Saturday, March 7, 2009

NECRO NO MO! (A Novel By Karyn)

As long as I can remember I've been afraid of Funerals, Corpses, Hearst, funeral music, even funeral flowers. Viewing such things would bring on such anxiety in fear it held me paralyzed. My first experience with a funeral that I can remember was I believe my Great-grand father's funeral(daddy's grandpa.) I was quite young at the time, maybe the age of 3? And it was truly a "Black Church Funeral." There was singing and crying and moaning and hollarin. Folks workin themselves up. The Preacher sounded loud and angry. It's hard to understand already when you're young.

Next was my Mama's daddy's funeral and I was probably about 7 or so. This,too, was a "Black Church Funeral." The day was hot and blazing, the preacher was loud and angry. folks were hollerin and carryin on...working themselves up into passing out and fainting....there were people dressed in white (ushers? Nurses? Masons? who knows..)and they were carrying folks who look like they were dying too. When mama and daddy took us up to see Papa at the end, I was paralyzed and scared. Had someone not been holding my hand I would have stayed there too scared to move on.
I remember them explaining about how that wasn't really Papa, it was just a shell of his body but he, his personality, and spirit were no longer inside that body.

"well where the hell was he?" was my question.

After funerals it always felt like someone was hovering around me that I couldn't see. I always had that feeling of having to look over my shoulder or peek around corners to make sure "they" weren't still around.

Night was the worse. The house would settle and creak at night. To me since they weren't in the body... they were making them noises in my house. My mind converted everything into caskets: the couches in the house looked like open caskets. Dressers, bath tubs... closed caskets. Closet doors and book shelves looked like caskets against the wall. Even my twin sized bed.
I would jump into bed, cover my head over and have a little breathing hole. And wait until morning. Sleep would rarely come. Having to use the bathroom, would always come. I would be too scared to get up and use it. I would wait all night for the creaks to get louder and for those no longer in their bodies to get closer.

This is how I would spend the following nights. It would last about a week or two before eventually the fear would fade away. I would catch cat naps in the day because I knew there was no sleeping at night. Sometimes I would sleep with my sister for comfort. Most times not. There was shame and embarrassment in having this fear. It seems as though people would try to understand but never truly fathomed the depth of the fear.

When we joined the LDS Church and received a full knowledge of the gospel, many questions were answered about life after death and those kinds of things. Even with knowing and understanding the fullness of the Gospel the childhood fears/habits remained with me.

I've been to many funerals. And have always had this fear.

About 6 years ago my daughter found a name for it.
She came to me and said... "mom, I think you have necrophobia"

"What's that?" I asked her.

Necrophobia or thanatophobia is the fear of death or dead things (e.g., corpses) as well as things associated with death (e.g., coffins.)

Just knowing there was a name for it helped me to realize I was not crazy.

My family and I developed a system for me going to funerals. When we go, I never drive. When we get to the place of the service, I close my eyes when we park so as not to see the Hearst. They go into the building and case the joint. Find a path to bring me in where I am out of eye sight of the casket. They come back to the car and get me. They lead me into the building with my eyes closed and take me to my seat. There I remain until the end of the service. Then they will come and get me, I close my eyes and they lead me back to the car. If there is a luncheon or something or we stay for a while, I close my eyes, they lead me to the bathroom or where ever i need to go and when time to go they lead me to the car.

I know it's irrational fear, it's why it is called a Phobia. It doesn't make since to me either. I know some of y'all are thinking I just don't get what happens at death. I FULLY UNDERSTAND the spirit departing the body and it just being a shell housing the spirit. I GET IT. It is the visuals of it all that sticks in my mind for weeks on end. Anyway...I know some will NEVER understand it, i don't myself.

A couple years ago my friend's mother passed away. I wanted to be a support to him. I wanted him to know he could count on me in any situation. He invited me to the funeral. I was literally panicked and heart stricken. I wanted to go. But I couldn't.
I layed on my couch curled in a ball sobbing because I knew I had failed to support someone I cared about because of a stupid phobia. I called my brother in tears and he said..

