There’s a curious balance in life. Maybe the same can be said of death.
Once upon a time I watched a day-old kitten die in my mother’s hands. I wept that it didn’t have a chance to bloom and grow. I named it Edelweiss (who among you will catch that musical allusion?).
Not so many years ago I watched a sixteen-year-old dachshund draw his last breath after two needles from the vet. I wept. Profusely. So did my boy, standing by my side. He’s the one who said it had to be done. This was his beloved childhood pet from the age of four to twenty. When we left the vet’s office, my boy carried the little limp body in his arms. The lights had been dimmed and a candle had been lit. Tears rolled down the receptionist’s face.
The boy now makes his living in the death industry. After having obtained a worship ministry degree, he’s returned to school for mortuary science. A funeral director’s apprentice. His hours are long. He gets called out in the middle of the night, in the wee hours of the morning, to pick up a body.
He’s carried the old, the young, the sudden, the long-suffering.
Even a baby.
I worried, at first, about the toll it might take.
But he’s a born comforter, stalwart, as solid as mountain, as placid as a morning pond in the countryside, smooth as glass. In taking care of others, he is taking care of himself.
He is as happy as I’ve ever known him to be.
He meets people. He connects with them. He learns from them. He hears their stories, knows about their lives.
Not just the families of the deceased.
A couple of times a week, he picks up the funeral home groundskeeper and drives him to work. This man tends a farm, among other things. Occasionally he puts something in the back of my son’s car. At some point along the way he has my boy stop so he can get the thing out of the back. A cage, of sorts. The groundskeeper will set it by the woods and release whatever’s inside… a big ol’ possum, a raccoon… creatures he traps on the farm to keep them away from his chickens and eggs (I suspect he’s trying to catch a fox. Maybe he has. Maybe my boy just hasn’t said).
What strikes me is the preservation of life. That of the wild creatures as well as the domestic ones. It’s especially fascinating to me in light of the context, occurring en route to work at the funeral home. A curious balance…
Earlier this week, when the boy dropped the groundskeeper off at the farm at the end of the day, the man pointed to the goat pen:
Look—a new baby goat. It’s maybe thirty minutes old.
He pointed again:
That one, maybe fifteen minutes old.
My son marveled. I could hear it in his voice when he told me the story: Fifteen minutes old, Mom. So tiny. I could see the afterbirth still hanging from the mother.
He sees death every single day. How fitting that his work should also lead him to witness life preserved and the miracle of its fresh arrival.
Such a curious balance.
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March