There have been several times in my life where I have been struck by the crippling news of suicide. News that has brought me…
Deaths and funerals, a subject too close to home
As we age our needs and circumstances change, they evolve to create a space that is safe, comfortable, and supportive. In saying this I realise the vast majority of people would prefer their ‘normal’ to stay the same, unwilling to adapt to a new sense of security, one that allows for family to step in and help care for their loved ones as needed.
This was not the case in our family, our beloved Pop Pop came to live with us about 18 months ago and was more than happy to do so. He busied himself daily with poking about the yard, maintaining gardens and trees, chatting to anyone and everyone he came across, playing with our kids on their outdoor equipment and entertaining the family of dogs that share our home.
He was a constant and added so much to all of our lives, especially that of our two small children Zali and Harlem. On the 17th of May, this year everything changed as our beloved Pop Pop went in for a scheduled, routine surgery. Coming out of surgery he stated, ‘it was a breeze’, and was adamant he felt absolutely no pain whatsoever, he was ready to resume his normal daily activities.
The doctors and nurses were all so shocked with how he had bounced back so quickly and were fast to discharge him from the ICU as his persistent jokes and laughter were a little too much for the other critical patients that shared the ward. He came home a swift 4 days later and although he was home in spirit he remained quiet and reserved, nothing like the usual Pop Pop we were used too. As per our usual routine we cooked his meals and checked in on him periodically, making sure he had everything he needed. The days passed and we were sure it would not be long before he was back out trimming the council yard behind our property or popping into the office to have a quiet cuppa with our team whilst we were out and about.
The weekend came and as usual we started planning a fun activity for the kids, something to occupy their minds and give them a little adventure, that was until we noticed his lack of activity on Facebook. Anyone that knew Bob knew how much he loved a good Facebook post or update, he would count the activity on all of our accounts to later reveal to us how popular we are, it was a running joke in the family. As we knew his routine and daily movements it was particularly odd to see that he hadn’t been active online for the last 15 hours. This prompted us to check in with him and make sure he was ok.
As always he assured Shi that he was fine and was instead just very tired, we were sceptical but figured if something were really wrong he would surely let us know. As per his instructions we let him be for the next hour or so, when we again popped into his room Shi’s worry grew as she suggested he go to the hospital to be checked.
Shi then called in backup, I attended his room and insisted he go to the hospital. As usual when I spoke up he knew it was serious so decided it best to concede and agreed to get checked. It wasn’t until he made his way to the car that things to a turn for the worse, gasping for air and crippled over we made the quick call to an ambulance thinking it was the best course of action, especially seeing him so unwell. We took him inside and made him comfortable, by the time the ambulance arrived they were unsure what all the fuss was about, actually asking us ‘is this really a situation where an ambulance was needed?’
Seeing his prior state, it definitely was but in their eyes all they were witnessing was an old fella having a good ol chat, he was talking about a mile a minute, which was usual for him, going on about the weather, his dogs, how he lives here with his grandchildren, and they make him so happy and how we wouldn’t even let him have a beer or give him a couple of dollars.
I’m not sure what those paramedics would have thought that day about these two inconsiderate people who trapped an old man in his room not allowed to do this and that, Bob always thought his antics were so funny and in telling jokes we always knew were coming he did not mind giving people the wrong idea about us in every situation.
After taking his OBS and making sure that he was in no imminent danger (either from his medical condition or the two awful granddaughters he lived with) they placed a mask over his mouth and nose, as per current covid guidelines and proceeded to move him to the stretcher parked just down the stairs, asking him ‘do you think you can make it to the stretcher on your own?, to which he replied ‘of course I can’.
Now being the man Bob was he never let the opportunity for a good joke go to waste so on his way walking to the stretcher, just after the front door thought it would be funny to let the paramedics believe he was going down just as he got to the top of the staircase, they of course lept to his aide as he chuckled his way down the stairs and asked if they liked his dance moves. Finally, he was on the stretcher, the paramedics then moved him to the ambulance and spoke to us, reassuring us that he was likely going to be fine, and he seemed to be jovial and back to himself. At the time we didn’t think much of it, just that he would be checked over and sent home to continue his recovery. As our little girls watched their Pop Pop drive away in the ambulance that day none of us knew that would be the last time.
That night after numerous tests we were told the news that Bob had suffered a massive heart attack.
And this was just the beginning of what we now know as the end.
