J.R. Didericksen

Essay: The Importance of the "Little" Things


How often do people really feel sure about their calling in life? I wasn’t looking for any sort of conformation about my occupation but I received it anyway - like a bolt of lightning. It happened when I was attending my uncle’s funeral this past December. There I noticed an obvious lack of compassion and concern on the funeral director's part. It was then that I had the uncanny feeling and strong impression that I should be involved in this line of work. Compassionate service was the missing factor in my life and I knew then that I was going to be funeral director.

Since then, I have had many opportunities to serve the community in the capacity of a funeral service intern, to comfort and give assurance to people who are experiencing all different types of grief. One thing all of these people have in common is the need for peace. Finding themselves in an unnatural situation, suddenly dealing with death and sometimes tragedy, most people are looking for relief.

Recently, I found myself on a mission to find "paper money"...fake currency to be burned as an offering at the loved one\'s death. A Chinese family that runs a local restaurant in my community lost their husband, father, or grandfather, depending on their place in the family. Wan, the young, charismatic grandson stepped into a leadership role, knowing his family was depending on him to organize a Chinese funeral in a foreign world. I felt his grief and wondered how I could help. I spoke enough Mandarin to understand his Cantonese dialect, and we were able to communicate enough to make the much needed arrangements to transfer his father to Chinatown in San Francisco. Feeling their loneliness, I took dinner to the family and visited with them. Having lived in Taiwan for two years, I was able to relate somewhat to their culture, and I had the extraordinary opportunity to make a difference for this family...and they for me.

Opportunities to serve are always there if you just look. At a funeral last summer, I was waiting by the hearse, knowing the services would be long. I entered the building noticing that a lot of activity was coming from the kitchen. Inside, women were busily preparing dinner for the family. I suddenly found myself with an apron around my waist, doing dishes. The ladies were grateful. It wasn't until after the funeral was over, that they realized I was not a member of their family or their church. I was just with the funeral home. One lady commented, "We've never had a funeral director volunteer for dish duty."

Little things can mean everything to someone grieving. Once during an unexpected downpour, I held umbrellas over the heads of two elderly women sitting at the side of the casket during a graveside service. I didn't think anything of it. I grew up in a family where service was just expected and not to be rewarded. I was surprised to find out that they had called the funeral home and had expressed their appreciation for the "young man who got wet in order to keep two old ladies dry."

Once, when meeting with the family who had just lost their three year old daughter who was tragically run over by her unlicensed 15 year old sister, I came upon a potentially explosive situation. The father and mother, in the midst of divorce, were blaming each other for the death.
I learned from my mentor, that day, to turn the thoughts of the family to their daughter and focus on the memories of their sweet child. This attitude quickly diffused the bitterness permeating their home. The parents just needed some guidance.

Little things; simple acts of service can help people feel peace and relief. I feel I can make a difference in small and simple ways. My dad has always said, "Take care of the small things, and the big things will take care of themselves."