Words Are Hard

Writer, Messenger, and Professional Weirdo

Category Archives: Death Becomes Her

Erm, excuse me…

Usually when our customers forward their lines it’s because they leave the office and go home for the night.  But one or two of our customers actually do things the old fashioned way and by old fashioned I mean they really do still live in the funeral home.  So when they forward their lines at night it’s because they want to sleep.  But there are a couple who, when the phone rings, will hear it, let it ring to us and then call us five minutes later to find out what the call was.

No seriously.

You can set your watch by it.  I usually take my time, even waiting up to a minute after finishing the call, to let the director on those specific accounts call us.  Most of the time they do.  At three in the morning we really only take one type of call and while it saves them from paying for us to call them about it, all I can picture every single time they call in, is this:

I still don't have my paycheck and they took my death call.

I still haven’t gotten my paycheck and they took my death call.

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“Oh, how awful!”

This pretty much sums up 2013 for me.

But the Halloweenies got into the spirit of things.

I sincerely hope that, however you celebrate it, the holiday season was a good one for you.  It was a good one for me!  Mostly.  I worked all of it.  But then I’m easy to please and the post-holiday breakdown didn’t happen until the morning of the 26th when EVERYBODY DECIDED THAT SIX AM WAS THE PERFECT TIME TO ASSUME OFFICES ARE OPEN.

People.  If the sun hasn’t come up yet and nobody is dead: go back to sleep.

Sometime in the last couple months (probably November) I took a call and ever since taking that call it’s been preying on my mind, like a brain worm.  Since I’ve been scatterbrained and other things have been popping up hither and yon, I haven’t gotten a chance to write about it, but here – let me paraphrase it for you:

Me: Good Morning. This is [FUNERAL CHAPEL HOME PLACE], my name is [REDACTED because Olivia is a pen name yo] how can I help you?

Caller: Hello?  Can I speak to [DIRECTOR]?

((It’s about 2am, so you know.  Eyebrows.))

Me: I’m sorry, s/he is not in at the moment, may I take a message or did you need to speak to someone right away?  I have [REDACTED – who was not the director she asked for] on call for emergencies.

Caller:  Oh.  Oh dear.  No, s/he just told me to call when my family member, [REDACTED], passed away.  I just wanted to give a head’s up.

((I actually do not roll my eyes at this point, because grieving family members get breaks.  They just do.  I hate it when they call in death calls because they never have any of the info and I feel awful asking them dozens of personal questions, but they’re upset and doing what they were told, so it’s a get out of jail free card.))

Me: Oh!  Alright, well, I can certainly reach someone for you–

Caller:  Oh no, please don’t bother them.  We’re not ready or anything, this is just a head’s up for …well, for whoever.

Me: ((Patience padawan…)) Alright, well, what usually happens is when the facility is ready they go ahead and give us a call.  We have a removal person that we can contact at that point who will come out and pick them up.  If you like, I can take what information you have and get a hold of them for you?

Caller: Is that the director?

Me: No, in this case it’s a separate in-house removal person that we contact for death calls. I can certainly reach a director if you need to speak to them though.  May I have your name please?

Caller: I don’t want to give that out just yet.  The facility can call when they’re ready?  We’re just getting ready to go up there now, so they should be ready when we get there.  So …this is just a head’s up, I guess.  No need to bother anyone.

((At this point, in case it’s not obvious, we’re speaking at cross purposes.  I really can’t help her, and it’s sort of drilled into us that we’re to take messages all the time, hence all the “no seriously do you want me to reach someone?” questions.  See, head’s up calls are messages, that will be cleared, provided I have the info.))

Me: If I take a message now I will have to page someone, so if you want to hold off and just want to have the facility call–

Caller: Wait, so you’re just an answering machine?

((Congrats random answering service drone, you’ve been upgraded to a T-1000 answering MACHINE!))

Me: I’m with their after hours service, yes.

Caller: Oh!  Oh, how awful.

I wish I could make this one up, but that last line is a direct quote.  And yes, if you’re reading it in a certain upper crust, prim and proper accent, you’re reading it correctly.  In fact, it’s the only quote I really remember because it bothered me that much.  The rest is paraphrased but essentially breaks down to someone not understanding that she actually was jumping the gun.  Badly.  After that, she muttered some more things and hung up on me.  About an hour later we did get the call from the facility, so no business lost, I guess?

If you think I’m taking the comment the wrong way, let me assure you, from tone and context (let’s not get into the things she muttered after the awful comment), she was just mortified that she had to talk to a service.  I don’t know why.  I don’t pretend to understand, but when she found out I was a lowly worker drone, she just couldn’t take it.

