“My family owns two cemeteries, a crematory, a funeral home, a funeral pre need plan and a flower shop completely exclusive for the services. As I grew up seeing mu parents working in this segment, I have always thought everything was common. It was at the age of 9 or 10 that I got uncomfortable with the others – and this has happened because they were uncomfortable with me and every time I said my parents owned a cemetery. I could see in the faces of people such an awkward facial expression, of embarrassment, and then I started to get embarrassed too. I remember until today the only time in life I met a girl who had a family that was similar to mine. We were teenagers and when Maria Fernanda said ‘my dad is a cemetery owner’ I started to scream ‘my dad too!’ ‘my dad too’!. We had never met before but we hugged, it was automatic. Even now, in my adult life, many people look at me in a different way when I talk about my profession. When I took my post-graduation course I needed to talk about my business area each class, and saw people smiling and acting strange, making faces and acting as if they had to protect from me. Nobody wants to be close to someone or something that reminds death. We do everything to forget that it exists. I thought the reaction of my colleagues was understandable: I confess that I already thought my job was bizarre! Even having attended cemeteries as a child, it took me a long time to get used to death.
It was only when I lost tragically a very close cousin that I could really experience the suffering of losing a beloved one. And after experiencing this, the feeling towards my work changed completely – if I was embarrassed before, nowadays I am proud of what I do. I had already lost people before, but until then everything had taken place in the natural order of things. My grandmother, an aunt … it was a lot of suffering, but these deaths happened at the expected time. Nothing compares to the death of Leo … How can someone suddenly disappear in a plane crash? How do you deal with the loss of such a person, in the beggining of life, so full of plans? The death of my cousin messed up with my life (my inner life more than the outside) and, I dare to say it messed up with the life of many in my family, even though we are used to be so close to grieving. There’s no way: If this experience has taught us something, it is that mourning is different for each one. I can only talk about mine … And for me, in the weeks the followed the death of Leo, everything was frozen and out of place. Time seemed to run in slow motion, I felt so much pain and I felt I was floating around all the time. Pain weighs. In those days, I was in automatic pilot, carrying all the pain on my shoulders. Wherever I went this pain went with me (and what a heavy weight to carry!).
From that time I remember fragments only. One of them is a lecture that I attended in SINCEP, the Private Cemeteries and Crematories Association in Brazil. It was a lecture at the Institute Quatro Estações (Four Seasons), which is a very effective and respected work of psychological support for situations of loss and grief. Since the accident that killed my cousin was the subject of those days, it was natural that it was mentioned by the psychologists. But when they started talking about the case the people of the association, said, ‘Please, we don’t want to talk about that subject.’ I wanted so much to hear what they had to say … I was touched to realize that my colleagues wanted to prevent that someone hurt our feelings, but either way the wound was open, exposed, bleeding. There was no problem in referring to the death of Leo because at that time there was nothing in my heart, in my mind, that was not the death of Leo. I found it curious that in an event of people who work with death the pain would be a taboo … From this moment on the idea of humanizing the service in funeral companies grew strongly inside me. This was already a professional purpose and it turned into something bigger, a life project – now I have the dream of transforming the relation that people have with death. The creation of “Let’s Talk about Grieving?” has everything to do with this dream. I am one of the founders of the project with six friends from communication and psychology areas- perhaps because they have jobs that exercise curiosity and empathy, they have always been very attentive and interested in my cemetery stories. (Thanks girls!)
In my work, all employees are constantly reminded that if for us funerals and burials are routine, people come to our cemeteries to go to a funeral are going through a unique and difficult time. Respect, discretion and kindness are values that we are keen on and pass on to our customers and our team, who need support (it is not easy to live with death every day and so our “caretakers” also need to be taken care of). I try to spread among them the idea that we are a provider of affection and that only by working together we can create ways to change the relation that people have with death. We understand that we need to change the funeral aesthetics, the “look” of death. Why are caskets always the same, for so long? Why so heavy and dark? Can’t we do anything different, to ‘connect’ death not the weight, but to light? Thankfully, my dear grandaunt Mara, who founded this business 45 years ago, had the idea of giving a light name to it: Primaveras (Springs). ( I don’t want to talk too much about this matter because I’m afraid that you, VFSOL readers, may think that I’m here just to promote the website. I’m not.)
Nowadays I don’t give excuses anymore such as: “I’m businesswoman” or “I am a business administrator” to talk about my work. I work in a business that is all about love, to care for. Caring for people, caring for memory. Talking about memory requires another text, but this will have to wait. In this one I said everything I wanted to say: I work in a cemetery and I am proud of it!
* This interview was given to Sandra Soares, close friend, sister and writer.