My job is somewhat unusual; but to me a most worthwhile one. I connect to people when they are at their lowest ebb and often all they need is for us just to be there for them. To listen, and share with them their tenderly remembered stories of their loved one.
As a Chapel Attendant I place the deceased into a Chapel of Rest, making sure the Chapel looks calm and approachable under the circumstances. There are flowers in the room, the coffin is just so, their loved one looking calm and at ease, many families saying they look better than when they last saw them. This, as we explain to them, may be due to the last of their days being spent in pain or stress, and now all those worried expressions seem to have almost magically disappeared, making them look far more peaceful than they once did.
We are proud and grateful when families tell us how nice their loved one’s look, for it shows that staff, such has the embalmers, have helped them to look more like their old selves once again. I feel I have a privileged position as I convey lovely, grateful, messages onto other staff members. They may be dressed in clothes provided by the family, or a chosen gown, the next of Kin making various decisions often with other family members.
Family and friends often want to talk about happy memories shared with loved ones and I hear some lovely family stories, but also some sad ones
When those viewing arrive, at their appointed time (or as near as possible) I escort them into the designated Chapel of Rest to see/view, their loved one, and as anyone who has been through this experience will know, it is very much a shattering time indeed. The deceased perhaps feel sad and lost too, maybe for a while, at least, for I often find myself draw to their coffins, where I stand for just a minute or two. This seems enough for them, for I then feel lighter in mind, and contended to leave them and continue with other tasks.
Family and friends often want to talk about happy memories shared with loved ones and I hear some lovely family stories, but also some sad ones, for as human beings we often fall short of showing good intentions and emotions towards each other, especially the ones we love the most, and sometimes it is just too late to rectify past failings, even if we would like to. It is not all serious, mind you. There is much humour, not only amongst the staff, but also with family and friends of our clients.
I offer a confidential listening ear, a caring approach to their worries, but most of all I act as a sponge to absorb their overwhelming emotions
I may well be collecting false teeth from a family member, while another family views in a Chapel and there is often cause for laughter as the family explain where the false teeth should go. Not always in the mouth, as one might expect, sometimes it goes into the right hand side pocket of the client’s jacket ,“for that is where he always kept it, he only took it out when he ate and back into his pocket it went”, a Daughter says about her Father through laughter and tears.
CDs can be played during various times of the funeral, again, family share a little something special of our client’s life with us, as they talk, laugh and even cry while telling of their relative or friends taste in music, giving us yet another short glimpse through the window of our client’s heart, as it pierces their own.
I offer a confidential listening ear, a caring approach to their worries, but most of all I act as a sponge to absorb their over whelming emotions. Most leave relieved in the thought that we listened and understood. Come the day of the funeral they will once again be guided by the same kindness and caring attitude of other staff members as they have received from me.
The company phones are always busy, calls often met with some uncertainty, but the general public make us laugh, as they try to match any person’s obituary seen in local newspapers with someone they know, or might have known. They phone to ask if that was their past next door neighbour, or someone they went to school with, or someone who knew someone who knows them. We have to answer in all sincerity that we really don’t know, later laughing at the strangeness of people, including ourselves, but all these little incidents do lighten the load!
I do hope that this short introduction to my job has been somewhat of a help and guidance to you, guiding you to the knowledge that should you be the one who has to make final discussions regarding your loved one, there will be many to help you along that sad and lonely road, not least of all your Chapel Attendant.
© Cheryl Campbell