Thursday, July 28, 2011

Who Said Life Lessons Had to be Glamorous?

Talking about death sure does make people squirm. Granted, it is not an uplifting subject and carries a lot of pain, along with other unpleasant feelings … but it IS part of life and it is inevitable.
Ignoring death, even when it is the elephant in the room, seems to be more of the norm for a lot of people. Many of my close acquaintances use this technique and will avoid any “dead/death” discussions at all costs. A little eye rolling here, a little scrunching of eyebrows there … Its during those discussions when some people quickly “realize” they need to go to the restroom or are running late for an important meeting.
Such negative responses have caused me to solely think instead of speak. I keep my funeral thoughts in a private closet to avoid being avoided. The truth is I have a deep interest in the field of funerals and such. (Bear with me for a minute.) I see the role as one of the more important ones in life. It is one that matters to a family in need, more than words or money.

On the side, I imagine being a funeral planner; like Jennifer Lopez in, “The Wedding Planner.”
     Sure, there are a couple differences. I will be the person hired for hip, top-notch funerals instead of weddings … and the obvious difference is that I don’t look quite as sizzling as JLo. Other than those things … it’s the same!
The funeral industry is often viewed as taboo in our culture; but when in need, you are thankful for someone who can handle it well. Granted, I am not a medical minded person, so I am not mentally equipped to do things like embalming; but I have a heart for those in need.
With all that being said, I am still uneasy with most aspects of deadness. I assume the only people who get comfortable with it are embalmers because they get up close and personal on a regular basis. Anyway, here’s my story:

Years ago, I had a friend who went through such a difficult time with the funeral customs when her sibling died. She said, “I am so freaked out with all of this. I have never been in a funeral home, seen a dead body or been to a funeral.”
Her focus was more on that than the loss of her loved one. It was completely overwhelming and inescapable.
Therefore, when I had children, I introduced death in the healthiest way I knew how; in small, delicate doses. I took them to visitation of an elderly person that I knew, but that they really didn’t know … Just to open their minds to the understanding of the concept of a person’s body in a box as people are standing around looking at it. To me, that’s a lot to ask of anyone; a kid, or an adult. Also, it opened the door of knowledge that death is a part of life. It made it more tangible, if you will. This way, they had a chance to ask questions in a safe, unemotional circumstance and try to get a better understanding about this part of life.
They have always asked good questions and I give them age appropriate, honest answers. It helped that we had the opportunity to go without being under direct emotional attack. That also gave me the opportunity to explain the importance of honoring a life … even the life of someone YOU do not directly know. For example, my daughter’s friend from school lost his dear grandfather, who my child had never met. She was sad because her little friend was so sad. I told her to find out where the funeral home was and I would take her to the visitation.
She questioned me in confusion, “What? WHY?!”
I explained that she could offer her support and friendship to show her friend that she respects the importance of his grandfather.
She said, “But mom, they didn’t send me an invitation. Isn’t that rude to just invite myself and show up?”
I explained, we went, and she experienced the meaning of her visit as her friend and his mother were thrilled to see her take the time for their family. It was not comfortable for her, but she saw the bigger picture and felt good about her action and decision.

Now, on to the discussion which has sparked many discussions over the last week or two …
Being a hair stylist possibly looks like an unimportant, vain occupation … nothing more than hairspray and gossip. After living in it for over 2 decades, I know better. I love the industry with all of my heart. I have increased my family by many (my dear clients) and my kids would swear we are related to many of my clients. There is nothing I would not do for them, and it is mutual.
I lost my first, long time client to cancer. I have seen her every 4 weeks at 9 am on Friday morning for over 10 years. She is pre-booked through January 2012. In fact, her name is on my book tomorrow morning. I simply do not have it in me to erase her appointment and book someone else in her spot. I suppose I will be sitting in my own empty chair at 9 o’clock in the morning, just thinking and remembering …
I would mentally stockpile questions for her because she was a counselor, so it was always a fun opportunity to quiz her about deep stuff like, “How can a Narcissist be a Christian? I know it’s possible, but don’t they go against one another?”
This client never shunned the challenge of going deep. In fact, she could even take it a step deeper. I liked that side of her. She also helped me with my landscaping one time and we have helped her with some things at her house. She was more than “just a client” to me.
Anyway, I knew that after her body was prepared, I would be the first person to see her; at least the 1st who knew her before death. I would style her hair one last time. My job was to complete the process of the final steps prior to her loved ones seeing her for the first time since her death; an attempt to make her look as close to what she always looked like.
The viewing is controversial in many minds. I am indifferent because it is all too intense for me. Embalming, cremation … I want to be evaporated. However, whatever we need for closure is what we do. Besides, I don’t think evaporation is currently an option.
As far as styling a person’s hair after their passing; I have done this a few times before, but it had been awhile … as in about 13 years. Though I cannot say I was excited and looked forward to it, I definitely wanted to do it for her. It was the final act I would ever be able to do directly involving her life and her time here.

