I sell headstones…

Part of my daily work consists of dealing with the bereaved. I sell headstones. No wonder I’m such a cheery soul. You’d have thought that during my 4 years of service this would be something I’ve become ‘conditioned’ to. Only I haven’t. If anything it gets worse. There is nothing wrong with thinking, or talking, about death. In fact, I would say that most people avoid it – almost to the point where we avoid it too much. I’m not sure if it’s a British thing, or just a people thing, but some of us just seem to think we’ll live forever. Hope? Or perhaps it’s just too horrifying to contemplate our own mortality. Bury your head in the sand, pretend it will never happen. Faced with the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve realised, any which way you look at it, it has all become too much for my sensitive soul. I seem to absorb the emotion of others, feel things that don’t belong to me. It’s not MY sadness, my awkwardness, my anger, my grief… so how does it end up becoming mine? Sometimes I love that side of me – the ‘white witch’, the sixth sense, the gut instinct – always one step ahead. I am the person who struggles with huge crowds, has developed an awesome bullshit radar and has learned to cut energy vampires out of my life as quick as they walk in (there is no worse a person than those who try to ride on the back of others ‘goodness’. I hate Fake).

I have become wise. But I have also become sad in the process. I have no idea what to do with all of this emotion of death. It plagues my dreams and I constantly worry about how I will cope. Would cope. I have a lot of precious people in my life, as we all do. What would I do if they weren’t there anymore? It is always on my mind.

The angry, awkward customers are not so bad. I can deal with those. Be annoyed with me because I told you the church rules and it doesn’t fit with your ideal of a headstone. This I can cope with. I know you’re not mad at me (or the church) you’re just mad at death. Fling it, I’ll deflect it. I can cope with that.

Then there are the hopeless ones (in the nicest possible way). Delicate and fragile. Death makes us so. Mostly this seems to be those who have lost a life-long partner, their lives forever intertwined, people who have to relearn life skills at the latter stages of life because they have relied so heavily on someone else to do these tasks for them. Those who don’t know how to pay the bills, drive, shop, cook, clean. They tell me their troubles and I automatically want to help, but this is not my job. And sometimes, I know, the best thing for these people is to very quickly learn how to do all of these things they’ve never been able to do. Tough love, I guess. But hang on… Not my people, not my problem… right?

And then I worry about my Dad as I’m not sure he can make a sandwich [just a side issue. No-one has died].

Then there are those who still cannot utter the words they want to leave on the memorial because they are too consumed with grief. They choke on the words and cry uncontrollably and I wonder, which stage of grief is this? Are they ready to order the headstone? are they thinking straight? are they going to be OK? Only, I pass a tissue and hope they don’t stay too long at the ‘memorial sales desk’, for I’m about on the brink.. and if I burst into tears too then it’s all curtains (pardon the pun) and I really haven’t done a great job. I wait ’til they’ve gone, wipe away my own tears and find my stiff upper lip from wherever it went. Pull yourself together my love.

I see lots of very brave people. Death is heartache. There are many lives taken too soon, but then, what is too soon? It’s all subjective surely? But the show must go on. Where’s that Stiff upper lip?

Then there are my favourites. These are the people who talk fondly, and quite often with some hilarity and mickey taking, of the deceased. These are my favourite… but also the ones who affect me the most. Oh, to be remembered with a laugh and a smile – you can literally see the essence of that person come back to life in the eyes of the loved ones – and this brings a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat more than anything else. “Can we get an etching of a bottle of gin and a pack of Embassy on the stone, as they were the only hobbies he had?” Or “Can we put the dogs names on the stone with him as I think he loved them more than his wife?” OR “Can we leave a space for his Mrs.. something like ‘ AND ‘ER INDOORS’ will do.” This touches me mostly, I guess, as it reminds me of my own family. I hope people take the mickey out of me when I’m gone. The big, tall, ginger, socially awkward weirdo I am. The perfect epitaph.

So, I’ve made the decision to walk away, as I just can’t be forced to comprehend death on a daily basis. My time is up (selling the headstones – the rest I shall leave up to fate) and I’m moving on. Life is for the living and I am not ready to be permanently amongst the dead just yet (and yes, we literally sometimes have dead ‘Boris’ ashes in the office).

What do you do for a living?… “I see dead people.” In the pain of the deceased.

And, on this very cheery note, I shall leave you with some inspiration. One thing being around death has taught me is this – it ain’t no dress rehearsal. Cliche. Truth.

THE DASH

by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend

He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears,

but said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth

and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash.

