetery life...what an experience that filled you plum full of such a variety of emotions and lessons to carry on in your days to come...for me i always found and find peace...never thought of the madness happening behind the scenes...you my dear are quite a remarkable one...so well rounded and rich with wisdom...much love light and blessings~

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    1. I have to my own amazement lived a very interesting and sheltered life.

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  10. I yiyi! It sounds like what we experienced at the cemetery on Mother's Day. People were absolutely crazy and acting terribly-- Terrible enough that I'm guessing their mother's would have been disappointed in them. We know where our family is buried because we visit often, but for most of the folks we encountered that day, I'm guessing it was their first visit to a cemetery EVER-- One asked where the directory was! Ha!
    jj

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    1. Joanna, the optimum word here is people. We are all born a little crazy....it's just that some are more talented at it than others.

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  11. Miss Oma Linda, this is truly a poignant post, told in your beautiful flow, and has really made me "see" your experiences. I had never thought of what the Memorial Day rush of visitors must be like to one who works at a cemetery. I am crushed that you were held at gun point. You must have been absolutely terrified. Honey, please know how grateful I am that that situation was defused and you are here enriching lives as you do. And I must say, I know or have known grief, anger, heart wrenching pain, loss as so many others have, but I would never dream of being ugly to others because of it, and will never understand why people do this, particularly to someone as full of light, empathy and respect as you are. Warmest hugs to you my friend, Mina

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    1. Mina my friend. You are such a dear one. I love the fact that you said my all time favorite phrase from Tennessee....."I would never dream of being ugly to others". You made me think of my Mom who has been gone all these years now. She used to tell me.....don't you be ugly now Linda Sybil.
      It never worked by the way....I am a bonafide stinker. Oma Linda

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