I’m used to many reactions when I tell people what I do.
“I work at a crematorium”
“In the office or….?” The pause. The question, the inquisitiveness, the intrigue. “No, not in the office.”
I work in the crematorium taking care of the funerals and the cremation of the deceased. I’m used to the questions laced with the intrigue and/or the fear. I am the conversation starter or the one to end it, people slowly backing away at a party not prepared to hear anymore, not wanting to know, while I sip on my wine. But I must admit it was a surprise when my job shut down a conversation in the gym changing rooms recently.
I’d exercised and because of the shifts I work I sometimes am there for the mid-morning session. There’s a lovely group of women, all very polite and friendly and because of the time of day I go most of the ladies are a lot older than I am, the age where they are reaching retirement or only their husbands work because they bought their houses for £40,000 decades ago, so their mortgages were small and a long time paid off. Some can afford to work part time. Free time on their hands. Good on them they earned it. But for that reason, my youth and the time of day I attend probably makes me an anomaly, a curiosity maybe, who knows.
“So, are you heading to university, college, after this or work?” was a question I was asked.
I was very happy I still look young enough to be considered a college attendee.
“Oh no, I’m off to work after this.”
I never really offer up what it is that I do unless people ask, and this lady did.
“I work at Croydon crematorium.”
I instantly felt the change in atmosphere. It was like the sunshine being swallowed by the blackest of rainclouds. Sensing this change, if anyone of them had have asked me what it was that I specifically did I probably would have said it was in the office because their change in demeanour became frightening. I sensed they wouldn’t want to hear what it is that I do. The funeral side and the burning of bodies would have been a step too far for this conversation already slipping off the edge of its cliff. But I wasn’t asked that question. I wasn’t asked anymore questions.
“Oh, how lovely.” Sarcasm and venom both at the same time. Ouch.
And that was me ostracised from the conversation for the time I was combing my hair.
It was strange, these women who care not for getting completely starkers and having a chat in the middle of the ladies changing rooms (when there are individual cubicles supplied) but were insulted by the presence of someone who worked in the bereavement industry. I present to you, nakedness and death, two of the human race’s biggest taboos. That moment I saw which of these taboos were considered the worst when I said what it was that I do for a living.
I am sure people think we do not exist. They think death happens and all is taken care of by a faceless entity. FD’s, officiants, crematorium/cemetery workers are paid to take care of all the family’s needs so they need not worry about all the things they can’t bear to do themselves. For some it may only be a job. But for those of us that care it is more than just a job. That may sound cheesy but it’s true, and we are there for the families suffering bereavements. At the same time, I work because people die. For some that is hard to accept. I know my job offended these women. I probably reminded them of their own mortality. I was a reminder that death comes to us all. But please don’t make judgements about us and what we do before knowing what it is we do for those who have lost their lives and those suffering from that loss.
When our hearts stop beating and our lungs stop drawing breath we will all end up naked some day and that won’t be in the changing rooms of a gym (well, only if the stealer of life doesn’t choose to take us after a sweaty gym session, and to me that seems a little unjust). We will be dressed, usually by a stranger, but there will be an industry whose cogs are all in place and the engine finely tuned ready to make our families lives more bearable in the worst of situations. I hope my loved ones respect them for the job they will do for me. Because once they have said their final goodbyes in the chapel, there will be another set of hands who carry me to the fire.