"you know, you can go late and sit in the back. Sit where you can't see anything. You don't even have to stay. Be there long enough for him to see you there for support and leave early. You have to decide if your fear is stronger than your life for your friend. It's a choice we all end up making at some point on our lives. "

I told him I just couldn't do it. After we hung up I layed on the couch and cried some more.
I poured my heart out to Heavenly Father and told him my desires and my fears. I said "Lord if I'm supposed to go, You gonna need to put me in ,,"A ZONE" so I can go."
A few minutes later a calmness came over me. Next thing I know I'm rolling down the high way towards a funeral. The closer I got the calmer I felt. I followed the directions to the chapel. I turned the last corner to before the church and there is was...
A white Hearst was facing me. The grill of the vehicle looked like an evil grin staring back at me. I stopped my car just in front of it. Looked it right in it's eyes (head lights) and said out loud.... "YOU DON'T SCARE ME... NOT TODAY!" I gunned my engine and drove passed it into the parking lot. (that was a first)
I parked the car and followed the side walk to the doors. I had to then walk passed the Hearst. (that was a first) I walked up the sidewalk toward the doors. I felt as if I were moving in slow motion. I grabbed the doors to go into the building and truly expected them to be locked. I expected my self to wake up out of this dream I was having and to find myself home in bed. To my surprise the door opened and I felt a rush of warmth hit my face. They were just starting with the life sketch of the dearly departed. I went the back doors of the cultural hall and found a seat near the back of the chairs. It was perfect I could only see the speaker on the podium. No flowers to worry about, no caskets to see. It was as if I were at a fireside.

My anxiousness was minimal. Nothing I couldn't handle. I was calm, comfortable and at ease. When the service was over I went straight to the lobby and held up a wall. I wanted my friend to know I made it to support him. When the family came out and he saw me, my goal had been met. We spoke for a few minutes and he invited me to the interment. I agreed to come. (I'm much better at the cemetery. It didn't give me as much discomfort as the rest) I did go. Again, minimal anxiety. The story would be how I felt as I got home and night fell. Would I be sleeping with my 16 year old?

When night did come there was some discomfort. I did have to sleep with the lights on. I didn't sleep with my daughter. I had to have some noise... the radio to hide the creaking of the condo. A few things startled me but not to the point of pluralization. I was OK with it because compared to normal, this was bearable. I recovered in a weeks time. Not the normal 3-4 weeks time. I felt that "protective zone" I asked the Lord to put me in for about 3 days after he service. Finally could I be getting over this thing?

This experience was a couple years ago. In that time. Old habits or anxiety have creaped back up. I think it's only normal to draw back on those things you're used to feeling. Old habits and such. The anxiety of seeing hurst and flowers and open grave sites brought back those anxious uncomfortable feelings again. But the discomfort of sleeping with those feelings has eased up within a couple days. I felt I could live with this compared to how things have been in the passed.

Once a year my sister, friend and daughter go up to Preston, Idaho to visit the grave site of one of our friends. We decided to go last Sunday. We went later in the day so we had to hurry because we needed to get back in time for the Genesis Meeting.
On the way up there my cell phone rang 3 times. When I looked at the numbers calling, It was members of the Genesis Presidency. They tend to call alot on Genesis Sunday for last minute things. It try not to even have my cell phone at hand on Sundays, but because we were out of down it was on me. I pretty much ignored their calling. The trip to Preston is about 2.5 hours. We stopped in Logan to Pick up the college freshman and were on our way. About 3 minutes outside of the cemetery my phone starts going crazy again. Messages are left. I looked over at my sister,friend and daughter and "these folks are calling me like some body died. And if that's the case, I don't know what to tell these people... cuz I can't do a thang for them about a death. I can send flowers, cards and that's about it."

When I said the phrase I was half joking because of the irony of it all. I then realized that I was the compassionate service leader for the Genesis Branch and Brother Jackson is 104 years old. I decided to listen to the messages. All the messages said "please call back asap."

Let me paint to you a picture of clarity. I'm a necrophobic sitting in a cemetery already anxious, nervous and skittish talking on the phone hearing them tell me my friend I work with AND go to Genesis with passed away in the night. I needed to call her husband and find out what Genesis could do to support the family.

I. THOUGHT. I. WAS. GOING. TO. PASS. OUT! They sort of calm me down. I call one of the Genesis Relief Society Counselors, Tamu. She, knowing me and this phobia immediately took charge of the immediate situation. Which actually calmed me enough to make the phone calls I needed to make.

