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Grandpa Rea

An evening with the grandfather I never knew

I recently had an amazing dream, the kind you don’t want to wake up from. I dreamt I enjoyed an evening with the grandfather I never knew. My grandfather Rea (pronounced Ray) died in 1961 at the age of 51. My father was just a teenager when his father died while returning from vacation. They had been in Arizona and stopped for the night in Kansas when he had a heart attack and died.

I don’t much about him. He was a farmer and school bus driver and an only child. One day a family friend, Mary Kay told me I acted a lot like him. She told me a couple stories about him and I’m grateful for the things she shared for it’s all I know about him. She told me he had one of the first still cameras and that he was a jokester. 

It’s the first time I have ever had a dream about him. He and I were walking about their old farmstead. We were talking and I remember it was delightful. At one point I took his hand and told him I was grateful to finally meet him. He showed me where their barn used to be, and I explained that after he died Grandma sold the animals and neighbors farmed the land he owned. The barn became dilapidated, and it was torn down.

You know how people ask, “Who is one person dead or alive that you would want to have dinner with?” Hands down, it is my grandfather. It’s strange how I can have such a strong attachment to my grandfather even though I never knew him. When we were expecting our second child, not knowing if it was a boy or a girl, I knew that if it was a boy, I wanted to honor my grandpa. Grandpa Rea’s real given name was Thompson Rea, named after his grandfather. My son’s middle name is Thompson. 

I’m grateful for that evening with my grandfather and I hope to have another evening with him soon.

2 people under umbrella

Creating and holding space for grieving people

Recently, I shared a post about my work in the funeral industry. You can read that post here: https://missykuester.com/a-nonanxious-presence-in-a-funeral-home/. One question I often get is “What do you do at the funeral home?” I could list the actual physical things such as greeting visitors, restocking the snacks and drinks, moving flowers, driving the hearse, driving the limo, moving more flowers, etc. But the best answer I can think of is I’m resonsible for creating and holding space for grieving people.

What does it mean to hold space for grieving families?

According to gsthereapy center, “Holding space means being physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone. It means putting your focus on someone to support them as they feel their feelings.” https://www.gstherapycenter.com/blog/2020/1/16/what-holding-space-means-5-tips-to-practiceAcc 

It’s a great post with tips for creating a safe space.

In my life when walking through a loss with a friend or loved one, I have wanted to create or be a safe place for them. A sudden or profound loss can create a plethora of dynamic emotions. My job is to create a space where a person feels comfortable displaying those emotions without judgment.

Creating a safe space for grieving

At the funeral home, I create a safe space by doing all the things mentioned early. Our emphasis is to remember everything that a grieving family may not think of during the planning and services. We also cater to our families. Whatever they ask for we are open to doing. Consequently, our goal is to make those things happen behind the scenes without fanfare.

Another way we create space for people to grieve is to honor and respect customs whether they be cultural, religious, or family. Rituals are important in the grieving process. I hope to share some of the specific customs and rituals I have personally experienced in subsequent posts.

Have you ever thought about how you respond to someone when they are griveing? Rather than give advice or tell them how they should feel, wouldn’t it be better to just be present, without advice or judgement? Are you a safe space for them in which they can be raw and honest with their feelings of loss?


Death teaches us

A nonanxious presence in a funeral home

How people die remains in the memory of those who live on” – Dame Cicely Saunders.

In July of 2021, I saw a Facebook post about a newly opened funeral home. Nearly a year later, that post changed the trajectory of my life. That day I mustered up the courage to send a message to James the one who had posted about the funeral home. And today, I have a career in funeral services.

Sometime later, I was telling my new pastor about my work at the funeral home. He is no stranger to funerals and funeral homes. In that conversation, he taught me the term, nonanxious presence. What a perfect description of what I am in my work. I set out to learn how to be a nonanxious presence in a funeral home.

How I found my calling

My best friend, Jenny died in 2011 at the young age of 36 after battling an autoimmune disease for most of her life.  Jenny’s funeral was a significant moment in my life. And it transformed me and how I saw death and dying. At her funeral, my friend Jim, the funeral director told me I had a gift and I should consider a job in the funeral industry.

I had several moments in my life that I’ve walked with friends as they’ve grieved the loss of children, spouses, and loved ones. I realized I wasn’t afraid to be with people as they grieved. Without knowing it, was trying to be the nonanxious person when their life was in shambles and chaos.

Jim’s words never left me. The experiences of holding space for the grieving inspired me. That’s how I found my calling to work in a funeral home.

A nonanxious presence

The term nonanxious presence was coined by Edwin Friedman a Jewish Rabbi. He described a nonanxious presence as “an individual who provides a calm, cool, focused and collected environment that empowers others to be relaxed.” Pastors, hospital chaplains, and leaders are familiar with this term and embody it. I also believe that those working in funeral homes have learned this trait as well.

On his blog, http://thenonanxiousleader.com Jack Shitama says this about being a nonanxious presence, “It’s important to understand that this power is different than authority or the ability to control others. It’s about positive influence and helping others to be their best.”

In my opinion, our role at the funeral home is to be calm, reassuring, and helpful without being overbearing. We really are the people in the shadows making things run smoothly and supporting the family. Even being overly helpful can cause anxiety and be counterintuitive. Our goal is to be present but not overwhelming. As Friedman said, “The trick is to be both non-anxious and present simultaneously.”

Behind the scenes of a funeral home

In future posts, I hope to share behind the scenes of a funeral home. It’s fascinating and rewarding work. I look forward to sharing my experiences and what I learn along the way. Every day and every funeral is different. And through it all there are many lessons to learn.

There may be no single thing that can teach us more about life than death.” –Arianna Huffington