This is another fun post where all the names have been changed to avoid, you know, stuff.
I couldn’t have been more than thirteen, if that. My friend Tyler and I were inseparable during this summer and one afternoon we found ourselves at his father’s work place. We milled around outside while his dad disappeared indoors; I remember that it was hot, and the bricks of the building magnified the heat from the concrete, baking me alive. This place was in the middle of town and it was obvious Tyler had spent his fair share of time here. He moved into the building with confidence, bringing me with him as his tail and called out to his dad, asking if we could come in to the room that seemed like a mix between a vault and a cooler. His father emerged from behind the steel door in front of us as my friend turned to me and said, “wanna see a dead body?”
Tyler’s father worked at a funeral home, doing the respectful work of handling the bodies and readying them for the final phase. That particular day, there were two individuals prepared for cremation on the other side of that door. He made it known to us what was there, and the fate of both the persons inside. A young person was killed in an accident after hitting a moose, and an older man had died of a heart attack. This wasn’t Tyler’s first rodeo—he had grown up around death, understood it and respected it. I never even had so much as a grandparent die up until this point, so aside from a dog, this was my first glimpse of death.
We were told about respect and it was a heavy lesson. I can still remember standing in that room, staring at those two bodies, almost unable to process what I was seeing. There was a human body on a steel table, but their face was so heavily damaged, there was nothing recognizable about it. On a twin setup beside them, there was a man with black hair and a massive body. He looked so peaceful, as if he were sleeping. I waited, holding my breath to see if he would move, even twitch, but he was still—more still than I had ever seen a person. The image stuck with me. I was told about the process of cremation while zoning out and staring at the personification of the end. I’ll never forget the day I saw them.
They’ve stuck with me through my life. When I turned fourteen, I was in the ninth grade and was able to get my first job. It wasn’t until I was fully trained and comfortable with the establishment that I really started to look around the building. There was a beautiful tribute on the wall in the main part of the lobby, framed with a picture of a young person in the bottom corner. There was a name attached to it, and I asked who this person was. I was informed that they were a beloved employee that had died after they hit a moose on the highway just over a year before. My mind raced back to that cold room with steel tables and I kept the story to myself. I was one of the last people to ever see their friend’s body, and it weighed on me in a way I can scarcely describe. It was empty, but anxious—a quivering void on the verge of collapse and I knew that I regretted my decision to walk past that steel door that day. But it was nothing so vivid as what would come.
I had seen my biological father few times in my life, and I was fourteen when he killed himself. My clearest memories of him are of his black hair and his massive body, sleeping soundly in a hotel bed that we shared. I remember nights after his funeral, staring at the ceiling in my room and thinking about that man on the table, and knowing my father ended up in a place like that. Where his soul went, I can’t speak to, but I do know that I held his ashes in my hands, fully aware of the process he had gone through to change states after death. The image of my father sleeping, combined with the picture of the man on the table and tumbled around in my head for years and held me hostage for most of them, until something finally gave way. It was only a few years ago, but I was no longer haunted by the images of the two bodies I had seen—the event became just another crazy thing that happened in my childhood, and now I look back on the moment as one of growth for myself. Confronting death is best done young, I believe. In my experience, I couldn’t imagine losing a parent as an adult. When my step-father died of a heart attack, I was able to grieve with the grace and excuse that youth is afforded. I’m thankful every day for that.
In lieu of outfit posts, because it’s my weekend already, here are some puppy pics. I knew this one was gonna be dark, and I had my dog this weekend (I’m a weekend dog-dad), so I took a bunch of photos for a little brain bleach.
See you tomorrow
Writer, performer, producer and musician from Alberta.