Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Silent Passenger

He drives a hearse for a living.

At least that's what I've surmised while walking by the neighborhood funeral home. I don't know his name, and I've never been able to get a good look at his face but I can tell he's handsome. A thick, beautiful crown of fiery red hair graces the top of his head and he's always dressed well - dark pants or khakis and nice button downs shirts.

In his 20s, he looks like the kind of guy whose company you'd enjoy at the neighborhood watering hole. Instead, his is probably the face that greets you when you want to make the arrangements for your loved one's final resting place.

I have no idea how he spends the rest of his time, but it looks like he lives at the funeral home. Whenever he's able to get away, he drives off in his navy blue Jetta.

Another guy lives and works at the funeral home, too (a brother? a cousin?), but I only seem to remember the red-headed guy. I've walked by that building for over three years - the whole time absentmindedly picking up unremarkable details about the comings and goings there. I remember the time they had a holiday cookout in the parking lot with other family members - complete with a game of toss.

Red and I have spoken a handful of words to each other. I think hellos were exchanged one time when I saw him bringing the trash cans back into the garage where they park the hearse. I don't like to make a habit of parking in the funeral home parking lot, but sometimes it's the obvious choice when the bar crowd has infiltrated the neighborhood and street parking is at a premium. One morning I went to move my car out of the lot and noticed a yellow Post-It note stuck to my windshield (and all the other windshields) remarking that the funeral home parking lot is private.

I've never seen a tow truck there.

He doesn't appear to talk much, and I guess that's alright when you work in the business of grieving. I imagine folks in that line of work spend half their time comforting the living (who are mourning and likely at a loss for words), and the other half preparing the remains of those who've left us.

Today I saw my red-headed friend careening into the parking lot, behind the wheel of that Cadillac built for two, and I wondered whether he ever wondered about the souls of those folks he chauffeured around.

Does he talk to those people as he drives them home?

I didn't give much thought to my friend from afar and his choice in profession until I went through my own recent grieving period.

After I returned home from Atlanta, I saw Red at work around the funeral home property, and I wondered whether he was kind to people when they were going through their own personal hell. I was curious to know whether Red was serious 24-7.

I wanted to know how Red coped when he lost someone he loved.

I don't think grief is easy for anyone to handle - no matter how much experience you have helping others cope.

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