Pop Pop spent a few days here in the local hospital before being transferred to Canberra for more intensive care. Despite the many efforts of the wonderful doctors and nurses we were called into a family meeting on the Thursday afternoon the following week, a meeting that informed us of his fate and gave us the news we were praying so badly wouldn’t be the case, the news that he wasn’t going to make it. Family were all called and ushered in to speak their final words to a man that had done so much for everyone in his life. A selfless man who was known to all his family and friends as ‘king of the kids’, a man who was loved beyond measure and although drove us all crazy with his weird and wonderful antics we were all so privileged to have spent so much time with.
As the family numbers came and went the odd few stayed, we spoke of how much he meant to us all and how great his impact and life had made on those around him, especially our family who had shared a home with him for the last few years.
On Sunday the 13th of June as his close family sat by his side Bob and our dear Pop Pop slipped away peacefully with the sounds of Willie Nelson gently playing in the background. Being family and being a funeral director for me go hand in hand, I took charge of the situation almost immediately. I had already spoken with hospital officials and confirmed that the correct paperwork would be completed promptly when the time came.
The doctors, nurses and hospital management were all wonderful and assisted us as much as they were able, given the circumstances. As my family left the hospital to seek comfort in the larger family circle, I stayed.
I waited patiently for the paperwork to be complete and in the meantime called to have our transfer van brought to me in Canberra. That night everything seemed to work just as clockwork, when my van arrived I arranged to have the hospital officials meet me at the mortuary and I brought our beloved Pop Pop into our care once again.
That drive home was one of the hardest I’ve ever done, to sit with a man that meant so much to us all for weeks and now to be caring for him in a way I had hoped would never happen, I was broken, and I was honoured. Right from the day we opened our doors at our very own funeral home Bob was our biggest fan and supporter. He believed in us and everything we did. He had been known to tell everyone he came across about the work we do and our outstanding reputation and five-star reviews.
Even up to the last day he was conscious in the hospital he had the doctor that was caring for him look us up online and made him read our reviews, he was proud of what we had created, and we were proud to have him by our side to watch us grow. I will be the first to say that usually our work is seamless, we know what we are doing, and we do it well. That night however was ‘different’ to say the least.
As we arrived in Goulburn, a place Bob had loved so much the tears rolled down my face, knowing I was bringing him back like this was a hard pill to swallow. We arrived at our gates and pulled in, Shi who had escorted us the whole trip had opened the gates to our home (we live onsite) only to have our dogs escape, something they never do. Then the chase began, they searched for half an hour to find nothing. Next thing we knew there was a post on Facebook, someone had collected them from the highway and were kind enough to turn around and bring them back home again that very night.
Once the dogs were settled, the kids in bed and Shi safe in the comfort of her own home and solace my mum and I began the enormously hard task of preparing Bob in the mortuary. Now I have prepared several members of my family over the years, but this was hard even for me. Living onsite at our funeral home with a family member that was always ‘there’ and now dealing with this level of emotion was extremely difficult. As I carried out tasks, preparing him, dressing him, cutting his hair, moisturizing his skin, and placing him in his casket tears fell from my face to his. How could life be so cruel, we missed him so much already and now we had to deal with the fact that he was back with us, but in such a different way.
That night as I made my way to the house, seeing Shi so upset she made the decision to have a funeral service as soon as practicable, having him next door was just too hard. Now for anyone that knew Bob we had instructions from him that he just wanted something simple, basic and no frills, his motivation being to make it as cost effective as possible.
Anyone that knows us, knows that was never going to happen. Bob had the most beautiful casket, complete with mattress, pillows, silk lining, warm and snuggly bedding and was dressed in his favourite outfit, and no it wasn’t his Fluro work shirt. He was placed into his beautiful casket just a few hours after he passed away and a short few days later was laid to rest with his darling wife Joan, complete with the most amazing flowers to honour them both.
As I stood and spoke, officiating Bob/Pop Pop’s service, Valium helped calm my nerves. I felt such a sense of pride being honoured to care for him the way I did. I felt a sense of calm that he was now being reunited with his beautiful wife again after many long years of missing her. And I felt an overwhelming sense of despair as I looked at my beautiful broken family standing their holding on my every word.
Deaths and funerals
Seeing deaths and funerals from a funeral director’s perspective is hard yes, but as a professional there are lines that are drawn between their grief and my own, having those lines blurred when dealing so personally with someone I love is one of the hardest parts of my job.
In my job I feel so lucky to be trusted with something so precious as our families loved ones, I feel privileged to have the opportunity to help others through their grief and see this honour as so much more than a role I play or a job I do. I truly live the experience of deaths and funerals, every day, every waking hour and thank my beautiful guardian angels every day for the chance to do so.
As life goes on here with my precious family but without our special caretaker, I still feel sad, we are all still broken but we are forever grateful for everything he did for us and every moment we spent with such an amazing man.
‘The Mortuary Matriarch – Kristy Meizer‘
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