This is an open letter to those of you who disapprove of the way we, as a family, decided to tend to our Dad after he died. Everything we did, we did with his blessing.
The things I’ve heard are beyond the usual disrespect. Personally, I’m used to being judged and talked about. It’s the main reason I moved to the west coast, but I am saddened, disappointed and angry because now my mother, sister, and brother are being disrespected as well.
I’d like to make it clear that Dad’s illness hit us like a freight train. I honestly don’t think any of us came to terms with it fully. The short period of time–13 weeks–between his diagnosis and his death was like a nightmare from which we could not wake up. It was the last thing we ever expected to happen to our family. I don’t think we’ve yet wrapped our heads around it all yet.
My sister, brother, mother and I were the ones who took care of him during his last months of life. We took turns sleeping next to him so we’d be there if he so much as stirred. We bathed him, shaved him, cut his nails, and changed his clothes. We helped him to the bathroom and when he could not longer get out of bed, we changed his briefs. We held the ever-present bucket and caught his vile black vomit and cooled him down when he’d be delirious with fevers in the middle of the night. We gave him medicine to keep him comfortable around the clock. We spent weeks living out on the deck because smells and sounds made him irritable. We suctioned his airway when his breathing began to rattle. We left our jobs, families, and school to be together to take care of him. My brother spent hours building a beautiful cedar casket. We watched helplessly as he wasted away.
We sat around him together on a sweltering July afternoon and saw him take his last breath.
After that, there was no way we could turn him over to strangers who would come in and put him in a vinyl pouch and haul him away so he could lie on a stainless steel table in a dark room until we could have a funeral. We couldn’t give him to an embalmer to cut into his neck, drain him, stab his abdomen with a trochar and suction out his heart and other organs with a vacuum, and then pump him full of formaldehyde. We didn’t want nails pounded into his jawbone to wire his mouth closed.
I worked in funeral service. I know exactly what happens. It’s the same reason I don’t work in funeral service anymore.
Instead, we washed him, shaved him, and put him in clean clothes. We changed his bed and covered him in blankets. We surrounded him with packs of dry ice to keep him cool. We turned the A/C down to the 60’s to keep him cool. We did not FREEZE him, as some people think. We kept him in the house for four days until we could take him to the service.
On the day of the funeral, my brother, sister, and I dressed him. We took the casket to his bedside and we placed him into it and carefully situated him. When the funeral director came to take him to the church, we was stunned at how well we had done. We were pleased that he left the house with dignity and not in a body bag.
We believe that our bodies are temporary vessels we use here on earth and Dad was finished with his earthly journey. We will all finish and leave these vehicles behind. It doesn’t negate the desire we had to treat his body with as much respect as we did when he was alive. We didn’t trust that would be done by anyone but ourselves.
We have absolutely no regrets about what we did. It helped us grieve and to accept his death better. Our only regret is that we had to rely on a funeral home to sell us a vault that we didn’t want in the first place. It would have been ideal if the funeral home had not been involved at all.
We don’t care if anyone thinks it was “weird.” We will not apologize because we did the best thing we could do for us. We would have much rather explained and talked to people about their discomfort, but instead, gossip and disgust emerge 18 months after the fact. We are stunned at the audacity that anyone can say one negative thing about how we handled Dad’s illness, death, and burial.
We would, and will do it again.