The guy who drew the Grim Reaper in a black robe that drapes over the Reaper’s thin frame wasn’t a funeral director. We know better. If the Reaper indeed wears a robe, it certainly doesn’t hang loosely around his body. Nor does he carry a fairly innocuous scythe.
The real Reaper probably carries a bazooka, with a couple grenades around his belt and a sniper gun strapped to his back. And I’d be more apt to portray him wearing an outfit that properly exposes his ripped physique.
This dude is a greater killer than Rambo, Conan and Chuck Norris combined; he’s not an emaciated version of Gandolf.
And for those of us who follow the Reaper and clean up after him, it’s a full-time job that can literally kill us. Right now, we at the Wilde Funeral Home are methodically being worn to the bone by the strength of the Reaper. We’ve simply had more death than we can handle and it’s sucking away the life we live outside of the suit as well as our physical stamina. And it hurts more as I’m missing some defining moments in the life of my newborn son.
Needless to say, I’ve been finding myself at local hospital morgues nearly every day for the past month and today was no different. I parked my car behind the hospital in the little parking space that they have set aside for us funeral directors … a space where the dead are out of view from the living. I backed up to the ramp, put my car in park, pulled out my stretcher, punched the passcode into the security lock and parked my stretcher in front of the morgue door. From there, I took the long walk from the back of the hospital, through the halls and to the front, where I happened to pass the security guard. Usually he’s in his office, but today I must have caught him returning from fulfilling one of his many duties.
“You’ll be seeing me in a moment”, I said as I pass him along the hall. He’s responsible for opening the morgue and – if he’s feeling up for it — helping me with the transfer.
He’s about 35 years old. Nice. Professional guy. Takes his job seriously.
He stops the conversation that he’s having with a pretty nurse, turns around and starts walking with me to the lab that holds the paper work I have to fill out to officially release the body from the care of the hospital.
“I’ll let the lab staff know that I’m aware you’re here so they don’t have to page me.”
He lets them know, and starts his walk back to the morgue while I fill out the necessary paper work for the release.
I walk back and he’s at the morgue door waiting for me.
“Do you want some gloves, sir?” he asks.
I’m 30 years old, but I look more like 25ish. He’s probably 35. “Why would he call me ‘sir’?” I think to myself. This honorific was so natural for him too Pondering it a little more I suspect I know why, so I probe.
“You have the weekend off?” I ask.
“Yup.” He replies.
“You working Memorial Day?”
“Nope. Sittin at home, by myself, remembering.”
Feeling pretty confident that I’ve figured out why the whole “sir” thing was so natural for him, I ask my next question based on an assumption: “Are most of your co-workers ex-military?”
“Yes, sir.” He says. “Our boss is ex-army and hires us veterans.”
I reply: “Going from military to security is probably an easy transition for you guys.”
“Not for me. I was trained to take lives not save ‘em.”
At this point, the conversation moves from small talk to real talk. He’s starting to get personal and I can tell he wants me to know who and what he is.
“I’m an ex-marine. I was on the front lines of the first wave of infantry when we invaded Iraq.”
Out of the blue, without me probing, he say, “Lost some good f****** friends.”
I lost a great uncle in World War II (who I obviously never knew), I lost a childhood friend in Iraq, but I’ve never served in the Military. I’ve attended a hundred military funeral services, some at Military Cemeteries and a half dozen at Arlington Cemetery, but I’ve never lost a close friend. My dad and cousin have blown taps for hundreds of veterans at their interment, but none of those veterans were my immediate family.
I know enough to know that while Memorial Day has significance for our nation, I can’t really say I have a personal connection to Memorial Day like the parents and sisters of my childhood friend, or like the this young man I was a talking to as we pulled the body out of the morgue.
I could have pushed him. I know how to ask the questions that start the tears, but I refrained. “He’s shed enough”, I thought.
But I pushed him anyways. I looked him in the eyes as I draped the cover over the dead body lying on my stretcher, “What are you doing on Monday?” Tears started to well up in his eyes, so I pulled back any more questions.
He paused. Gathered himself. Looked at the ground and shook his head.
I knew what he was saying. I’ve heard it said a thousand times. No words, but enough to say what you’re feeling.
