Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The business of death
Practising for death, with kite, in the heart of the Olgas …..
or, Waiting for the Vultures!
The woman at reception is on the phone and gestures for me to take a seat. As I pass the plump couches, on the way to empty my anxious bladder, a seated, shiny bald-headed man of 40-something flashes me a wide smile. Friendly, I think, smiling back. When I return, the woman I’ve seen in the carpark has joined him. I feel self-conscious, and chilly in my should-be-wool-but-cotton attire, and very hick under my Edward Scissorhands do! Why does everybody in the city use a hair dryer? I sit down. “I was horrified, her make-up was all wrong, I barely recognised her” the woman is saying. I’m triggered. Mum used to dab at her lipstick, the embalmer had plastered it on. It wasn’t her, and it was shocking. I empathise. We’re at the home of one of Melbourne’s original independent funeral homes because at some stage in the past few months we’ve made application for employment and we’ve been invited to an ‘information session’. Later we learn we’re 3 out of 8 invitees who’ve turned up. He’s a salesman, she a legal secretary. I have little doubt that, like me, they’ve been touched by death. We talk freely about our interest in entering the industry, our hopes and dreams. I belong.
We’re led down a maze of passageways, past the auditors, and into the boardroom. The walls are a museum to its Irish Catholic founding fathers and staff, past and present. The table, larger than my bedroom. A potted history is presented and any notion we may have had about securing a role that befits the importance of our ego is quickly quashed. In no uncertain terms we’re advised that all newcomers enter the industry through the same door, FDA (Funeral Director’s Assistant). Washing and preparing the hearse, driving the hearse, sweeping floors, assisting at funerals, transferring the deceased, assisting at viewings and rosaries, handing out pamphlets. “Some who come are too precious” states our informant, “Are you all prepared to do this?”
Despite there being no current employment opportunities, I am grateful for and humbled by the experience, and say a little prayer that in the future my wish be heard. This is the landscape of service, these are the places and spaces where I know I am at my most authentic.