What matters is how we lived and loved and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more

and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash,

would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

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I dreamed a dream

But what the f#$k does it mean?

I read something the other day about how to get started with creative writing and the article made a point about keeping a pen and paper at the side of your bed, as dreams can be a way of unlocking some ideas for creative writing. Not sure the other half would be best pleased at this (being woken in the middle of the night as I rush to pour all my thoughts on to paper), but thankfully my dreams are so vivid I can still remember them in the morning!!

Don’t get me wrong, as I’m sure this is a good idea for many, but since I stopped drinking (not completely sober but very rarely partake anymore) my dreams have become so wild and unfathomable that I’m not sure they even come into the realms of ‘creative’ anymore… more just really weird! I would love someone (a dream specialist) to sit down and attempt to interpret them.

There is lots going on in life at the moment, exams coming up, new job starts next month, training, the side hustle, the other half’s business.. so my already overactive mind is crazy busy, busy. This dream in particular though – truly Bizarre.

So, the dream begins in a portacabin (as all good dreams do). At the end of the cabin there is a hugely out of place expensive dark wood desk with a grandiose high-backed chair behind it (think Oval Office). The floor is a green carpet of fake grass. The desk is facing the doorway, which I am stood in, waiting. A man comes in behind me, I am expecting him, but nervous all the same. He is wearing a black suit, with a red spotted tie and carrying a brown briefcase. He says nothing as he brushes past but sits down in the chair and opens the briefcase on to the desk. The briefcase is empty. He opens the top drawer of the desk and silently pulls out a piece of orange card, about A5 size. He waves it in the air, then places it in the briefcase in a manner somewhat akin to a magician about to perform a magic trick. He snaps the briefcase shut and winds up the combination locks. He stands, and then he speaks,

“I will be gone some time. Until it’s all passed. And then I shall return. I will keep it safe.”

He stands and as he walks past me to leave, he stops and puts his hand on my shoulder,

“Watch out for the snake, for it grows bigger by the day. It will try to kill you all.”

And then he’s gone.

I run to the swimming pool where the snake is thrashing around in the water. It’s huge. There are other people there, who I don’t know, trying to control it with sticks and fishing nets.

“We need the Goblin!” someone shouts to me, and I rush off to find him.

The Goblin is actually Gollum from Lord of the Rings and (apparently) if he can manage to swallow the snake whole, it will be banished for good.

The snake is now so big it would be impossible to get your hands around it, but somehow it is drawn to the Goblin’s mouth. He sucks it all down whole but I am having a problem with where it’s actually gone as it would’ve filled the stomachs of 10 goblins, never mind one. The lack of scientific/logical explanation is baffling and bothering me. I need to know how it worked…where has the f$%kin snake gone?

Then my son Jack appears by my side, only he’s about 8 again. He holds my hand and tells me not to worry about it. “The snake has gone Mum. That’s all that matters.”

But we are now on a boat, and the waves are crashing over the side. We are struggling to stand straight as it rocks from side to side. There is water coming in everywhere and we need to get off. I grab Jack’s hand and we move to the edge of the deck. I need my backpack but am struggling to get my arms in. I need both arms in so it doesn’t fall off. The zip is open and I’m going to lose stuff out of it. I have to take it off again to zip it up. I check my purse is in there. My purse and my woolly gloves. I put it back on quickly. We are running out of time. Luck is on our side and we are getting closer to the shore. If we get the timing right we can jump off before it sinks. I take a deep breath, my spacial awareness is rubbish and I’m praying I get this right.

“Are you ready?” I shout to Jack, who has a hold of my hand again, he nods, smiling, seemingly unbothered by the trauma. “One, two, three…” and as we are ready to go for the biggest, most mammoth jump of our entire lives, the boat runs aground and we safely do a tiny hop onto the sandy beach below.

My brother appears behind us, after also jumping off the boat (and having lost several stone since last time I saw him). He is wearing skinny black jeans and his Doc Martins like he used to at 17/18. He grins at me, “it’s always easier than you think” he says, and then he runs off into the forest.

How on earth this dream could be the start of a creative writing piece, I’m not entirely sure. I don’t know who or what the snake represents and I’m not sure my brother has really run anywhere since PE at school, let alone into the forest. And the orange card? Who knows?

I lay awake for ages after, trying to analyse it, wondering what it all meant. Then I realised that half the message in the dream was to stop analysing everything.

The mind is a curious place, but my sober mind is even curioser. Screenshot_20181102-103350_Google