Look, up until that point, the caller was extremely nice, if a bit scatterbrained, and also gets the “grieving family get out of jail free” card.  But two things here:

1.  No, what I do is not awful.  What I do makes sure you got to talk to a living, breathing human (now with action punch empathy!) at two o’clock in the morning.  Not a voice mail box.  Not a calling tree.  Do not pass GO.  Do not collect $200.  Go straight to person.  Sometimes people are surprised when that happens, but it’s always a pleasant surprise and you know what?  I enjoy that part of my job.  I’m the filter between slightly scatterbrained family members who called not really knowing what they wanted and the directors.

But you know, filters can get worn out, which is why #2 is so degrading:

2. I am not this:

DELETE DELETE DELETE

DELETE DELETE DELETE

Or this:

Though let's be fair: I wouldn't say no...

Though let’s be fair: I wouldn’t say no…

And I am definitely, most assuredly, no seriously please knock it the fuck off, NOT THIS:

JLKJSFDALKFHALSKFHAKLHGLSHDGLHSD STOP IT

JLKJSFDALKFHALSKFHAKLHGLSHDGLHSD STOP IT

I am a human being.  Nothing gets you put on my shitlist faster than asking if I am an answering machine.  If you can’t tell the difference between a person and a machine then Skynet can’t wipe out humanity fast enough because frankly, I can’t with you anymore.  I can’t even English.  That’s how mad that question makes me.

It makes me wish I was this.  And then they would all pay.

It makes me wish I was this.

Damn those birds.

So to recap: Please never assume the person you’re talking to is a cyborg, unless they introduce themselves as Siri and even then it’s probably best to err on the side of them having a fully functioning organic heart, brain, nervous system, and other assorted squishy bits.  We’ll love you for it!  Thanks!

Hello I Have Opinions

NOTE: I’ve come to the conclusion that it feels sort of fake for me, one to whom verbal cursing comes naturally, to try and cover every f-bomb with something clever (that is very rarely actually clever) – and we’re all adults here, right?  Right.  I apologize if swearing offends you, but it’s starting to grate on me and this is my blog so bugger it.  Onwards!

I am convinced that the entire internet exists for no other reason than to make me uncomfortable while in the very same moment making me insanely jealous at everyone elses’ apparent expertise with social media.  Lookit me blog this!  And Facebook that!  And Instagram this!  And Twittertwittertwitter!

I still do not get Twitter.  Or Tumblr.  It’s frustrating but for me it’s like barging into a party like a clumsy ox where everybody knows everybody so now you stand around awkwardly going, “Um, hi?  Hello?  Will you be my friend please?  I make cookies!”

I do make cookies, by the way.  They are awesome.

This time of year is also a very uncomfortable year for me.  I grew up surrounded by pomp and circumstance (Catholic) and thus all the Season-y Greetings started to grate and nowadays I can’t stomach them for very long.  I’ve also developed some fairly strong opinions on things that tend to clash with the cheery feel-goods of the holiday season.

*Gets out soapbox.*

I’m an atheist and while I give zero fucks how many “Merry Christmas!”es I hear in a given season, it’s also very difficult for me to not launch into a tirade every time I hear things like “Remember the reason for the season!” while people are breaking down the doors at the nearest Target to get the new Barbie doll or whatever.

I do all my Christmas shopping online (yes, we do celebrate – with a TARDIS on top of the tree and everything!).

It’s also the season of bell ringers and it’s always very, very uncomfortable to walk by the box and not drop anything in.  I haven’t donated to the Salvation Army in years because while things may not be as bad as they seem, they are bad enough that there are better places to spend my donation money.

*Slides soapbox back under the bed*

So it’s a stressful time of the year for me for a bunch of different reasons.  November is usually a lot of fun, because NaNo, but this year I found myself stuck with hours and hours and hours of overtime.  I left work every morning and the last thing I wanted after 60 hours (6 days of 10 hour shifts) was to be responsible about something.  About halfway through the month I realized that writing was so far down the list of priorities for the month that winning NaNo was not going to happen.

And once I realized that, the pressure was off and winning NaNo did, in fact, happen.  Barely.

It was sort of a spotty month though.

This year NaNo taught me several things:

  1. I despise, with the passion of a thousand red belching heartburn plagued anthropomorphic volcanoes, writing in first person.
  2. It’s possible for me to hate my main character enough that I changed perspectives halfway through so I just didn’t have to deal with her.
  3. It’s my secret shame that I’m very rarely able to create a character who possesses a vagina that I don’t also immediately want to throttle.  I don’t know if this is some sort of subconscious self-loathing or what, but I suppose it’ll be something to work on.  Maybe if I shake them hard enough character development will start falling out.
  4. I really hate vampires.

