Living with the dead was too high a price

June 28, 2004

I once lived in a funeral home. It was between graduate school and a "real job," when money was scarce and cheap rent was my ticket to freedom. Two part-time jobs, one at a small college outside Lexington and one in Lexington, didn't provide much with which to pay rent. When a friend approached me with the proposition of moving above the local funeral home in the college town, I was interested. Not thrilled, but the low rent was enticing.

We did have a separate entrance, our own kitchen, and a large living area. Unfortunately, our bedrooms were positioned at the top of the grand staircase, which meant we slept directly above the funeral parlor. No big deal, I thought, and the price is right. It would only be temporary and would allow me to save enough money to live in Lexington, which was my ultimate goal.

It was furnished, so there was no need to haul in furniture. I didn't have any. All I needed was my clothing and whatever personal items would make it feel like home. My roommate was an admissions counselor for the college. While I knew this, I didn't realize how often an admissions counselor traveled until we moved in together.


Normally, I don't mind a little alone time. In fact, I like it in small but regular doses. But the reality of staying in a large house with only a dead body for company began to chill me to the bone. I found myself checking my roommate's schedule to see when she would be traveling. I also found myself checking the newspaper to see who had died and where they would be laid out. I made a point never to be home when there was a body in the parlor and an absent roommate. Fortunately, I had some friends in Lexington who had an available couch, which I used quite frequently. My roommate, on the other hand, was completely unfazed by our living arrangement and I admired her for that.

There are some definite limitations to living in a funeral parlor that are not so obvious. The funeral director conveyed this to me a couple of days after I had cooked spaghetti sauce for a friend. I had not thought to shut the doors to the kitchen and apparently the oregano and garlic smell wafted down and disturbed the mourning in progress. I was politely asked not to cook such odorific foods after that.

This was emphasized another time when we were requested to shut our bedroom doors before leaving for work. A well known state trooper had passed away, the funeral director explained, and they were expecting a large crowd. So large, in fact, they would need to seat people in front of our bedrooms.

I began to feel that funeral home life was not for me.

The time inevitably came when there was a body in the parlor and my roommate left unexpectedly. With no time for alternative plans, I tried to be brave and fall asleep, but I kept hearing unfamiliar noises. I would sit up in bed and listen as hard as I could. I was sure that dead body was downstairs walking around.

Compelled to face my foe head on, I crept out of bed and down the stairs, on full alert. At this point, it was difficult to hear anything other than my heart beating like a bass drum. As I stepped onto the hardwood floor, a loud creak sounded, which sent shock waves up my spine. Subconsciously, I must have known it was my own weight that made the floor creak.

But that was it - I turned and ran up the steps, packed up my stuff and left in the middle of the night. I decided right then I would find other living arrangements, even if it meant moving back home. After all, at home my parents would want to know where I was going and when I would be back, but at least I wouldn't have to share my living space with the dead. Sometimes the price of freedom is just too high.

Angela Correll lives in Lincoln County.|None|***

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