Most babies grow up playing on the living room rug. My toddler years were spent on the floor of a preparatory room in my family's funeral home.
To hear my dad tell the story, that was my favorite place to be. My mother would pitch a fit when she found me playing near my dad's feet as he embalmed a body. (No one, I think, would blame her.) But I would cry and scream when she made me leave and then sneak back in when she wasn't watching.
My childhood memories are filled with images of my cousins and I playing tag in the garage attached to the funeral home where the hearses, coffins and cots were stored.
By the time I was 8, I had learned that most children's memories don't include hearses or coffins.
Oh, and dead bodies: Most kids my age had never seen one.
It wasn't until I learned that my family business was feared by others that I began to fear it myself.
Now, I was scared to go to the funeral home, a place I had once considered fun.
Going to the bathroom became an ordeal. The sole lavatory was located in the attached garage that could only be accessed through the preparatory room. Talk about a walk of terror. Corpses and hearses and coffins, oh my!
My solution was to have one of my uncles carry me back there. I would cover my eyes with my hands, with just enough room between my fingers to peek.
My grandfather started the funeral home in 1975, and since then it has been a family business in every aspect of the word. Both my grandparents were licensed funeral directors. All eight of their children worked at the funeral home at some point, and three are still funeral directors.
The grandchildren have been slow to follow our family heritage. Out of 18, only one pulls full-time duty at the funeral home in Kansas City. Some of us, including myself, make appearances to answer the phone, arrange flowers or clean.
I have made progress. Now, I can go to the bathroom by myself. I still have the urge to cover my eyes, but I resist. Running into a dead body is worse than seeing one.
Although my experience growing up in a funeral home has done nothing to resolve my feelings about death and dying, it HAS given me an appreciation for life, an inside look at how society deals with death (we don't talk about it until it happens) and lots of stories to tell at parties.
- Becky Rogers' family owns Kansas City Funeral Directors in Kansas City, Kan.