Funeral Fun - 'The' Father

    This was a day that I will remember for a long time, fondly and with destine.  From the priests pants falling down during the service to the heat and work involved.  Just an unusual job on an unusual day.

    It was an abnormally hot day in the middle of an otherwise wet summer when I came into work only to find that I had an early pickup in the CBD.  This was very bad news to me as I hate driving around the CBD.  It is all kinds of awful to me, unfamiliar, crowded, bad traffic, lights every 2 blocks and if you make a wrong turn it can be ages before you can turn around.  Not to mention the lack of parking.  There would be two cars on the job with the hearse.  One was going to the CBD (me) and the other to the airport (a hire car company we contracted).  So it could have been worse, I would rather the CBD than the airport.

    Being in a hurry as this was an early pickup I did not read the day sheet properly.  So when I arrived at the fancy hotel I pulled out my day sheet only to realise I had no name of who I was picking up, just "collect father" (as in the priest) who was the brother of the deceased.  What could I do, walk up to the hotel staff asking if they had a father waiting for a funeral car?  Actually that was what I did, well, mostly.  I asked the concierge if anyone was expecting a car, specifically a funeral car.  He checked the information and nope, nothing was coming up.  Great, this meant I had to call the office.  The conductor for this job happened to answer the phone.  Which was actually rather good I thought as he was a fairly competent and approchable person.  After explaining the situation to him he looked through the paper work, finding that only the last name of father was listed.  At least this narrowed it down somewhat, at least one would think so.  Yet the concierge had two people checked in by that name and being quite early did not want to disturb them on the chance that it was the right person.  I let out a deep slow sigh, stuck, unsure what the do next.  Then the conductor told me what fathers first name "probably" was.  At least as best he could remember from meeting that father a long time ago.  So again, I relayed this information to the concierge and YES, it was right.  Finally I knew who to collect!  They paged the father and informed him I would be waiting outside by the car incase a parking officer came by.

    After a good 20 minutes the father came out wearing his standard black fatherly shirt.  I took note of how he had the hotel staff open the door, something I find interesting in people.  Most will go for the door themselves, or assume it is automatic, before the hotel staff jump in to open it.  Not this father, he was obviously use to fancy hotels.  Walking up to the car he briefly introduced himself before asking where to put his bag and preist clothing.  I take it and put it all in the car for him and start to open his door.  He stops me and asks very nicely if i could do up his buttons.  I paused for a moment and wondering where this was going when he showed me the button on one sleeve cuff and on his collar.  There was nothing wrong with this request, but it was still strange.  After buttoning him up I let him in the car before shutting the door.  Turning to leave I catch the hotel doorman's eye, he let a small smile slip across his face and winked at me as I got in.

    It was a quick drive, with not much said.  Something I learnt to get use to as some older people (but mostly middle-aged, around the age of my parents) did not 'appreciate' a young person driving them.  Father obviously had nothing against me in anyway, but probably would have just been more comfortable with someone closer to his own age.  He did tell me he preferred that fancy hotel to certain others in Sydney and Melbourne.  That hotel was much nicer to guests, with better service and good rooms.  It cost more than others but was better value.  Yes, this father had enough experience with top hotels to weigh them against each other.

    We drive back to the WNBull office in Newtown, where the hearse and coffin wait for us.  Arriving early we invited him to the reception room for a drink and let our resident bereavement councillor entertain him.  When it was time to get the coffin from our chapel into the hearse father suddenly pulled out a camera and started taking pictures.  Next he started talking about various things.  I could see the conductor out of the corner of my eye, watching the time tick by while knowing that if father held us up that he would get the blame.  So finally father was happy to go.  Right after he went to the bathroom.

    Now we were off and on the way to the cemetery at Rookwood.  The service was set to be in a small chapel by the Catholic office.  A lovely old fashioned little chapel actually.  But it had not airconditioning or ventilation.  And it was already so hot I was starting to sweat in the shade.  Tue I was in a woollen three piece suite, but it was still very hot.  And there is no shade anywhere outside that chapel.  We got father inside and I set up the table for the condolence book.  The other family car turned up, being driven by non other than the owner of the hire car company (Best Limousines Sydney - a great company infront and behind the scenes, with friendly and experienced drivers).  This was rather good as I got on well with him, a very good guy who I knew would do a good job.