I called Pat's husband Morning and asked what he needed from us. He hadn't gotten that far in his thinking. I told him when he had to call me.

He called about an hour later: Genesis would take care of the opening closing prayers, opening closing songs and a choir selection.

Pat had been in the hospital with complications from diabetes. She had only been discharged from the hospital 4 days before. I spoke with her Thursday and had the fuel pump not gone out in my care would have been by to visit her over the weekend.

I worked with Pat after I started my new job in Jan. Was so happy she was there with me. She had been on my Genesis Activity committee for 3 years and we held many of our planning meetings in her home. She had a leg amputated a year ago and was always threatening to take it off and smack someone with it. Everyone loves Pat.

I expected her to get better and be back at work within a couple weeks.

I put my sister in charge of the choir and songs.. since she is the Genesis Music Director and I got in touch with the Genesis Relief Society President as well.

When I called Pat's husband back the next day to see if here was anything else he requested there be a Genesis speaker because they were a stronger presents at genesis than in their home ward.. Someone who knew Pat well, and could tie all the elements of her life together, sum it up and "bring it home." I thought hard about who knew her on such levels and could do that. The more I thought the more sick to my stomach I got.

When I called her husband back I gave him the names of those giving prayers, the opening & closing songs and the choir number. When he asked who the Genesis speaker was I gave him my name and he said he was pleased with that.
Excuse me for a minute while I forget my religion But my mind was screaming:
"WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU, HAVE YOU LOST YOUR DAMN MIND."

Folks I had indeed lost my mind. I spend the rest of the week comforting and being comforted by the people on my office who worked with Pat. My office had just buried another co-worker 2 weeks before. So folks were at their limit there. I pushed my fears behind to help get the program ready, people in place, making sure the luncheon was on track afterwards and spending as much time as possible NOT thinking about Friday.

Wednesday I wrote out a talk not believing I would really be able to get it, but putting it down on paper in case I was gonna have someone else try and do it for me. Went to a therapy session. This one was not dedicated to PTSD this time. lol.
She held a spot open for me on Saturday just in case I needed to see her today.

I was seriously in a state of denial until about Thursday night when I ran 50 paces up the street to the Sheppards house to get a blessing from Uncle James. It was then that I realized what I was actually going to do. He gave me a beautiful blessing and said that he felt I would be OK on Friday and actually FROM NOW ON! ( I prayed he was right)


Woke up yesterday knowing that the talk I wrote was not going to be the talk I gave. I didn't know what I was gonna do but I would use parts of the talk as a reference.

Got dressed. Walked over to Sheppard's house where Myself, Natalie and Papa D (Darius Gray) would carpool together. She, knowing my situation asked how I felt. I told her I was doing OK, no panic or anything as of yet. I told her I didn't expect their to be really.

We Picked up Papa D and he drove. As we got closer to the chapel I started to do my breathing exercises. About 10 minutes away from the chapel We let Papa in on my phobia. He gave me his hand as well as words of encouragement. Let me know I was surrounded by warmth, strength and love and people were there to assist me as well.

We pulled into the parking lot just behind the Hearst. I was fine. Natalie went inside to direct me away from the room with viewing. (baby step folks, I'm not quite there yet with seeing dead folks) Papa walked with his arm around me making conversation. The sweet calmness of his voice eased my soul. I went into the chapel and they went to the viewing room. I walked into the chapel. Went to the podium. Touched it. Put my scent on it. Marked it as my territory. I then went into the room in which the choice would sing. And with them rehearse the choir number.


It became time to go into the chapel for the funeral. I entered late, I needed to prepare myself mentally. Natalie walked in with me hand and hand after the prayer as far as the 4Th row where her seat was and I walked ahead, passed the casket, onto the stand and into my seat.

The talks were typical. Reverent with some laughter and some tears. Exactly what you would expect a funeral to be. I was the concluding speaker before the Bishop's remarks.

The soloist sang I am a child of God and during the last verse my body began to shake and my pulse got rapid. "Dear Lord, If I'm supposed to speak after this song, you gonna hafto stop my shaking and calm my heartbeat cuz I. CAN'T. BREATH"

My body began to calm down by breathing normalized. The last note of the song played. I stood up made my way to the podium. Put a smile on my face and said very loudly.