But I still managed to make words on pages happen in large chunks during the very small amount of free-time I had.  That’s got to count for something, right?

So now it’s back to working on the book and some short stories and maybe if I grow a spine I’ll send some off and we’ll see what happens.

…And while I’m dreaming I’d like a pony…

P.S. No, you can’t have a pony. Or a moose. Or a mantis shrimp. Or a tardigrade. Or a crab. Keep trying though.

Aw. 😦

Freedom!

I have completed the gauntlet that is the end of July and the beginning of August! A winner is me! My voice is cracking, and I’ve spent the majority of that time battling a migraine, but I managed to not call in and will have about 38 hours of overtime pay coming to me on Thursday. Now I have two glorious days off before heading back to my regular four days on. Once I get through those I have vacation! Twelve days, most of which will be spent in Stratford, Canada, watching the Stratford Shakespeare Company do their thing. And then it’s back to my normal four on, four off with however much overtime I want to pick up in between.

I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to it.

But today is my Friday! Which means I get to come home and transcribe the new Chapter One. I’m actually mostly happy with the way it turned out. It needs some tweaking, of course, but that I can do on the rebound. I also threw together a possible prologue, but I’m not sure if I’m going to use it as a prologue or a flashback, since it would work both ways. I am stupidly happy with how it turned out, so I may toss it out here to see how people react. We’ll see if I’m still happy about it when I get it transcribed into a computer.

The problem with working as much as I have is handwriting things. When I’m up, the words don’t wait for me to get home to a keyboard I can actually use for the Project. As a result, my wrist is a bit sore. Oddly enough, my throat isn’t sore, I’m just losing my voice. That should make the raid tomorrow night interesting (I can raid!).

But first things first: Sleep. I haven’t gotten as much of that as I’ve wanted to the past couple weeks. And tonight? Real, honest to goodness, cooked food. Nom.

Oh, and guess what I found on sale at Walgreens last night?

It works! And it cost less than half what I was expecting to pay for it!

Considering it’s a cheep knockoff brand, I don’t expect it to last long, but hey – it works for now so I’ll take it.  This is my cheap “Congrats on nearly working yourself to death” present to myself.  My more expensive “Congrats on nearly working yourself to death” present will happen when PayPal gets off its duff and finishes recognizing that money exists.

I’m just calling to give you a heads up…

There is no other phrase that I hear while working that makes me cringe quite as much. There are times it’s fine, but most of the “heads up!” calls amount to the caller waking someone up at three o’clock in the morning for no good reason. This is especially true if the deceased is at a facility with access to a morgue.

Most of the time when I get “heads up!” calls, it’s because the nurses will call before they even arrive at the home of the deceased. They want to save themselves some time because they don’t want to wait around for the removal people to show up.  They’re trying to time it so that the removal people show up about fifteen minutes after the nurse does. To the best of my knowledge this is rarely, if ever, successful and is only really appropriate in the following situation:

  • The funeral director will be making removal personally.
  • The funeral director is more than an hour away from the home and will be traveling there themselves instead of calling a more local funeral home to make the removal (otherwise known as a trade call). This is common in very rural communities.
  • The nurse is less than an hour away from the home, will be there early enough to get the paperwork done, and has made sure that the family is ready.

That’s it, really. In that case, by all means, get the director up and moving. If, however, the director is local, or they’re using a local funeral home or removal service, then chances are you’re waking them up to say: “Hey I’m going to be calling you later about this one body that hasn’t even been pronounced yet.”

They can’t do anything in that case and, chances are, they’re just going to go back to bed, grumbling under their breath and calling you names. Many places I answer for have instructions in place that say if the body isn’t ready (and if it hasn’t been pronounced, it isn’t ready) that we don’t even bother calling it out until it is. The only exception to that rule is if the family wants to talk to a director, but if you’re not at the home, how do you know if they do or not?

A lot of the time I’ll hedge when I get these calls and say something like, “Well, I can take the information now and get it to the director, or we can hold off until you get to the home and everyone is ready…”

Every time.  Without fail.  The nurse will (obviously not thinking this through) have me wake up the director who will then growl, “Okay,” and go back to bed.  I’m getting the impression that the nurse thinks the director doesn’t go back to bed, but I can assure you, when we get the second, “Okay ready now!” call, I’m waking them up again.  I know this because just waking up people have a distinct, groggy tone in their voice and a tendency to go “Mrfff,” “Grphf,” and “Fffstphk.”

