Sometimes we would go for a long stretch without a funeral, like a few weeks or even a month, and at those times my dad would get really nervous. With so many other funeral homes close by, he was always nervous when business was slow. But other times, we would get really busy, sometimes 7-10 funerals in one week. The basement would be covered with bodies and my dad would be exhausted.
The funeral process from beginning to end is a time consuming job, so with multiple funerals, my dad would have to put in really long days. When things got that busy, it also meant that we would have to be quiet A LOT. We would have to be quiet at breakfast because the morning funeral was going on, quiet during lunch because my dad might be making funeral arrangements with a family, and quiet at dinner because the evening funeral was in progress. And we might have to do this every day for a week or more. Yeah, it sucked sometimes, but we were pros at it by now. Our friends eventually learned the routine too. You tip toe and whisper at all times.
At the end of the funeral before everyone goes to the church for the service, my dad would ask the family of the deceased to come up to the casket to pay their final respects. This is because it’s the last time they will see the person before they close the casket for good and it’s usually an emotional time during the funeral. This one time, we were very busy and there were about eight bodies in the basement. Naturally, all of them had different last names, which my dad had to remember, and we also had a lot of Irish people in our neighborhood with names like “O’Brien” and “O’Neil.” Two people with those names died that week and one of them was upstairs and one of them was downstairs.
My dad had been going for about 6 days straight working 12 hour days. He was tired and it was during a morning funeral. He got everything in order and it was time to close the casket. He said, “Would the members of the O’Neil family please come forward to pay their final respects.” No one responded. My dad was confused and thought, “Didn’t they hear me?”Again, he said a little louder, “Would the members of the O’Neil family please come forward to pay their final respects.” Again, no moved or said anything. My dad looked at everyone who was staring at him with a mix of grief and confusion on their faces, and then one of the men who worked for him leaned in and said, “It’s O’Brien, not O’Neil.”
That’s when my dad realized, “ O’Brien is upstairs, O’Neil is downstairs.” He was mortified! He said, “Please forgive me for my mistake, I’m so sorry. Would the members of the O’Brien family please come forward and pay their last respects.” Everything then proceeded as usual. The thing was, he couldn’t admit to them that he mixed up their last name with one of eight other bodies that were right below them. There was nothing he could really say to fix that one and he felt so bad about it. It’s just a bad time to get someone’s name wrong. He apologized profusely again to the family members, and of course, when he came home and told his family members, we had to laugh. It’s one of those stories that’s funny because you know the person and how they would react to making a mistake like that, and that kind of thing was just disastrous to my dad. A mistake of epic proportions. You can’t screw up the family’s name! Naturally, he was upset when he got back from the cemetery, and as he was telling us what happened we were all wide-eyed, mouths open, thinking “Oh, no, you didn’t.” Then, when he did, how can you not laugh? You can just picture the humiliation, the embarrassment, his confusion, the family’s confusion…all the things that make tragedy funny.
But there’s also something funny about people calling you the wrong name. I’ve been called Celestee, Chelsea, Colette, Celia, Cecelia and Cecil. Is my name that hard? I guess it is because whenever I order food over the phone, I just tell them my name is “Mary.”
Mary seems to be a name understood by any foreigner taking a food order. I think it’s because everyone knows of “The Virgin Mary.” You know, I think that’s pretty bold; to give birth to a baby in a barn somewhere and still claim to be a virgin. That’s not meant to offend anyone, but I wonder if I could get away with that…. Have a toasty Tuesday!