    Suddenly the conductor shows up in a hurry.  He tells the two of us how he had to "help father dress".  Assisting with putting on his robes and straightening his clothes.  Then he had to organise the stuff for communion and the prayers for the service.  By now he had done or assisted with all the priests duties (including dress) expect say the service itself.  Next thing I know he hands me a piece of paper and tells me I am in charge of booking the function for the wake.  The family have decided they want a wake at the cafe at the main gate to Rookwood cemetery.  Wonderful, now I will have to wait about to take father back to the hotel.  I could feel the day just slip away.  The hire car driver was actually really unhappy as he got paid by the job, not by the hour and now a three hour job looked like six hours work.  Anyway, as unhappy as I was I rang up the cafe and explained what we needed.  They told me that they were unimpressed at not having it booked and an hours notice not being good.  After a nice chat with the guy we settled on just a few sandwiches and some basic drinks like coffee for a few people.  Here is where I had a stroke of genius out of the blue and would later help.  I catered for 20 people when only 15 were at the service, incase others showed up as they were expecting over 20 people to attend the funeral.

    The service went on, us sweating away in the heat.  It was time for the thurible - basically incense.  My task was simply to take it outside once finished with, nice and easy.  But standing up there I was sweating so much.  To the point where I was wiping sweat back with the sleeve of my suit in front of everyone.  And so was everyone else, it was too hot and we were too inappropriately dressed to care.  I took the thurible, ran it outside and came back in to laughter and the conductor standing between father and the audience with his coat open, much like Batman.  The two then slid off into the sacristy and shut the door before coming back out and continuing.  I was soon told that fathers pants had fallen down right there next to the coffin in full view for everyone.  That the conductor had 'shielded his dignity' and helped do up his pants in the sacristy.  The conductor had to go as far as tucking fathers shirt in as well.  Poor conductor, oh how I laughed at him later.

    We drove around to the graveside, by now it was blistering hot and not a cloud would hang about to protect us.  Even the plastic silver handels on the car were so hot that they were uncomfortable to use.  It was an unpleasant burial that took all too long.  After the burial we drove around to the cafe where sandwiches and cold drinks were waiting.  The family and father moved over toward them eagerly, sitting down for a nice relaxing lunch.  It was apparently clear that they had no intention of inviting either the hire car driver or myself.  Most people may think this to be common, that funeral directors do not eat at the wake with the family.  Yet I found that we often do.  About 25% of the time I drive a family they will eagerly invite me into the wake for some refreshments.  But not this time, they spared not even a though for us and on such a hot day to.  No matter what I was getting fed, my mind was made up.  Unfortunately this was not a buffet where I could sneak food away.  So I approached the cafe staff.  Explaining how hot and tired we were, and that 20 had been catered for but only 12 arrived.  Obviously also a little but off by the family he quietly said that he could slip us a couple of sandwiches and a cold drink each.  Through creativity and asking nicely I got fed after all.

    Quite a while passed before they showed signs of leaving.  A young guy being driven by the hire car driver approached us asking if we could take the father and he to an old grave.  We did not want to at all, but had to.  We agreed, but only if they actually knew where the grave was as Rookwood is rather large (it's the second largest cemetery in the world).  The guy insisted that father knew where the grave was and would show me as we drove.

    Hopping in the car I asked father which way.  He said he was unsure.  A great start.  He would know once we got back to the other grave we had just been to that day, he was just unsure the way back to that grave.  An even better start.  I had images of father driving us all over Rookwood.  But amazingly enough once back at the other grave he took us straight to the street he 'knew' it was in.  As we drove up the street he peered out the window, constantly instructing me "faster", "no no, slower", "no, go faster", "wait, slow down" every few seconds, the whole way.  After going up and down a few times he decided to get out and walk.  So there the hire car driver and I waited, in the sun, in a cemetery on a boiling hot day in three piece wool suits.  Sure by now I had heat stroke, or was at least just sick of the day, I was ready to leave.  At least I was paid by the hour, not by the job like the hire car driver.  He was now watching a three hour job turn into eight hours.  And the airconditioning in his car had suddenly failed.  It was now alternating between blowing cold and hot air.

    Father finally came back, telling us he was ready to go.  About time.  We drove back to the city and I dropped him off at the hotel.  It was an uneventful ride back with us exchanging some basic but pleasant small talk.  I helped him out, turned to get his stuff out of the boot when he suddenly said that "the hotel staff will get that" and promptly walked off.  He never even thanked me or any other staff that day.  The conductor had done his pants up organised so much for him.  I had waited about in the sun for ages, taking him out of my way to an old grave.  Yet he could not even spare a "bye".  I do not expect much from people, not a tip, not even a "thank you".  But the last thing he said to me was literally "the hotel staff will get that".  I have never experienced something so rude and inconsiderate as to be totally dismissed by someone after helping them so much.  After spending the day with them.  I, and the other funeral staff, were just 'the staff' to him, no different to the hotel staff.  Not people but a group 'the staff'.  And yes, I later developed heatstroke, and had to see a doctor, after waiting about in the sun for him at the grave.

    So that is how I got fed for free on a boiling hot day.  Got heatstroke waiting for a father.  Saw a fathers pants fall down mid ceremony and then never got treated as a person by the father I had helped so much.


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