I’ve swept a few things from the mortuary floor. Remnants of body bags, fluids, and pieces of surgical thread we use to suture a mouth closed. But nothing quite like the locks of hair from a 35* year old cancer victim, still lying on the preparation table hugging her childhood doll.
I had just finished styling her hair with a curling rod and with each successful coil, there was one that slipped from her scalp and into my hand. Her cancer medication had her hair all over me — on my gloves, on my protective disposable apron, in my nostrils. And I didn’t care. All that mattered was she looked beautiful for her final farewell.
Will you plan your own funeral?
Sarah* wasn’t the first, or last, cancer patient I would prepare for a funeral. Most decedents I prepare sadly died of some sort of cancer. What made this moment with Sarah different to most was that she was seemingly healthy only a year ago. A mum of two and netball* trainer at the weekend, this beautiful young woman had no idea she wouldn’t see Christmas. It may never have occurred to her only months ago that one day she would wake up sick and never get better. And now here she was, lying in the mortuary of a funeral home.
That afternoon in traffic I peered around at the drivers around me. Some chatting away on their Bluetooth devices, some cursing the red light. Children snacking on a cheeseburger on their way home from school; mum looking exhausted in the driver’s seat, staring blankly through the windscreen. I too felt exhausted, as I had been on call for seven nights straight with very little sleep. Yet I was grateful. I was alive to feel tired. The mascara smeared down my cheek meant I opened my eyes that morning to apply the cosmetic to my lashes.
Not everyone is lucky to be reminded of death on a daily basis.
Yes, you read right. Lucky.