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“I work in a business that is all about caring with love”

Gisela Adissi, one of the founders of 'Let's Talk About Grieving', has already been ashamed of being a cemetery owner. Until the death of a cousin through an accident, that gave this story a new meaning

Image: Arto Marttinen / Unsplash

“My family owns two cemeteries, a crematory, a funeral home, a funeral pre need planning program and a flower shop. As I grew up seeing my parents working in these businesses, I had always thought they were common places to work. It was at the age of 9 or 10 however that I got uncomfortable with others whenever I said my parents owned a cemetery. I could see in the faces of others such an awkward expression, of embarrassment, and then I started to get embarrassed too. I remember to this day the only time in my life that I met a girl who had a family that was similar to mine. We were teenagers and when Maria Fernanda said ‘my dad is a cemetery owner’ I started to scream ‘my dad too!’ ‘my dad too’!.  We had never met before but we hugged, and shared an automatic bond. Even now, in my adult life, many people look at me in a different way when I talk about my profession. When I took my post-graduation courses, I needed to talk about my business area in each class. I saw people smiling and acting strange, making faces and seeming as if they had to protect themselves from me. Nobody wants to be close to someone or something that reminds them of death. We do everything to forget that death even exists. I thought the reaction of my colleagues was somewhat understandable and I confess that I already thought my job was a bit unsual! Even having visited cemeteries as a child, it took me a long time to get used to death.

It was only when I tragically lost a very close cousin that I really experienced the suffering of losing a beloved one. After experiencing this, the feeling towards my work changed completely.  If I was embarrassed before, nowadays I am truly proud of what I do. I had already lost loved ones before, but until then everything had taken place in the natural order of things. The death of my grandmother and aunt, although filled with suffering, happened at the expected time. Nothing compares to the death of my cousin Leo who suddenly disappeared in a plane crash. How do you deal with the loss of such a person, in the beginning of life, so full of hopes and dreams? The death of my cousin complicated my life both on the inside and the outside. I dare to say it complicated the life of many in my family, even though we were all used to being so close to grieving. If this experience has taught me anything, it is that mourning is different for each one of us. I can only talk about my grief and for me, in the weeks that followed the death of Leo, everything felt frozen and out of place. Time seemed to run in slow motion, I felt so much pain and I felt I was floating around all the time. The pain of grief can weigh so much. In those days, I was on automatic pilot, carrying all the pain on my shoulders. Wherever I went this pain went with me and what a heavy weight it was to carry!

From that time I remember moments of my personal grief journey. One of them is a lecture that I attended at SINCEP, the association of Private Cemeteries and Crematories in Brazil. The lecture was presented at the Institute Quatro Estações (Four Seasons), which is a very respected source of psychological support for situations of loss and grief. Since the accident that killed my cousin was part of the lecture topic, it was  mentioned by the psychologists. But when they started talking about the case the people of the association said, ‘Please, we don’t want to talk about that subject.’ I wanted so much to hear what they had to say. I was touched to realize that my colleagues wanted to prevent the speaker from hurting our feelings even more, but either way the wound was open, exposed and bleeding already. There was no problem in them referring to the death of Leo because at that time there was nothing in my heart, or in my mind, that was not dealing with the death of Leo. I found it curious that at a gathering of people who work with death mentioning the pain would be discouraged.  From this moment on the idea of humanizing or personalizing the funeral service and talking about grief to help people grew strongly inside me. This was already a professional purpose and it turned into something bigger, a life project – now I have the dream of transforming the relationship that people have with death. The creation of “Let’s Talk about Grieving?” has everything to do with this dream. I am one of the founders of the project along with six friends from the communication and psychology areas. Perhaps because they have jobs that exercise curiosity and empathy  is the reason they always been very attentive and interested in my cemetery stories. (Thanks girls!)

In all my family’s businesses, our employees are constantly reminded that if for us funerals and burials are routine, each of the people who come to our cemeteries to go to a funeral are going through a unique and difficult time. Respect, discretion and kindness are values that we are keen on and pass on to our customers.We also offer support to our team as it is not easy to live with death every day and sometimes our “caretakers” need to be taken care of. I try to spread among them the idea that we are a provider of affection and that only by working together we can create ways to change the relationship that people have with death. We understand that we need to change the funeral aesthetics, the “look” of death. Why are caskets always the same, for so long? Why so heavy and dark? Can’t we do anything different, to ‘connect’ death not the weight of grieving, but to light of living again? Thankfully, my dear grandaunt Mara, who founded this business 45 years ago, had the idea of giving a light name to it: Primaveras (Springs). (I don’t want to talk too much about this matter because I’m afraid that you, VFSOL readers, may think that I’m here just to promote the website. I’m not.)

Nowadays I don’t use euphemisms anymore such as: “I’m a businesswoman” or “I am a business administrator” to talk about my work. I work in a business that is all about caring with love. Caring for people and their memories. Talking about memories would require a whole different article, but this will have to wait. In this one I have said everything I wanted to say: I work in a cemetery and I am proud of it!

* This interview was given to Sandra Soares, close friend, sister and writer.