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