How Losing My Sister at 23 Changed My Job Descripton.
by Bailey Wall
If you had told me a year ago today, the changes I would experience in the coming months; I would not have believed you. If someone had told me then, that today I would be working for a company that assists in funeral arrangements, I would have laughed and asked, “What on earth would ever possess me to do that?! No. Thank. You.” If you had told me that my older sister, my best friend, would be dead in four months, I would have declared such an unfathomable idea impossible. One event changed my entire life; my heart, soul and mind; it should be obvious that when who you are is altered so drastically, your career might follow. Yet, the evolution of this process still caught me completely off guard. So this post is partially for you, to understand my role and dedication to Integrity Death Care, and partially for me, as an aid to walk myself through the changes I’ve experienced to find myself where I am today…
When looking back, the first thing I find strange, and yet logical, is how our minds and bodies cope with grief, loss and tragedy. It’s as if we were designed with a natural instinct to protect ourselves from any reality that is just too difficult to bear. We are all familiar with the term, “fight or flight,” but we always associate it with an act of heroism or prey fleeing its predator. We forget to accredit our minds with the same instinct. When we experience a tragedy our minds tend to choose the latter, without even consulting us first. We’re left in our bodies, still breathing, still moving through the motions of life, while our minds flee the scene, leaving us behind.
Seven months and nine days ago, my sister was hit by an allegedly impaired driver while crossing the street. I remember that day perfectly; it was the last day that anything in my life was normal. I can tell you what I ate for breakfast, where I was that afternoon, who I was working with when I got the phone call at work that evening. I can tell you every detail of that day, including exactly where I was standing when everything stopped moving. I could have sworn that the world had stopped, placed on pause, for a second as my heart plummeted into the most sickening feeling. As quick as it was paused, it switched to fast forward. Everything was moving again, but too fast for my comprehension, life became a blurr.
A constant dialogue ran through my head in the following days, reminding me that I was still alive and how to act accordingly.
“One foot in front of the other, follow the motions, breathe in, deeper, and now out; was someone just talking to me, what did they say? Deep breath. Don’t forget to thank people when they visit and hug you. You’re making people uncomfortable; make eye contact, smile a little, just a little. Breathe. Damn it, a full breath... Your legs are moving, look where you’re walking, or you’ll be next.”
I became completely numb, an empty blur. It’s as if a fog descended upon my life and took over my most basic functions. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything. I can’t tell you when the fog ever let up, because over half a year later I still find myself wandering around in it from time to time. However, the first week after the accident was when it was at its most dense.
Looking back on that week, I’m not going to pretend that I don’t remember anything, but the details are very sparse and days can’t be differentiated from another. To be honest, I’m thankful my mind made that choice for me, to flee the scene, and protect me; I only need to live through that experience, with all of its fine details, once.
Unfortunately, families who experience loss are thrown head first into an unimaginable situation with a hundred decisions to make, unfathomable costs and without a second to gather themselves. They find themselves maneuvering a world they never anticipated, engulfed in that oppressive fog. They may find themselves wishing it would swallow them whole, but being forced to fight through it, having to struggle to see clear enough to make important decisions. Most families don’t even know where to start in this process and will generally go with the first funeral home they call; this is a huge gamble. Often, families find themselves in great hands and have all the arrangements handled flawlessly. Other families may find themselves pushed into expenses they aren’t comfortable with, services that only pass as adequate when their loved ones deserve divine, and are left with a bad taste in their mouth. These families will look back on this experience with frustration and regret, wishing that they had a clearer head on their shoulders. This is unfair; a family should only look back on a memorial for their loved one with peace and the comfort that it was perfect.
Our family was lucky. Granted, we were travelling through hell, but we had a hand to guide us, protect us and ensure that our wishes were followed through. We had Shane Neufeld, a long-time friend of our family, who went above and beyond for us in our time of need. Whether he had to visit us at the hospital, in my parents’ home or accompany us to the funeral home, he walked us through every step and every decision. I honestly can’t imagine how that week would have gone without his guidance. We never felt pressured into decisions we weren’t comfortable with, we didn’t have to stress over the details of the memorial and we never worried how it would all come together. We were free to grieve.
I can’t comprehend that many families wander through this process completely lost and blinded by the fog of their loss. I believe every family should have the opportunity to grieve freely, without additional stress and confusion, with the peace of mind that accompanies that freedom. I’ve chosen to work for Integrity because of my own personal experiences that led me to thoroughly believe in these services. So, here I am; with a job I would have never imagined, hoping that you never experience loss but wanting you to know that you’re not alone if you do.
We are here.