Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An Interview with a Funeral Director

Today I interviewed Amanda Vanston for the blog. Since the beginning of my thesis/book, I have been fascinated by people who choose to work in the funeral industry and what that experience is like for them.

My name is Amanda Vanston, I am 34 years old and a mother of two amazing kiddos. I am a licensed Funeral Director and Crematory Operator in the state of Texas. I have been in the funeral industry for almost 8 years.

DW: When did you realize you wanted to work in the funeral industry?

AV: This is "THE" question. It is even the standard greeting amongst Morticians... "Hello, my name is ______ and I work for _______. So, how did you get into this industry?" A significant amount of Morticians are born into this business, so it's an easy answer for them. Then there are the folks who choose this profession as a second career, usually after retiring from ministry or teaching. In my case, I can't claim either one of the above responses, so I am left with the awkward, "because, I wanted to" answer.

I was an odd child, fascinated by the unknown...I still am. Death is the ultimate mystery. I knew, from a very young age, that I wanted to work with the dead. As I grew older, I thought I would find something in the medical profession, like my parents, and kind of pushed the idea of being a mortician to the side.

After some unsuccessful attempts at college, I came back home and became a caretaker for my grandfather. During one of our hospital visits, I wandered around and came upon the Pierce Chapel at Methodist Dallas. I had heard about Pierce Mortuary Schools in the past, and so later that week when we went home I began my research on how to enter the funeral industry. I found Dallas Institute of Funeral Service and studied the requirements for entry. It was expensive, time consuming and frankly, rather daunting for a 20 year old who had just failed her second attempt at College so, once again, the idea was put on the back burner.

About 6 months after the birth of my second child, I had a "Come to Jesus" meeting with my OB/Gyn that changed everything. I had become rather depressed. I had lost my biological father and both of my grandmothers, all of whom played a key role in my life. I didn't feel motivated to do anything productive and I was living an extremely unhealthy lifestyle. My Doctor sat me down and she said, "you have got to do something! You've got two children and, frankly, at this rate you won't live to see either one of them graduate." She questioned me about my interests, what would I want to do? What would make me happy? I answered, "I would love to work in the funeral industry." She answered, "Funny, my husband is a mortician." I saw it as a sign. That was it. Dr. P set me up with all of the info about Dallas Institute of Funeral Service and I went home that evening and announced to my parents that I would be attending Mortuary School.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Facing Fears

Yesterday, my book came out. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know, Pam. You've inundated Facebook and Twitter with posts and we're kind of over it.  

Well, folks, to be honest with you, so am I. As a self published author, I have to wear many hats, including marketer and publicist. I would really prefer to sit in front of a computer by myself and write, but now I have the responsibility to put myself out there. Putting myself out there involves conversing with people and reading in front of them. At one point in my life, the idea of standing in front of others and moving my lips scared the pants off of me. Not literally, of course, but it certainly felt that way. I felt naked and vulnerable, eyeing the room for the closest exit.

But not anymore!

Last night I spoke at the Pine River Public Library in lovely Bayfeld, Colorado. The event was slated to begin at four and there were about 5 people. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, I thought. But as I began to read, people crept in and the room began to fill. While Bayfield isn't known for its punctuality, it is known for its support. 

Dan Miller.  He's in the book.  

For those who know me, this picture right here is a rarity. I'm giving people hugs. It happened a lot last night. I deem the event "Hugapalooza 2015." It felt so wonderful to be back in my hometown with people I haven't seen in five years.

Here I'm chatting with an old friend and the lady to my right just showed up. I felt like such a celebrity!
Last night I learned that the library is having a local author book sale in December. I am sending them signed copies of my book (Yes, I decided to have it printed.) All proceeds will go to Cate Harding and her family. So, if you're in the area go buy one.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Monday Mourning: A Missing Girl

Carla Taylor produces Ripple Puddle podcast, a weaving of true stories that connect us in the human experience. Our next episode, Memoirization, out in a few weeks, is about how we remember and how we choose to remember.

DW: Who was the person that died?

CT:  Rosie Gordon, a neighborhood girl that used to hang out with us at the swimming pool in Burke, Virginia.

DW: How old were you at the time? 
CT:  I was a few weeks from turning 15. There was still a child operating the body of a young woman. I know I secretly played Barbies.

DW: How old was Rosie? 
CT:  She was 10 years old.

DW: Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen?
CT:  Her death was sudden. The impact of what was left behind vibrates through our community to this day, 26 years later. 

The fear that I felt back then still has the same physical manifestation, like a strange gut tingle. I used to go to the pool with my two younger cousins. We would ride our bikes through the woods that went around Lake Braddock. Since it was a small community of families, everyone took care of each other. After a long day of swimming, we’d ride home, often with all of their friends, making drop off stops along the way.

Rosie was often in the group with us, on her purple glitter bicycle. I remember little things about her, like her ticklish laugh and cartoon-like hair, like a Strawberry Shortcake character. She was polite and had over-protective parents who she had to check-in with periodically.

It was 1989, and Adam Walsh seemed like a very specific, distant horror story. A cautionary tale for parents to remember somewhere in the back of their heads, the kind that leads to learned helplessness and knee-jerk overprotectiveness.

The week that Rosie disappeared, the week they found her sparkly purple bike under a Dogwood tree in Lake Braddock, I had stayed home from the pool. She had gone riding with a friend and disappeared a few blocks from home. Sometime that early evening, her father went walking the lake in hopes of finding her. It was possible that she could’ve lost track of time. It was during that walk that he found her bike, ran home and called the police.

DW: Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving?
CT:  The way I found out was strange. I was watching tv in the kitchen and saw her face on the screen. Missing.

I can still see that image, clearer than I can see the image of my own face back then. The phone rang and my mom pulled the long chord around the corner into the hallway, which she only did when shit was going down. She came back to the room and said nothing.

The next day, my younger cousin confirmed that it was Rosie. We all discussed what could’ve happened to her. Maybe she got lost? Maybe she fell off her bike and hurt herself?

Two days later, they found her body.

No one talked to us about Rosie, but quite abruptly and behind closed doors, the family made the decision to no longer allow us to go outside unsupervised.

DW: Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with this person? 
CT:  I wish so much that I could’ve been there to ride beside her all the way back home.

DW: Was she buried or cremated?
CT:  She was buried. 

DW: Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share? 
CT: I learned that death spares no one. Not the sweet, Strawberry Shortcake girls. Not the young ones. Not the ones with looming parents.

It could’ve been any one of us.

But also, I remember feeling that the adults around me weren’t honoring her by keeping us tied to their sides. The gravity of the situation seemed to be lightened by this sudden protection. Really, I wish we could’ve just let it in, to feel the specific loss of Rosie. Not the “It won’t happen to my kid” reaction. But now as a parent, I guess I can understand the rationale.

DW: Last but not least, were any songs played at the memorial that were important to the person?

I wasn’t allowed to go to her memorial service, but, to this day, I play Rosie’s Lullaby by Norah Jones on my guitar just for her. I sing it like a prayer (and I don’t really pray). But it makes me feel better imagining that she can hear it.