Death, An Inside View From the Perspective of a Cremationist

Back in 2011 I made a personal commitment to get fully involved in the business of death and dying it was a calling of sorts.  I  volunteer as a hospice visitor and in early January 2012 I took on a part time job as a cremationist.  I have been fortunate to have  lots of opportunities to learn much about the goings on in a funeral home.

I have had the honor to work with families as they prepare to say their final good-byes to their deceased loved ones – the cremation is a fundamental part of that.  I have been involved in hundreds of cremations and worked with many families over the past months.  I have learned tremendous life lessons by dealing with death first-hand, gained insights I would not have otherwise seen, and been humbled by the reality of death.

I had several personal experiences with death over the years and have a good understanding of dying, death, grief and loss, and bereavement.  I took hospice training in the mid 1990’s and done some hospice work back then too.  Working with death as intimately as I do has deepened my personal relationship with death in meaningful ways so much so that I have taken death on as my life coach!

Death is teaching me daily; Each time I sit with a person dying, meet with family and friends as they work through pre-grief and grief when the loss comes; Each time I cremate a person and return the cremate remains to the family.  I learn something more about life each time I encounter death.

Death is very real.  It is physical.  No one is getting out alive.  I am certain about that, mentally emotionally, spiritually and physically.  I know one day I will absolutely be dead.  This may sound depressing, yet to me it is totally inspiring – I am alive today!  Today I am breathing and able to experience all that is in front of me – fully!  What a gift!

Being right is a waste of time.  One of the pastimes many of us enjoy is the pursuit of self-rightness (Self Righteousness).  I have seen it in my life over and over again. Though common I find it a waste of time and combative.  Rather be curious and wrong and learn something about life than be stuck in the land of rightness.

Follow your heart.  I spend time with people who are in the final days of their life and I often hear regrets like ‘I wish I would have done all those things I wanted to.’  Sometimes it is spoken like ‘I wish I had lived my own life, not the one others wanted me to live.’  Regrets like these are life lessons turn inside out.  For those of us living, hear these lessons and adjust your life so it won’t be you talking like that on your deathbed.

Love the one you are with.  I was with a family awhile back, the sadness was overwhelming.  ‘We all love each other.  Sad thing is we forget to remind ourselves by saying it out loud each day.  It is too late to remind Dad.’  Feel this one, really feel it and if you want to avoid this kind of grief, be more demonstrative with your love today and each day you are alive.

Money isn’t everything.  I have had the honor to cremate many people over the past while – some very wealthy, others very poor.  Multi-millionaires to homeless folks, people driving BMWs and individuals pushing shopping carts. When I am done my duty as a cremationist, at the end of the process I can’t tell the difference – ashes to ashes, dust to dust – there is no obvious difference in the cremated remains.  We all look the same in the end, and there is no evidence of money, stature or possessions.

Nothing wrong with abundance, nothing right with it either, it just is.  When it is life consuming as in the North American Dream perhaps it is time to put our attention on what is important – each other.

Death can be very informative when you look at it through new lenses!


Much Love

Stephen Garrett Bill Bates Jersey

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