I am thrilled to share with you today a new box set entitled Serve, Protect, Bury. It contains three memoirs about the true-life adventures of real women throughout their training and careers—Police Academy, Fire Department, and Funeral Service. Three strong women who refused to allow any obstacle or person to stop them from achieving their goals.
I asked authors Janice J. Richardson, Suzie Ivy and Laurie Loveman to share with us their moments of epiphany which lead to their changing careers and dedicating their lives to serving others.
The Making of a Funeral Director by Janice J. Richardson
In chatting with children over the years, it has been fun to ask them what they wanted to be when they grew up. Some children make up their minds early and move easily into that career. An answer of ‘a doctor’, ‘a cowboy’ or ‘a librarian’ are met with my strong support. I knew, without a doubt what I wanted to be. Had I been asked that question, my answer would have been emphatic and clear too. Funeral Director. I just knew.
In The Making of a Funeral Director I described the moment I wanted to become a funeral director. That was my epiphany moment. I was eight.
Life doesn’t always take the direction we want it to. On my own at fifteen and struggling to support myself, I failed Grade 9 Phys.Ed. 49% was my final grade in that course and nothing could be done change it. That meant that in Canada, at that time, I failed my entire year and had to move from a five year high school program (academic) to a four year stream (trades, secretarial).
Working at a restaurant to support myself and going to school I didn’t care about taking sciences anymore. I was too tired to study anyway. I married my childhood sweetheart four years later and raised my family. By the time I turned 37 years of age I was burned out and disillusioned with secretarial work. If I was going to make a change, I had to make a decision. Once that decision was made, there was no turning back. Choices and dreams deserve to be pursued. This was the time to make that change and, a little late in life, I went back to school part-time, taking the science courses I had missed years before.
The years of delay going to college were not a bad thing. I now had the maturity, the drive, the will to become a funeral director. Looking back, failing phys.ed may have been a blessing in disguise. I needed to grow up a bit. Life has its seasons. The years in college and working as a funeral director were, without a doubt, a season of growth and change and some of the most fulfilling years in my life. It is never, ever too late to chase a dream or a goal. It’s your life, live it to the fullest. One should never have to look back with regret for not having tried.
Excerpt from The Making of a Funeral Director:
The day after the murder the headlines read “Homicide Suspect Arrested.” It was just one more murder in Toronto. My partner and I received a call to go to the scene just before midnight. We responded promptly, within the hour, as is expected in coroner’s cases.
My partner left his vehicle a few blocks from the scene and rode in with me. Upon arrival at the address, we were waved through the police line and directed to the house. The area was alive with activity, police, media and a crowd of onlookers watching at the barricade. An officer escorted us inside where a detective in a white disposable coverall me us.
“Where are your AIDS suits?” he asked.
“We don’t have any,” I replied. “They aren’t issued, we’ll just have to be careful.”
“There is a lot of blood,” he stated and led us down the hall.
The victim lay on the kitchen floor face down, partially decapitated. A puddle of blood spread out from the body for several feet. “We know this victim had AIDS,” said the officer.
“When did he die?” I asked.
“Around noon today,” was the reply. It is known that the AIDS virus can live for hours, even days.
“Don’t you even have boots?” the officer asked. My partner and I looked at each other and shrugged.
“Just gloves,” we replied.
The police photographer asked for a few more minutes to finish before we transferred the body. We removed our jackets and rolled up our sleeves in preparation. Since it was a crime scene we could not put our jackets down nearby. One of the officers standing by took them outside to the porch. As soon as he opened the door the media lights flooded the entrance, then just as quickly shut off again once they realized it wasn’t the removal team.
The officer snorted, “They’ve been here for five hours waiting for you people.” We stood and chatted with the detective while waiting for the photographer to finish. He related the details of the murder, a rather grizzly one. The police had a suspect and expected to make an arrest quickly.
Bad Luck Cadet by Suzie Ivy
An ad on the drugstore bulletin board changed my life:
Small Town looking for a few good men and women! Must have a crime free background; Must work well with others; Must be able to physically undergo the rigors of the police academy; Must be able to complete what you start. Must be 21 years old but you’re never too old. Academy begins August 15.
I was 45 years old, overweight, and out of shape. But, I had a dream. It was one I carried since being a young girl. When I told my freshman high school counselor I wanted to be a police officer, she told me to choose another field, one better suited for women.
The dream never left me. Seeing the ad sparked a fire. I got into shape and lost the weight. Bad Luck Cadet is the story of 18 1/2 weeks at the police academy that proved I had what it takes. I’ve never looked back. Becoming a certified officer will forever be a highlight in my life. Dreams really can come true no matter your age.
Excerpt from Bad Luck Cadet:
My journey to the academy was hard too.