"Brothers and Sisters,what and HONOR it is to be here and celebrate the life Of Patricia, Pat, Patty Cakes Rogers" What a blessing to know her! I know Pat through work and through the Genesis Group! Pat was a black woman in a white chocolate body. At some funerals they have a moment of silence in honor of the one who has passed. But not today. TODAY we gonna do things a little different... We gonna have a moment of noise. I want everyone to get up and go meet 3 people you didn't know when you walked into this church today..."

Those from Genesis stood right up.... all others looked around... SCARED and almost too afraid to move... before getting up. And for about a minute there was a coming together of everyone there. I went an introduced myself to everyone on the stand.

After about a minute I returned to the microphone and said... " Brothers and Sisters... doesn't it feel better in here already?" I heard some say "YES!" and others say "AMEN" and a few "THANK YOUS" I'm not quite sure what I said after that... I mentioned her legacy: "Have faith in the Lord and Love one another"
I mentioned something about her volunteering her Husband Galen to make 6 sweet potato pies and how the brother can cook. I mentioned how She wasn't "gone" she has just "gone ON' to do other things in a way that her body won't hold her back. I said something about how her love and joy lives on through us and asked the family to allow us to now be their family so we could return that love back to them like an eternal circle of giving.
I remember laughter and smiles and even some horrified looks like I had disrupted the reverence with loud speaking and laughter. I truly didn't care. I needed to get through it the best way i knew how and that was to make it a celebration of life with laughter and joy. As much as I could bring to it in my state of mind.

I remember saying "in the name of Jesus Christ Amen" sitting down and thinking "it is done"

We sang the closing song. The family was escorted out. The casket was escorted out. We were excused off the stand. I went over to Natalie who gave me a hug and said it was awesome. Papa D grabbed me in his arms and said "you did it. You have done it. You have over come your biggest fear in life and never have to experience it again. It is done"
It was then that I began to cry in his arm. I took a deep breath and 40 years of fear, phobia, anxiety, being too paralyzed to pee in the middle of the night and everything associated with it all my life came out of me. I collapsed in his arm and let it all go. I was carried to a private room to collect myself because I began to hyperventilate as the realization of the blessing granted me overwhelmed my body and spirit.

"YOU DID IT. IT IS DONE." Is the verse that played in my mind over and over again.

I composed myself and went into the Luncheon where a table had been saved for us.

As I entered the room, family members, co workers I hadn't known, church members and friends of Pat grabbed me. Hugged me, pulled me into their family pictures, got my phone number, email address. "call me uncle Glenn!" " We're all family now, just like you said up there, we expect you to keep in touch.." "will you speak at my funeral, that was amazing" ( I joked back, Sure, but I don't take reservations, so just don't be calling me ahead of time...)
The afternoon continued on in this manner until I had to leave.

The Cocoon of special protection and love the Lord put over me stays with me still. And I know it will continue the next couple days until I am strong enough to carry on without it. I know it will always be there when I need it in these situations.

I slept last night in complete comfort and peace for the first time in my life after going to a funeral.

Today my heart is still singing:

I sing because I'm happy
I sing because I'm free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches over me.

6 comments:

Michael said...

AMEN!

The Gist Family! said...

Karen, you did an absolutely amazing job! You are a blessing in so many peoples lives. I appreciate all that you are and that you are willing to share your gifts with the rest of us! THANK YOU for being you!

~Heather

ShaBANG said...

Aw shux y'all are makin me Maroon! Thanks for the love and the much needed support during those times of discomfort. So Much appreciated!

Kristin said...

You're amazing to face your fear like that. I don't like funerals, but I don't have a phobia. I've left instructions that there is not to be a viewing when I die. They can do something small for the family, but I think the custom of walking by the open casket is just morbid.

As far a phobias - I worked with a girl that could not be in eye sight of a balloon. Mylar was okay, but the other ones would cause her to panic and hyperventilate. And she is one of the smartest people I know.

Danielle said...

I am so proud of you! I know how hard it has been for you in the past so to read about how you were able to be at peace is so great!!! Love you!

Anonymous said...

I am proud of you, Karyn, for attempting to be there for people even though you had this phobia. That takes an amazing amount of strength. Your faith got your through. Alohalani

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