After he gathered himself, and I listened for a couple minutes, it was time for me to go.
He helped me down the ramp to my car. I reached out my hand, shook his hand and said, “Thank you for your sacrifice.”
“I’d do it again”, he said.
This Memorial Day I’ll be remembering him as he sits in his house and remembers the ever haunting ghosts that will torment his life. I will remember and memorialize the sacrifice this young man has given as he carries the burdens those who passed before their time.
We should remember that these types of deaths also can take the lives of those left alive.
Thanks to Norm Miron for this link.
Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson lay in a coffin, draped in an American flag, in front of a tearful audience mourning his death in Afghanistan. Soon an old friend appeared, and like a fellow soldier on a battlefield, his loyal dog refused to leave him behind.
Tumilson’s Labrador retriever, Hawkeye, was photographed lying by Tumilson’s casket in a heart-wrenching image taken at the funeral service in Tumilson’s hometown of Rockford, Iowa, earlier this week. Hawkeye walked up to the casket at the beginning of the service and then dropped down with a heaving sigh as about 1,500 mourners witnessed a dog accompanying his master until the end, reported CBS.
The photo was snapped by Tumilson’s cousin, Lisa Pembleton, and posted on her Facebook page in memory of the San Diego resident. Tumilson, 35, was one of 30 American troops, including 22 Navy SEALs, who were killed when a Taliban insurgent shot down a Chinook helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade on Aug. 6. (from MSNBC).
I don’t know that anybody likes it … especially the families that are sending their young men and women over to fight.
It’s tough, both physically and emotionally on both the soldier and the soldier’s family and friends. It pushes us to make decisions we’d never make in a perfect world. But those who do fight do so out of a sense of duty, a sense of sacrifice.
And sometimes those young men and women not only fight … they also die.
Their story ends in a crescendo that is as sad as their decision to serve was honorable.
When I heard about the 30 military personnel (37 persons overall) who were killed when their helicopter got shot down this past week, it made me think about my friend, Cpl. Brandon Hardy.
I played ball with Brandon when I was young.
He had a great smile.
His smile was one that brought out all the good in his face … it made him look more handsome … it brought out his awesome eyes … and made him look more mischievous too.
I remember where I was when I found out that Brandon was KIA in Iraq in the spring of 2006.
I was sitting in the chapel at the funeral home with my mom and all her family, looking at my maternal grandfather as he lay in his casket. He had passed only a couple days earlier after a short battle with cancer. The quiet was disturbed by the sound of the phone, prompting my father to run from the chapel to the office.
After a couple minutes he came back with the disturbing news.
I’ve never seen our community pull together to honor somebody the way they honored Cpl. Brandon Hardy that week. In fact, as long as I live I’ll remember.
I’ll remember how – on the night of Brandon’s viewing – we left the funeral home, escorted by the police, with the family in procession behind us, and as we headed to the church, which was located nine miles away. There – by the thousands – were people lining our path, some waving flags, others holding signs, “We Love You Brandon!” and “We’re Proud of Your Sacrifice”; others saluting as the hearse and family drove by; but all – together — honoring Brandon’s sacrifice.
It was the single greatest outpouring of honor and love I have ever seen.
I live in a special community. A community that – at times – is close knit to a fault. A small town, where your bad activity is in the paper the day before you do it. But, where there’s real love and real concern for their own.
Over the next couple days, as those 37 service men and woman are laid to rest, I can only hope their respective communities can honor their sacrifice as ours did for Cpl. Brandon Hardy and his family. I can only hope that the families can have that one grace – the grace of community that responds to sacrifice with honor.
There’s nothing more honorable than sacrifice.
And there’s nothing more moving than when that sacrifice is given in death. And there’s nothing more powerful than when that sacrifice is responded to by a community, out of their love.
If you would, say a prayer for the 37 families who lost loved ones this past week. I don’t know any of them, but I know many of them will be dealing with anger, bitterness and a pain that few of us know, and that the rest of us should be thankful we’ll never understand.
Pray that their communities can pull together in support and give the families the grace of honor in death.
It’s in sacrifice that we see the highest and best in humanity.
And it’s in honor and love that we see humanities highest and best response.