In the summer of 1994, I had a most unusual job. I served as an assistant at a funeral home in northeast Tennessee.
My responsibilities were straightforward. I was required to keep the viewing areas clean and to pick up any trash that happened to blow onto the parking lot. When there was a visitation underway, I was required to stand by the door to welcome our guests and then to see to any needs that might arise during their visit with us. Following a funeral, I had to move the flowers from the funeral home over to the cemetery, while the procession slowly made its way from one place to the other.
More than anything else, I was there to take care of whatever needs might arise in the office of the funeral home director. Running errands was a major part of my responsibility there. Robert was the funeral home director. We were both in our twenties, and he was five years younger than me.
One Saturday, after there had been funeral, after funeral, after funeral, Robert asked if I’d come back in later that evening to help him prepare a body for the next day. I had never done anything like that before. That was not something on my bucket list. I was not looking forward to it. But my family needed the money, and I agreed.
When I showed up after dinner, I was pleased to discover that Robert had already embalmed the body and placed it within its casket. He had already done everything that needed to be done except for touching up the hair and makeup, and he was in the process of doing that when I arrived. Really, he wanted me to be there that evening just so that I could keep him company, so that we could chat to pass the time. Then, when it was over with, we would wheel the casket upstairs. So I sat, and we chatted.
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