What initially got me motivated to write this was to share some good news about my life, but then I looked at the calendar and realized what weekend it was…..And that turned what would have been a quick Facebook post into an Island dispatch. Which is good, because I don’t visit the Island often enough, and I like it here.
In July of 1994 my ex and I had bought a house and had come to the sad conclusion that we weren’t able to have children (we were completely wrong; she was pregnant at the time). We were in dire need of something to keep us together, so we got ourselves a dog. We went to a pet shop on Ritchie Highway that advertised “PUPPIES!”, and looked at a litter of six or seven furry little pups. They were Lab/Shepherd beasties, and all but one was black as night. The outlier had the classic Shepherd brown/black coloring. Me being me, that’s the one I selected. The shop owner pulled him out of the pen, and the little thing immediately went to my ex’s feet and plopped down. We were immediately sold.
I named him Ajax after the character on Duckman (voiced by Dweezil Zappa). I’ll spare you thousands of words about him, because that’s not the story I want to tell today. But trust me when I say that he was my best friend and I loved him with all of my heart. I cried like a child when he died, and there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by in the 12 years he’s been gone that I haven’t thought about him. The day that I held him in my arms and sent him across the Rainbow Bridge was an unseasonably warm day for the beginning of November, much like today. And I’m crying now just thinking about him.
It was also two years ago this weekend that I lost my father. Now that’s not entirely accurate, as I truly lost him to Alzheimer’s about 5 years prior. But dad died two years ago. We had what can only be described as a complicated relationship. We were very close for most of my adult life, but as his dementia took hold of his mind, he became very insular and afraid. Watching him degenerate from the strong man who raised me into a frightened, angry child made it clear to me that I’ll eat a bullet before I put my child through that.
Dad went into hospice on the Tuesday before his death (on Saturday). My employer at the time felt that it was very important that I be at work that week, so rather than being with my father as he made his trip across The Bridge, I got the news on I-95 somewhere in South Carolina. That was the proverbial “last straw” with that employer, and what finally motivated me to move on and make a midlife career change.
I’d met a guy who ran his family’s funeral home and we’d become friends. Over the course of many months we’d talked about his business, and I was very interested in it. Though I’d gone through a goth phase, I’d never seriously considered being a mortician (funeral director, but damn “mortician” sounds cooler), but I found the position intriguing. It held the promise of doing something for people that actually made a difference. I spent months thinking about it and looking into what would be required of me should I want to make the change. It meant school, and I wasn’t looking forward to that. It meant a licensing exam, and I wasn’t looking forward to that either. But I needed to get out of what I was doing (as I hadn’t been happy there for years), and the death business seemed like a good fit for me.
So in May of 2015 I started a new adventure. I walked away from a 20-year career and started at the bottom of a new one. That fall I went back to school, and for the last year I’ve been working and taking classes. I’ve found that I have a passion for this work, and though it’s not fun having no free time, I’m enjoying what I do in a way that I never have. I don’t have a job; I’m building a career around something I feel is important.
For 17 months I worked for my friend, and I can’t thank him enough for the opportunity. I met some people who have had a massive impact on me…..I could write thousands of words about the changes I’ve gone through thanks to the connections I’ve made. I’ve discovered a career that motivates me. It’s not about the money, it’s about what I do for others.
Unfortunately though, I had to move on again. Due to a regulatory snafu between Maryland and Pennsylvania (where my school is located), it would have been very expensive and difficult for me to complete my embalming requirements. I spent the summer trying to find a way to make things work, and came up empty. So a month ago I put my notice in and accepted a position across the river in Virginia, where I could not only complete my requirements for school, but also begin my apprenticeship immediately (rather than wait until next June like I’d have to in Maryland). My manager there told me that he’d never seen anyone work as hard after they’d put their notice in. That would have made dad proud.
I’ve been there three weeks now, and as of Friday I’m a licensed apprentice (Young Jedi). Though the drive through traffic sucks, I’ve taken another step towards my goal, and the new position will accelerate the achievement of other personal and professional goals. And though it’s not perfect, I think often about my favorite line from any movie……“Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted… He lived happily ever after.”