Getting hired meant living alone in a cemetery. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Well, it was, but not for the reasons you might expect. I didn’t have a problem with the deceased; it was the living that terrified me. High school kids would hop the cemetery gate to get dead-drunk. It was my job, as gatekeeper, to get them in the hearse and haul them out. Really blotto fellas liked to sneak back and peek into my trailer window while I slept. It was a massive un-perk of the job, both personally and professionally.
My solution? I slept with a shotgun under my bed.
Evenings were consumed by funerary duties: answering the phone, washing the hearse, emptying garbage cans. My days were about waiting in my stifling cemetery trailer at the end of the property, hoping to get thrown some extra scratch for being sent on a job-related mission.
Some nights, the phone rang. Usually it was a crank: “I’m locked inside the cemetery and I need you to get me out” was a big favorite. Yawn.
Other times it was a bereaved family member. “My brother is there and I need to know he is alright,” one woman said. I could spend an hour on the phone with people, just talking to try to bring them some comfort. But grief is messy and I wasn’t always up to the job.
“Why does my little girl have to be behind a locked gate all night?” one inconsolable mother asked me.
“I’m sorry,” I replied, “We have to lock the gates to prevent vandalism.”
“I get so lonely for her at night. It feels like I can’t go to sleep because I haven’t hugged her good night. Why do we have to bury people off somewhere away from us like we’re trying to get rid of them?”
“Well, because … ” I had nothing. Just because.
The heartbroken Mom on the other end of the line confessed, “I feel like I’m failing her.”
I could relate.
After we hung up, I walked over to the grave of the little girl who had been interred earlier that week. Poor Dad, I thought. He had done his best too. I wondered if he had felt as empty and angry with himself that day Mom died as I had on that phone call. “Mom?”
I whispered. “I’m sorry I am so troubling for Dad. I’ll make it up to him, I promise, no matter what.” I cried all the way back to my trailer. I hadn’t told my dad about the cemetery job–or that I was considering mortuary school–so I mixed that into my guilt stew to make it a really long night in my hot trailer.