As I was getting my things packed to style her hair, I made a decision and told my kids, “Girls, get dressed. I know this will not be fun for you, but I want you to go with me.”
They sat in a silent stare.
With confident assurance, I said, “You will be fine. I will be with you and this is actually a unique opportunity. You cannot “just go” into this environment unless you are working. It will give you something for later in life … though I am not sure what? … Anyway, I know you will always remember 'going with mom to the morgue.' So come on.”
(You know how I never miss a memory making opportunity ... and it wasn't technically a "morgue," but you get the picture.)
I made the adventure as light as possible. Considering its heaviness, that was a task, but I did it. We made the 45 minute drive, got something to eat on the way, stopped by an estate sale and talked about girl stuff. They had found a teeny, tiny baby mouse at the sale and begged me to bring it home and keep it because he walked so stumbled and cute. (I didn’t have the heart to tell them he had most likely gotten into poison and that something was terribly wrong with it.) They named it Patty. Silly girls.
So, we arrived at the funeral home and no one was there except one man. He led me to the preparation room and my girls followed behind like baby ducks. They were hesitant, but a little eager with curiosity.
He opened the door to the small room. I entered first and tried to absorb my unusual predicament. My girls had fixated eyes, but not scared, and they were not very chatty. The oldest sat down in a chair in the corner and my youngest sat in the floor at her feet, both respectfully quiet.
I let out a breath and said, “Ok. Let’s get started …”
The nice man asked if I needed anything, while he made casual small talk with the girls about school starting soon. He said he would leave me to work and to let him know if I did need anything. Then, he left and shut the door. (That felt a little trapping.)
My client and dear friend was fully dressed, but covered with a white sheet. The sight of her without life was difficult to see and my task was difficult to do, but she was deserving of the effort. It was my sacrificial gift.
I did have one little problem, this had happened to me before …
When the body is prepared, they wash the hair and just let it dry straight back. In addition to the fact that the client is horizontal on a metal table instead of vertical in a chair, and silent instead of talking, and I am trying to act like this is normal so my kids will have a character building experience … it causes a second guessing while trying to remember what side the hair parts. I hate it when that happens.
I began racking my brain, Think, think!! Imagine that she is in your chair, what direction do I cut it? For the love of Pete! It has only been a week since I have done her hair!!
I tried to focus and my girls slowly began to ask questions or verbalize observations.
The 16 year old said, “Mom, how many times have you done this? Does hair still grow after people die? This place is really nice for a funeral home.”
My 12 year old said, “Her shirt is really pretty. I like the sparkles, don’t you, Mom? She looks a little different than when we went to her house last week. Is she wearing shoes?”
I never stopped what I was doing while I answered their questions. They became a little more at ease, until I said I needed to run and see if he had a picture, just to make sure I was doing it to the correct side.
Soon, they were over the newness and had lost any fear. They continued a few more questions and starting hounding me again about getting the baby mouse. Then they did the standard kid activity that seems to be 2nd nature to most. It is amazing to me how teens and preteens can text under ANY circumstance. Even while their mom is working in a funeral home and they are in the room with a body.
I asked, “Are you telling your friends where you are and what we are doing?!
Very nonchalantly, they were like, “NO! We are just talking about regular stuff.”
Texting is a disconnect. Sometimes that’s bad, but sometimes it’s helpful.

