Heidi Boucher on Mentorship
In honor of National Mentoring Month, we asked one of the founders of the home funeral movement to share a story about her mentor. Heidi sent us this story about her first home funeral experience with her mentor, Nancy Jewel Poer.
It was early morning on December 17th 1987 when Nancy Jewel Poer telephoned needing my help with an elderly and beloved community member who had passed away during the night. It was still dark out and the day of my daughter’s first birthday. I have no recollection of how my two young children were cared for that morning, I just recall driving the short distance to the house where the body lay, feeling honored that Nancy would reach out. I was 23 years old and not thinking about a career guiding families or caring for the dead. It’s just what our community did and still does today.
I’ve known Nancy since I was 12. As a teenager I boarded with her family in the suburbs of Sacramento, as my own family lived an hour away in the foothills and the commute to school was too long. In addition to Nancy’s twins being my best friends and the general daily chaos of a large family, there were plenty of elderly people coming and going, aging and dying. I was thrown into the mix of this vibrant and eclectic family, doing chores, helping with meals and babysitting. Making caskets, dying silks, playing with dry ice was the norm and it didn’t occur to me that there was anything different.
But on that cold, dark winter morning that should have been
set aside for a sweet breakfast celebrating my baby’s trip around the sun, another ritual was taking place around the birth of a wise old man into the spiritual world. I recall the room being small, lights low and the two of us quietly coming together in a very new and different way. He was still warm, smelled musty and wore blue striped pajamas. She was teaching, instructing in hushed tones and I was willingly following, doing. I felt something powerful and special taking place that I had never experienced before, not with anyone. This was strange territory yet completely normal. When we were finished, I was exhausted. Still a nursing mother with demanding young ones, the need to “wash” away the experience before going back into my own tiny house reminded me of another community death almost two years prior.
A dear friend had accidentally run over his five year old son. It was deeply tragic and rattled our community to its core. I was extremely close to the child and his death affected me for years following. Because of my relationship with him and with the blessing of his mother, I insisted on being part of caring for his little body. The women involved, including Nancy, were reluctant at first but sensing my strong need, allowed my participation. It was the hardest thing I had ever experienced, even today the tears flow when thinking about dressing his little broken body and tucking his favorite doll into the homemade casket.
In looking back at that December morning so long ago, something not only sacred was taking place but something significant in my destiny, a turning point in my young life. I was given the skills that have helped guide many people in need, including my own family. Nancy was always more of a mother than a mentor and it wasn’t until years later, after doing this work for a long time, that it felt right to finally call her my “mentor.” I don’t know why exactly. The tables have long since turned and Nancy has called me for advice on several occasions. We share stories, laugh about the absurd, and savor a unique bond. I will always be grateful to her for instilling in me the courage to go forward, humor to be flexible and the importance of beauty surrounding the dead.
1/30/2020 07:58:54 pm
Thank you NHFA and Heidi for this poignant story. All the layers of learning, of sacred transitions into our soul work in ways we would lever have guessed. I remember calling Nancy in the wee hours of of night from Minneapolis when it was the first time that I was to serve another family the way that I had served my own, including Nancy's brother Jack. She answered the phone, gave me just the information and confidence I needed to meet the new unknown. That story was triggered as I read Heidi's experience. The layering of colleagueship, mentoring, and partnering is so much a part of community life and healing. Blessings...........
1/31/2020 08:47:53 am
I believe in home funerals and families rights to have them verses funeral homes. Many people choose cremation to keep funeral homes from having so much power over their bodies. My brother chose cremation and I know he would have never chose it if he had an option like home funeral. I want to be educated and my sister is interested too. We are losing our youngest brother to cirrhosis of the liver and COPD. Need more information soon.
1/31/2020 09:20:46 am
Such a touching story. Sharing these experiences builds confidence. Yes, you can do that.
7/13/2020 01:56:45 am
Thank you Heidi and NHFA for this eye-opening and very informative blog. Many people have been considering to held funeral at their homes or home funeral, it's because it's more comfortable and all family members can express their condolences and mourning with each and everyone.
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