I got an email last night notifying me that one of my mortuary school instructor’s died a few days ago. Included, was a link to his obituary. This prompted me to reminisce a little about my mortuary school years. In fact I woke up early this morning thinking about it and remembered a picture that I had of some fellow mortuary school students and friends. So, here I am at 5:30 a.m., rummaging through hundreds of pictures to find the one above (circa, 1992). Surprisingly, it didn’t take me long to find it. The pin marks show how I must have moved and re-pinned it multiple times throughout the years, before putting it away with the memories. I would “tag” the people in the photo, but……you know who you are, and some of you may know who they are. I think we were at the YMCA in West Allis.
The day I left for Mortuary School, I was “scared to death”, pun intended. I remember we were getting a new roof put on our house and for some reason, my dad and I got into a big fight. Funny thing is, I don’t remember what it was about, I bet he doesn’t either. I just remember tearing out of the driveway (after dad gave me some money) and on to Milwaukee I went.
Milwaukee Area Technical College is the only Mortuary School in the state of Wisconsin and because it was a tech school, there was no housing, so you were “on your own” for that. At that time most mortuary students would find a job at a funeral home and then live upstairs. Rent payment was answering the phone at night, making removals when somebody died, and working visitations. I had interviewed at one of the largest funeral homes in Milwaukee that had a great student “program” like I mention above, but instead I opted for working at a smaller funeral home in West Allis and rented an apartment with a guy I had met at orientation a few months before. Keith and I were a good match. We were both from small towns and were both scared shitless to move to Milwaukee, so it worked out great! I take great pleasure in telling people that we were like the modern day Odd Couple, Oscar and Felix. Keith was/is a neat freak (a good thing when you are a funeral director). Everything had a place and everything was in its place……at ALL times. Me…….not so much. Mom had picked up for me a little too much at home and I had to learn to do things on my own. It took me a while. Keith and I remain great friends to this day and I think he would agree that our two years in Milwaukee was a good experience. Although we were both offered jobs in Milwaukee after we graduated, we had our cars packed to go home about three weeks before graduation. We couldn’t wait to get out of there!
A lot of people don’t understand how challenging the life of a mortuary student really is, especially if you work at a funeral home while going to school. Some students don’t make it through. A typical day for me was; school from 8-1 or 2, then off to the funeral home to work, sometimes until 8 or 9 at night. Then I would come home, study for class and maybe get called out in the middle of the night, get home at 5 a.m., sleep (or not) for a couple of hours and then do it all over again the next day. Every other Saturday and Sunday off. However, make no mistake, there was still plenty of time for partying and drinking. Some of those funeral home apartments were the best places to party. I was famous for never being able to shut up about work, even at the parties. “Hey you guys, we had this family today”……….”Pat, shut up, we are not working and we are not at school”. Me: “Ha Ha Ha, okay”. A few minutes later….. “Hey you guys, yesterday I went on this removal at the M.E.’s office”……..”PAT, SHUT UP!!”. “Ha Ha Ha, okay”. I loved funeral service. Every second of it. Even when studying for a really difficult chemistry exam…… it was becoming my life. Even though it was hard at times, it was great because it prepared me for a challenging and disciplined career in funeral service and “life”.
I could write chapters and chapters about my two years of mortuary school. Someday, maybe I will. For now, I’ll spare most of the details and share snippets from time to time in future blogs. I have to conclude with a little story within the story: One day, I was caught cheating in class, along with another student, who was a friend of mine. Cheating was grounds for dismissal from the program, no investigation, no questions, if the proof was there. My friend and I were sitting next to each other and we were “helping each other out” on a Funeral History pop quiz. The problem was, the quiz was all short answer, and out of 10 questions, we both got the same 7 answers wrong. I mean, the answers were the same…..word for word. I don’t know how we were quite that dumb thinking we weren’t going to get caught. The next day we both got our quiz’s back with a note at the top in red pen: “See me after class”. The note was right next to the big red “F”. So, my friend and I went together to see him after class. We were both pretty scared because we honestly thought we were done. After a pretty intense talk and enough scare tactics, we were told that we would be given a second chance and that if we were ever caught again we would be immediately discharged from the program, no questions asked. We never cheated again…….I don’t think.
The instructor who caught us cheating was the one I mentioned that just died a few days ago. He often made it difficult to like him, for reasons only he knew. He was the kind of instructor who would never give you a 100% on an assignment or test. One day I got an essay test back with no red marks or notes at all. Just a 99 out of 100 on the back page. I asked him why I didn’t get a 100. He said, in funeral service there is no such thing as a 100. Maybe he just wanted to make sure we were all disciplined enough to enter the very disciplined field of funeral service. Maybe there was no reason at all, just his personality. I never spent too much time trying to figure it out. Well, I can’t speak for my friend and fellow student, but all I can say is, my life could have turned out very differently had he not given me a second chance. Maybe he saw something in me or maybe he was just feeling “forgiving” that day. I will never know. All I know is, I owe just a little bit of credit to Jim Augustine for giving me another chance.
People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
if you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.