In closing, I know my sanity and judgment have been questioned for taking my kids in the room with a deceased body. I get that. However, they are not traumatized. (They are not having nightmares or acting out in questionable ways since our outing.J) Its not as if I took them to a cemetery late on a rainy dark, Halloween night and left them there … Though, if I took everyone’s opinion to heart, one would think I had.
All in all, I could hear my client applauding me for taking something to the next level in an attempt to make a positive difference. She was always for that, especially when it was to give a child some life lesson survival tools.
That was the first time I have exposed my children to such, and I have no regrets. There is no need for them to go again unless they choose to do so … so no worries. (Hopefully, I won’t be going anytime soon either.)
I won’t be dragging my kids to funeral homes for spare, time-filling field trips. If nothing else, they have seen a different side of mom’s job than all of the beauty, smiles and laughter. They now know how much I really do love my clients. Trust me, it takes a lot to style a person's hair after death, especially if it is not a common thing for you.
And FYI: I did her hair from left to right ... and that was CORRECT!

Stylin til the end,
For my clients … my friends,

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Being a Quitter is AWESOME!

I threw in the towel … I turned in my resignation and have officially retired from a job I was never qualified to do from the get go.
Who knew being a quitter could be so grand … And so freeing!??!
It takes stubborn, type A personalities a good beating to come to a place of stopping the insanity.
The job: teaching a child to drive; more specifically, MY child.
After much thought and fatigue from the obvious, I devised a new plan; and it has worked like a charm. I gave up and accepted the inevitable. What a freeing mental permission slip to all who thought they had to personally do everything. Not true. J THANK YOU GOD!!
After retracting my claws from an incident about 2 weeks ago, I began thinking. It went like this:

I am attempting to teach my 16 year old daughter to be a good, safe driver. As we all know, female cycles get in sync when the females are in the same household. Evidently, this day was a “PMS Day” for both of us. Never a good thing when that happens AS the inexperienced, 16 yr old drives early in the morning and a squirrel runs out in the road AS we are topping a curved hill at the exact same time I take a huge gulp of coffee … helplessly sitting in the passenger seat.

I already had the “animal in the road talk,” and the talk about always slowing down when topping a hill while NEVER being in the oncoming lane during the hill topping. None of those talks stuck when the precious little squirrel scampered out in front of us. The curve in the hill was an added bonus and the mouth full of coffee preventing my scream was icing on the cake.
We did arrive safely, but she got out of the car crying and I felt like I was trapped under a pile of poop. I went home and dissected the situation.
After a few calls, I had lined up 1 person per day, at least one hour each day. DRIVING TEACHERS (with lots of patience and experience.)
Now, each day, a smiling face appears on our front porch and says, “Is she ready?”
 I smile excitedly and respond, “YES, she is!!” And then I keep smiling.
My daughter likes all of her driving instructors much better than me as her driving instructor … and I like her better too. All of our driving angels have given great words of encouragement and her confidence has come along as well. That gives me confidence.
She has driven on the interstates, back roads, night driving, rain, rain at night … Ahh, yes. They have done well. I do well sitting at home sipping a warm cup of tea and catching up on things I need to do. She and I have called it truths. She is mastering the skill of driving and I am learning when to try harder and when to quit.
It is so difficult to unveil those times when I need to talk versus the ones when I should keep quiet; when to act, react or “be still.”
I must say, I likey being still!
Kudos to all of the people who assured me that this is a common problem for parents and children. I was beginning to feel slightly (incredibly) inadequate. Sometimes, kids listen to other people more and better than their parents.
… I think I already knew that …

It’s quittin time! WHOOP WHOOP,

Monday, July 11, 2011

Praying for People Who Yell the F Word and Flip the Bird

          Funny how we must remember our own advice and how easily we forget it.
          On June 26, I did a blog called, “Acts of Love Toward All … Good and Bad.” What an inspiring writing, but I must have missed my own message.

