As is the case with all people who launch a business, a primary objective is to create a profitable enterprise. Making money to support our family and provide appropriately for our employees certainly was the goal of my husband and I when we started Eco Bear. Since we opened our doors, our business has turned out to be a great deal more to us than a means for making money. We’ve found that we are rewarded significantly beyond financial renumeration. What started as a simple phone call to our company resulted in a moment in time that underscores the personal nature of what we do for a living.
Phone Call from a Grieving Mother
A good many people reach out to our company by phone, as opposed to online, when they are in need of the biohazard cleanup services we offer at Eco Bear. This includes people suffering through the true tragedy of having lost a family member to suicide. We received one such phone call not long ago from a mother whose 25-year old son had ended his own life.
Sadness resonated in the woman’s voice as she explained the story of her son’s tragic death. As I mentioned, he was only 25 years old. He ended his life using a gun. The mother wanted to know if we could professionally clean the clothing her son was wearing at the time he died.
While we’ve requests for all manner of biohazard cleanups after tragic deaths, this was the first time we received one for assistance with the clothing worn by a person who died under tragic circumstances like a self-inflicted gunshot. I told the grieving Mom that we would help her and restore the clothing.
My own little 3-year old son was bounding about the house calling out for me at the time the phone call came in from the grieving mother. In the moment, I worried that she would hear the gleeful shouts of my boy calling for me, enhancing her sadness. I’ve no idea if she heard my son. Nor do I know if she had heard him happily hollering, how it made her feel.
What I did realize in the moment was not that many years ago, her own son was a little boy. She undoubtedly experienced many, many happy moments with her son as a little boy – likely quite like that moment in my own home. I rather imagined that many of those moments likely flooded her head in the hours and days following the untimely, unimaginable death of her son.
Meeting at the Funeral Home
My husband went to the funeral home responsible for preparing the young man’s body for a funeral or memorial service. My husband and I were both surprised to learn that grieving families oftentimes request the clothing items worn by a loved one at the time of death. This included garments like those worn by the young man who took his own life.
The gentleman at the funeral home who assisted my husband in claiming the clothing thanked us for providing this service to grieving individuals in such sad circumstances. He said in the absence of the assistance we provide some families would be left trying to restore clothing items after tragic deaths on their own.
A Son’s Life, A Son’s Death
When a person dies, on some level his or her life is frozen in time. In the case of this young man, the entirety of his life impossibly was summed up in a small smattering of words printed in an obituary. His Facebook page as akin to a clock that broke at a certain hour, tracing time no more.
I think when a person dies we all seek something we can put our hands around that reminds us of a loved one that is no longer here. No matter how fleeting life may seem, by having something tangible to remember a loved one who is no longer with us, perhaps the spirit of that person burns a bit stronger in our hearts.
Preparing the Clothing
The items we needed to restore to a clean condition included a shirt, a pair of pants, and a pair of shoes. I wondered what the young man was thinking the morning he died when selecting the clothing he would wear on his last day alive. It dawned on me that perhaps he selected his favorite outfit that morning or a set of clothing items that made him feel most comfortable. If I was having these thoughts, I realized his mother wondered about or even knew of the connection her boy had to these items he wore during his final hours and minutes on Earth.
As we went about eliminating any sign of the young man’s death from the shirt, pants, and shoes, I came to another realization. Of course, the funeral director and the team at the funeral home had a primary task of preparing the man’s remains for his final disposition, whatever that would be. But, I came to understand in the moment that my husband and I were charged with the sacred task of preparing garments that likely would become one of the tangible evidences of this deceased young man’s life that his mother (and perhaps others) would hold onto (and likely dearly so) into the future.
We placed the clothing into a plastic box for the young man’s mother. We made arrangements to deliver the clothing to her home at 8:00 in the morning.
My husband took the clothing to the woman’s home. He shared with me that the mother wore a long black dress and looked exhausted, worn out. She thanked him for tending to the clothing items. She explained that a friend of hers was coming over that afternoon and she intended to open the box with the clothing when the friend arrived at the home. This underscored the emotional attachment she had with these pieces of her son’s life.
As I made mention at the start of this reflection on our work …
All of the seemingly simple gestures any of us make do matter – acts of kindness and service when a person grieves can and do make a difference. In the end, we’ve the ability to create something that endures.
My hope is that restoring simple garments to the state that existed while a young man was alive will provide a sense of comfort to his mother as the years pass.