The office had closed for the evening, but the building was still occupied (compliments of an ongoing visitation) when I slipped into the lounge through the secret passageway (aka the door from the service hall) to make myself a cup of tea. My entrance caught the attention of the most adorable little human who immediately came running over. Dressed in a plaid shirt that I later realized matched his slightly older brother’s, he was bouncing from pillar to post with a pacifier in his mouth and a fixation on the refrigerator. I told him I was pretty sure it was empty, but he was undeterred. Grabbing the handles on both sides of the appliance, he began tugging with all the might his little body could muster. After a minute or so he would stop, look at me, point to the fridge, and start the process all over again. Much to my surprise, he finally managed to pry open the freezer door, a feat celebrated with a toddler-sized happy dance and accompanied by a lot of pointing indicating I really needed to come look inside. So I did.
In the bottom of the freezer, in the wire basket intended to hold frozen food, was a stuffed possum. I found out later his name is Eddie.
Realizing this could be a problem when the time to depart arrived, I stepped into the other room of the lounge to let his mother know (at least I assumed she was his mother), if they were missing someone come closing time, they might want to check the fridge.
As the evening wore on, one of these young men took a fancy to our sitter. He hung out at the reception desk in the foyer. He sat in her chair or sprawled out on the rug beneath the desk . . . anything he could do to be close—because she paid attention to him and answered his questions and generally treated him like a little adult. So when the time came to vacate the premises, he informed his family he would be staying. The sitter asked where he was going to sleep and he pointed to one of the loveseats saying, “Over there. I’m gonna need a blanket.”
These two little ones were so well-behaved throughout the evening while making themselves at home in our building, exploring all permissible nooks and crannies (and attempting a few that weren’t). And I loved every minute of it. Do you know why?
Because they weren’t afraid. Instead, they were bubbly little fountains of childish joy.
No one taught them to fear the dead or those places they occasionally inhabit. No one constantly shushed them or attempted to tie them to a chair for the entire night, all of which can only lead to open rebellion and eventually a belief that Death is somehow an unnatural part of Life. On that night they were allowed to be children . . . while learning about the very grown-up concepts of loss and grief.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.