          One would think that when she is doing a good deed and showing a selfless act of love and friendship, that the day and her surroundings would all fall into place in a lovely way. Life just doesn’t work that way, but my fairy-tale brain does.


          I have a dear friend who never asks for anything, but she did on Thursday. She has suddenly fallen ill; her cancer has returned with a vengeance. Without hesitation, I assured her I would be there that day.
Due to the progression of the cancer, she must have oxygen at all times because it is now in her lungs. Her breathing is labored, making her voice very weak. Sometimes it is a whisper. Also, she has been choking. Therefore, in addition to what she asked me to do, I took a baby monitor so her caretakers could hear her at all times and also took 2 soups so she would not have to swallow solid food on her difficult days. It is these situations when we want to help, but we do not have the means to do what would REALLY help … so we bring baby monitors and soup.

My 12 year old daughter was with me as we made the 30 minute journey to her house. We were driving along the road and I was on the phone trying to make sure I did not miss my turn. Though cell phones and driving don’t mix, sometimes I do talk and drive.
Possibly, I was going too slowly? I’m really not sure what I did that was so terrible. To my surprise, I heard a horn honk, saw a blue truck with an overly infuriated man and his equally enraged passenger in the lane beside me.
My little girl said, “Mom, what’s wrong with him? Why did he just yell the F word at you and stick up his middle finger? That’s bad.”
Both men did vulgar hand motions for me to see. 2 of the gestures were ones my daughter had never seen, until they showed her.

Now, I was enraged. In all honesty, I really wanted to ram my car into him like bumper cars. I had been bitten by the deadly road rage bug.
How dare they do such a terrible, tasteless thing to a female and especially in front of a young girl! Did they not have mothers, wives, daughters or even nieces?!? And besides that, it would be just as terrible for a little boy to have seen such. What do people like that do when someone REALLY does something intentional and bad to them?! I don’t even want to know …

My daughter was distraught, I was distraught. Then, I realized that I needed to refocus and get my mind back to what was important. In less than 2 minutes, I would be at my friend’s house. Did she want or need to hear about my insignificant, over-and-done-with troubles? No. She has greater issues to focus on that an uncouth man and his crude buddy making asses of themselves.
I shook it off and re-centered my attention to her and her needs. I did what she had requested and left shortly after because I knew she was very tired.

That night, my 12 year old and I were in the kitchen before going to bed. (We rotate saying prayers at night. She does one night and I do the next.)
She said, “Mom, I know tonight is your night to pray so I wanted to ask you to pray for those guys who said and did those mean things today. They are obviously going through something bad to be acting like that and they really need somebody to pray for them. Maybe they will be nicer then.”

That’s when I got humbled to a place I had not thought to go. I wanted to ram my car into theirs, not pray for them. I have written about doing the right thing over and over, but it never entered my mind in this situation. They were wrong, I was right, and that was that.

That night, I prayed for the impolite young men who are also God’s children. God must stay stressed with all of us being His kids and acting the way we do.
All along, I thought He was smiling upon me and my goodness because I was helping another person in need. My real feelings and reactions to the men in the truck didn’t get factored into the equation until my child innocently pointed out a proper way to handle it. I had most likely not made God smile and wink. He was shaking His head …
Not only does this remind me of my blog about anointing a cancerous tumor, but it sounds really similar to the scripture about trying to remove the speck from my neighbor’s eye when I cannot see the log in my own.
Thank God He put children here to guide us with their wisdom …

Praying for people who yell spicy words at me and shoot me birds,

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Drive-In Movie

                 First, hats off to my father and all of the other preceding people who have taught a child to drive. In my mind, when my child is behind the wheel and I am in the passenger seat, it is as though someone has a gun pointed at my head with their finger on the trigger. That’s how in danger my life feels. I try not to make her self conscious, but it is difficult when trees are coming at me, we are not in our lane, or people are walking and we are not slowing down. She has a constant look of anger and disgust on her face because I am annoying her and she “already knows what to do,” and I have a look of fear mixed with panic, anxiety and frustration. I truly want to retire from this job (the driving instructor one, not the parenting one,) but I must be brave … I may need medication before its all over.