I got a call near the end of my day today.
Me: “Well it is really hot today and I’d hate for you to have to drive all the way here, can I drive your husband’s urn directly to your house when I get off work?”
Angry 83 Year Old Lady: “It’s not hot, I’m hot, because I’m so angry!”
Let me back up, this is Monday. Mondays at our funeral home are usually busy as f*ck. With a capital period. We’re trying to track down and schedule all the calls that came in over the weekend. We’re fielding calls from our families from the previous weeks. We’re scurrying to make final arrangements for the services we have planned for the week and beyond. I had a service today and tomorrow which I’m not prepared for. And then probably every other call in between all those calls is a family asking where their death certificates are. I know Janet, we ALL need our death certificates RIGHT NOW. If I was a magician I’d gladly suffer the paper cuts to pull them out of my ass but I’m not, so stop calling.
Sorry, I digress… I got a call. This woman was pisssssssed. Did the amount of S’s I used get my point across that she was angry? The receptionist who transferred the call to me said, “She requested that she speak to anyone who is NOT *my coworker* because she’s mad at him.” Adorable. So of course they hand her to me.
Her husband had been cremated and my coworker didn’t do a gatdaumn thing and was avoiding her calls (according to her, which is very obviously not true because my coworker is amazing at his job). But I didn’t tell her that. Now here’s the thing, we all get these calls. These type of calls aren’t special to the funeral industry, people get angry and laser point that anger at the nearest target and all we can do is hope we aren’t the prey. But there is something I’ve learned very early on dealing with grieving people who’s grief has taken the form of anger. They aren’t really truly mad about the thing they think they’re mad about. They aren’t even mad AT YOU. They’re just MAD and they don’t know what to DO with it. There is a reason there is the trope about yelling at customer service people on the phone. They are strangers. Letting your rage fall upon someone you will never know or see again is safe. You aren’t destroying any of your own personal relationships. You aren’t hurting anyone. You can hang up and breath and tell yourself that you are mighty and you roared and go about your day. Now with grieving people, this happens quite often. Grief is a powerful animal and it seeps out through our subconscious. Sometimes it seeps out in ways that look like anger and rage. Does it suck to get yelled at? Of course. Do I have to bite back some of my best witty comebacks? Yup.
That’s the thing. It isn’t about me. It isn’t about my coworker. It isn’t about the death certificates. It isn’t about anything. This person is hurting and grieving and has never had to deal with anything close to these emotions and their brain is freaking the f*ck out. It is in fight or flight mode.
So I listened. I heard her rant and rave about being ignored and my coworker not calling her (he documented the date/time of each phone call attempt) or telling her where the death certificates were (they weren’t here yet), why the urn wasn’t ready to be picked up (he had left several messages that were documented), and why in the hell wasn’t the obituary and photo up on the tribute site (this one is totally valid, between teaching a new assistant and having a temp receptionist this ball got dropped). I sympathized. I acknowledged her anger. I did not agree with anything she said because she was wrong, but I didn’t have to. I diverted the conversation to what a hard time she was going through. In psychological first aid this is the “protecting your survivor” part. We are protecting them from themselves. We are slowing the rage by diverting the strength of it.
What I learned is that she is now living alone after taking care of her husband who had Alzheimer’s dementia for the past eight years. She no longer has the role of wife and caregiver and that is terrifying. They had been married for 62 years, he was her whole life. She has three grown children who all live far away. She didn’t have a service or a viewing because she didn’t want anyone to have to travel. To put the cream on top, she had to put her dog down right before her husband died. Ultimately… she sits at home all day waiting for the phone to ring. She is freakin’ lonely!
I got off work a little late and then headed to her house, the opposite direction of my own home and right smack dab in rush hour traffic. I get to her house and she walks out before I’m even up the driveway. This woman is beaming! She says, “Heather Welborn? Welborn like a well born child but with one L?” Ha! This is how I say it when people ask how to spell my name. This woman’s memory is top notch at 83. I say, that’s me, as I’m carrying her husband’s urn up to the house. She lets me in and the flood gates opened. She ranted and raved some more, but then she started talking about her children, then some rich niece’s wedding happening in Arizona that she’s definitely NOT going to, then a very detailed description of the plots that she has and her very specific plans that she wants done with the urn, how the cemetery got everything screwed up so that’s why she’s bringing him home, then a very long story about an animal rescue place in Utah and stories about various animals that had been rescued from there, and then hey can you look at the tribute site and answer some questions, I need help loading this photo, and then these, and can you type this up, and now let me tell you about the drama happening between this pianist and clergy member with the assisted living facility, oh girl!
I was there more than an hour. Or more specifically, my EAR was there more than an hour. I’m not even sure my mouth had to play a role in that visit. I actually felt bad leaving her. But I did. And she walked me to the door and down the driveway and waved to me until I was down the street.
Moral of the story: Check on your elderly people… they need more ears.
I got a call near the end of my day today.