Any hospice nurse worth their weight in student loans should know that a body cannot be moved from the place of death until it has been pronounced. In fact, five seconds with Google will tell you the same thing. Guess what can’t be done if you’re not there to do it? Right.

I also notice that a lot of nurses who do this (call before even getting to the home) will just sort of assume that the body will be ready shortly after being pronounced. Never mind any family members that are coming from a ways away that want to view the body before the funeral home arrives. Never mind any religious or cultural concerns. Never mind a husband or wife who just wants to spend a few more hours with their dearly departed for whatever reason. Never mind actually bothering to ask the family any of that. Just come and get the stiff!

This often ends in several calls back and forth saying the body is ready, then it’s not, then it is, then it’s not. Trying to jump ahead in the queue often leads to things getting messed up and wires getting crossed. It’s unprofessional. It makes the director look unprofessional and it puts a couple extra bucks in our bank account because we charge for every call we take and every one we have to make.

…On second thought, go ahead and make all those calls. Momma needs a new Playstation.

Life Is Sorta Funny

I’m trying very hard to stop flaking on this writing thing, but it’s sorta difficult.  Apart from making snarky posts about my work-life, what have I been up to?

Not a whole heck of a lot, really.  I mean, I’ve been working.  Yours truly is now a supervisor and if THAT doesn’t fill you will fear and dread, then you may need to get your doom meter checked.  It’s just one of the many reasons I haven’t been able to really DO anything.  I’m winding down my only day off this week while writing this and when I wake up tonight I have a whole six days back on, two of which are thirteen hour shifts.  It’s also been somehow busier than normal so every day I leave work wanting to punch kittens.

Did I mention I quit smoking in April?  I’ve been on the razor edge of a relapse for the past two weeks now.  I still have some of the medication I took to help me stop, but it makes me very ill so it’s not really an option at this point since I haven’t called into work in over two years and I’m not about to start now.  So far, so good though.

So LOTS of reading has been happening and up until yesterday I was on a sorta kinda forced sabbatical from The Project.  The beginning has been throwing me left, right, and center and I think, given a little bit of poking (and prodding from the spousal unit), that I know how to fix it.  So yippee!  I get to do that this week – maybe.  Writing at work isn’t really an option unless I’m writing by hand (ow ow ow ow), so we’ll see how much inspiration I have after coming home from a night of not being able to strangle nurses who think calling before the body is actually ready is a good thing.

But all that being said: Hooray for upswings!  The fun part about being me is that I have a very, very mild type of mood roller-coaster.  I was diagnosed manic depressive before it became known as bipolar, but I don’t really think of myself as bipolar because it’s been so long since that diagnosis was handed down and things have changed (like puberty – puberty happened).  I’ve gotten very good at picking out when the downswing hits and when the upswing starts so when I’m feeling crappy and teary and whiny for no good reason and I can’t find plot for love nor money, I can recognize it.  It doesn’t make it better, per se, but at least I know that it’ll pass.

I just started the climb back up the coaster so I’ve got at least a month or two (if I’m lucky) of productive good times before I dive back down into the miasma of self loathing.  The medication I’m on isn’t strong, so it takes the edge off, but that’s about it.  I don’t get as high, but I also don’t get as low, so it evens out and, frankly, I’m lucky.  It could be much, much worse.

Anyway, babble babble babble, and apart from sorting the beginning of the story out somewhat, I’ve also got a new set of plot bunnies in the back of my head.  Technically, I suppose, they’re old plot bunnies, but like all things, I finally have a plot to go with the characters.  I started up that bible (lower case ‘b’) last week so maybe when I’m done with this book I can take a break from The World Outside and throw together something (not sure what – whether short-ish novella/story or novel) about lesbians in the circus.  There might also be vampires involved because I don’t like vampires much these days, so if I get to make life hell for a pair of them (the vampires, not the lesbians), I’m going to take that opportunity.

So I’ve been scrambling for books about both the circus and technical theater and in doing so, completely and totally forgot that I’d promised the spousal unit that I’d beta his former student’s sci-fi novel.  There’s also a book a co-worker lent me, as well as a newly acquired steampunk story with skypirates in it, Let The Right One In, and a couple other books recommended to me by way of this post that I wrote back when I didn’t have anything on my plate.

I need to learn how to read faster.

It would also help if this game weren’t so much fun. Nothing free should be this addicting.

