Friday, July 23, 2010

Post Thirty-Five: The Letter.

The letter. I always read it.

I never open the envelope if it's sealed. That's crossing the boundaries, that's breaking the trusts bestowed in me. A piece of thin, fragrant paper is open game though, right?
The note, the careful fold, it entices me with it's cathartic calling. This is the naughtiest thing that I do, but to be fair I read it out loud to the dead person, so in actuality I am the messenger to the rightful recipient. It's like an addiction.

When a loved one dies, the funeral arranger often suggests that the grieving family members pen a letter to the deceased to put in their coffin. It's a way to help deal with the finality of the death, as well as express the emotions felt and memories treasured. They write these, and then they get sent to me to make sure that they are given to the right dead person before burial or cremation.
The trouble is, even though I have a pretty tough emotional attitude, on the inside I am a hopeless romantic. I can't do shitty romantic movies and predictable tele-dramas, but I go mushy when in reality someone says that they love ME with honesty, truth and conviction. I can't imagine losing someone I love. So, when I read the letters from husbands to their freshly dead wives and vice versa, my heart explodes! This shit is real, the emotions are raw and the sentences strung together with sadness and longing. Sometimes the longing is for things to have been different, sometimes the longing is for old days to be relived again....
Different players, different rules, but always the same sadness.
Don't get me started on letters from kids to their parents. Or parents to their kids. I am sure that my blood freezes around each cell when I refold the letter and put it in the deceased hand, or over their heart in a jacket pocket. All in all, in my neck of the woods no words will fall on deaf ears.
Peace. x


  1. Strewth, is it the ultimate temptation to read the letters as shit will get real suddenly. Could you keep some empty envelopes with you so you could seal the letters in as soon as they appear, that way you can stay one step removed ?

  2. or maybe you could have some special envelopes made up for this very purpose, to hand to the families to put messages into. You'd never have to risk gratuituous heartbreak ?
    Just a thought, your posts always start me thinking.

  3. We all need reality checks, it's just that your line of work tends to bring them to you more often that the rest of us. If that was me I would want you to read the letter it to me and care enough to place it over my heart. Do other morticians care as much, or is it just a job?

  4. Aw geez man, that would make me lose my shit.

    I remember reading recently about how some clergy were complaining about how funerals were being conducted. They got all snitty about coffins having articles that were symbolic of that person on them. Of eulogies having profanities. Of non religious songs being played in the sanctity of the church. Their central thrust was that it was a religious ceremony first, adios to the deceased second.

    That for me was just another nail in their relevance coffin. How dare they claim it's their way or the highway when farewelling someone on their final journey. The funeral is for those left behind, not the one in the box. It's about their pain, their sadness. Furthermore they knew the person best and if there was something beyond this and that person could see it I'd bet they'd want their footy club song to serenade them out to the hearse than 'everyone please turn to Hymn 482, the Lord is my rock and I am bound for his shore'...

  5. Hi Sarah,

    I was wondering about the story behind the letter you posted. Are you able to tell us a little bit about it without breaking your confidentiality?
    I think it would bring comfort to the author of the letter knowing you have read it to their loved one.
    When I visit my dad's grave I often visit the "children's area" and pick up fallen flowers and toys....I also can't help reading the little cards placed there.....perhaps I want to share the parent's grief and remind myself how lucky I am that my children are still with us?
    Or mabye I'm just a nosey person.
    Please keep writing.

  6. Hey Michelle,

    It reminds me of the reason why people watch scary movies, y'know? It's like it's a guilty pleasure, without it being's more a little frighting peek into somebody elses reality.

    I just hope people don't think I'm being disrespectful, and I'm sure some funeral workers think that I am too nosey. As an introspective person, I guess it's just like fuel for thought and I can't deny myself of that. You sound like a smiliar person, and I too go into the kids section of cemetries, and have always searched the death notices in the paper for young, tragic deaths. I am sure heaps of people are the same, in that we are interested in suffering and hate that it is inevitable.

  7. Hi Sarah, I'm glad I am not the only one to scan the funeral notices for young and tragic deaths. As soon as my husband brings me a cup of tea and the courier mail on a Saturday morning (bless him) I turn to the death and funeral notices and read through very slowly...wondering about the circumstances of death, relationships etc. My family think I'm morbid.
    Have you read Jessica Mitfords " The American Way Of Death" ? It's a very interesting read. Take care.