Anatomy of a Death Call

1:04am: “I’m just calling to give you a heads up. The family isn’t here so the body isn’t ready yet. We’ll give you a call when they leave.”

1:08am: The director is called and the call is cleared.

1:31am: “Okay!  The body is ready for pickup.”

1:33am: The director is called and the call is cleared.

1:40am: “Hi, I’m with the donor network/eye bank. We will be approaching the family regarding donation. Please hold off on removal.”

1:42am: The director is called and the call is cleared.

2:00am: “Hi, I called almost an hour ago regarding Mr. Doe. Do you have an eta? I’m sorry? Oh. Yes. Well we’re ready now.”

2:02am: The director is called and the call is cleared.

2:05am: “Hello, I’m with the donor network/eye bank. Just letting you know that the family has declined donation and the body is ready for removal now.”

2:06am: The director is called and the call is cleared.

2:45am: “Um hi, yes, um. I called regarding a Mr. John Doe about two hours ago. So it turns out the family gave us the wrong number and will be using a different funeral home. You can disregard the call. Sorry about that.”

2:46am: The director is called and has a nervous breakdown.

Oh. That good huh?

This is going to be a short post, mostly because the upswing hasn’t come ’round yet and I’ve spent more time dramatically sobbing into a pillow than actually being productive. That may or may be hyperbole, but when one of your beta readers is asked the question, “Would you read past the first chapter?” and their resoundingly honest answer is a very blunt, “No.” it sorta bruises the ego.

Thing is (and this is why I haven’t posted any teasers of the first chapter), I know that bit is broken. It’s (no seriously) attempt fourteen or fifteen (or more, I lost count) at starting this dumb thing and every time I try to fix it, the entire story ends up getting changed. Tweaked. Fixed. Rearranged.

That’s not bad, and it’s not that I don’t appreciate it, but it is exhausting. Eventually I’ll be head over heels thanking dog for honest editors, but right now all I have to go on is a no and a vague idea that the info dump is too much, but not where or how. What makes it worse is this particular reader works days while I work nights, he lives an hour away, and has a small toddler at home. What this means is that I am astonished and humbled that he’s actually taken the time to go through my mess, but it also means that sitting down and talking through where the weak spots are and what about them makes the weak is just shy of being a massive headache.

This upsets me because he is actually qualified to tear the ‘script apart and the novel would (will, I suppose because I will figure this out) benefit from every blow he can throw at it.

The silver lining: the Editor (capital-I-am-being-paid-for-my-time-E) is working on it and she is equally qualified to rip it shreds. Obviously. I mean, I wouldn’t be paying her otherwise. She’ll also be much easier to get in contact with.

The second silver lining: People, if you’re going to marry someone, marry someone whose job it is to teach other people how to write. My wonderful husband took a gander and gave his professional assessment:

I think I know how fix it and no, you probably won’t have to rewrite the whole thing but I need to, like, show you because trying to describe it is hard. But like I need to go to rehearsal (did I mention he’s also an actor?) and you need to go to work so we’ll go over it in the morning.

Seven years of wedded bliss people. This is why. Of course now the big jerk won’t wake up…

A quick update post

June was not a good month for me.  July is shaping up to be not much better.  On the upside: I found an editor that will professionally tear apart The World Outside and that includes copy-editing!  And I won’t have to take out a massive loan to make it happen!  I am so excited!  More emotional black eyes!  YAY!  Additional upside: My mom made scotcharoos for the fourth and I, like, snagged a bunch before I left so NOOOOMYAY!

I’ve been working a lot, and there’s a lot of new things for me to do at work now so that’s sapped any and all energy I’ve had.  So while I have been reading a lot (dear Hitchhikers Guide: you have been defeated!  Love, me), no creative juices have been flowing, really.  At least, not many.  Bear with me here kids.  Hopefully the upswing is coming.  It usually does.

So anyway, because I’m keen to prove that I have been really busy the following is a paraphrased conversation I had earlier this morning with a guildmate:

Her:  Yeah, I’m gonna log off and go play this other game now, k?

Me: No worries!  How is that anyway?

Her: I love the events!  And since it’s free–

Me: Wait.  It’s free now?  As in, the whole game is free?

Her: …Yes…

Me: ……..

And then a co-worker had to go and post a screenshot of a raid or instance or whatever that was happening in a game I used to play where, to quote a mutual friend: “Warcraft and Cthulhu had a baby.”

So I’ve been really busy with work and stuff.  Really.

This is somebody else's desktop.

This is somebody else’s desktop.

Why Wasn’t There A Post Yesterday?

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I

Brave

Have

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No

See you Wednesday!

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