Everyone began arriving. There were only five of us—three men and two women. The other female was a spunky little thing. She didn’t say much to me, mostly just flirted with the guys. I’ll call one Mr. Muscle and the other two Curly and Mo. Miss Ponytail rounded out our crew. Sgt. Spears told us we would be doing the push-ups and sit-ups first.
The other four recruits (see, I was learning the terminology) chose each other as partners. I was left with Sgt. Spears. I actually finished in the excellent category according to Cooper Standards. Next was the vertical jump. I managed 18 inches. It was the only test I beat Miss Ponytail on. Next we had the 300-meter run. I finished in 70 seconds, leaving two seconds to spare. We then had the mile and a half run. I gave it everything I had. It didn’t matter that I finished last I just wanted to finish under my time.
Mr. Muscle stopped running about halfway through and walked a lap. He still beat me. Curly also walked part of the way and finished before I did. I missed my time by 35 seconds. It put me in the fair category. I didn’t know if it was enough, but I knew I had given it everything I had.
Hey Guys, The Redhead’s Back! by Laurie Loveman
I didn’t plan on a career change because it had been seventeen years since I last worked in the position of Cytology/Histology Laboratory Supervisor in a large county chronic illness hospital. I loved my work and would have continued if my husband had not wanted me to quit and be a “fulltime” wife.
Fifteen years later, on the verge of divorce, our friends’ daughter was killed in a house fire, and questions about that event inspired me to research for a book on how fire departments operate on a day-to-day basis. That led me to interviewing local fire chiefs, all of whom liked the idea of my plans for a book, but none were willing to allow me any extended period of time in which to actually see for myself, what went on in the firehouse and at fire scenes. And then, when the project seemed hopeless, I met William Pickford, Chief of the Shaker Heights, Ohio Fire Department. Chief Pickford not only allowed me to interview his men, but gave me permission to be “on shift” so I could learn what I needed to know. So, a project that I thought would take a few months, at most, led to my being “on duty” for more than three years! Without any of us realizing it, the men on “my shift” and I became family and the firehouse became the place where I learned to assert myself, to defend my ideas, and to once again become the confident person I was before my marriage. On that road to rediscovery I also learned about firefighting by being included in hands-on drills and classroom lectures, kitchen discussions about politics, finance, public relations, fire prevention, fire investigations and—most important—being a member of a team, where at any moment, another person’s life could suddenly become my responsibility, and my life could depend upon the firefighter next to me.
At the end of three years, with my divorce finally becoming a reality, I knew that my future lay with the fire service, I just wasn’t sure in what capacity. And then, one afternoon as I was leaving the firehouse for the day, I chanced to see a magazine ad in Firehouse Magazine placed by the University of Cincinnati, offering a distance learning program expressly for firefighters. Did I qualify with my limited experience? The director of the program decided I did, and I was the first female to be accepted into the nationwide program.
In another stroke of good fortune, retired Shaker Heights firefighter Jack O’Neill, who had been given the go-ahead by another suburb to form its first fire department, asked me to help create that department! So, while I was immersed in my fire science studies, I was also participating in all the activities, including firefighter training for becoming a charter member of the Warrensville Township Fire Department, which in 1990 became the Village of Highland Hills.
Excerpt from Hey Guys, The Redhead’s Back!
MAY 10, 1982. The afternoon drill session is on Engine 1 operations, so at one o’clock Johnny drives the pumper out of its bay and parks it on the access road. Everyone reviews the pump controls, pressures, hand signals, radio, but for me it’s all new and confusing since I haven’t had even basic classroom instruction. As each man goes through various scenarios I begin to understand which gauge shows what, what handle opens which valve, and what different water pressures are needed. As the drill proceeds I am racing to cram all this knowledge into my head; I’m excited to be learning something entirely new and I find I want to learn more, a lot more.
I’m taking notes like crazy when Johnny appears beside me and says, “C’mon, we can play with the booster line.” He hands me a pair of gloves that are too big, but I’m so thrilled to have a chance to “be on the tip,” that I wouldn’t care if my hands were wrapped in burlap bags.
We take a good length of the booster line, which is on a reel above the hose bed, and bring it close to the firefighters’ parking lot so we don’t spray directly into the street, and with me holding the nozzle, Johnny opens the valve for the booster line, and returns to my side.
“Okay, here’s what you’re going to do,” he says, and with his hand atop mine, he guides me in opening the nozzle. I’m so excited I want to jump up and down and shout how happy I am to be doing this, but I don’t because all of a sudden I have a water stream to manage. The stream hits Tom Day’s pickup truck broadside with a giant splat! Water ricochets off the truck bed and divides into separate streams that arch into the truck bed, the tall bushes that hide the parking lot from the sidewalk, and against the watch office window. I lower the nozzle so water only shoots underneath Tom’s truck.
For the next twenty minutes, Johnny directs me through opening and closing the nozzle, aiming high and aiming low until handling the smaller hose and nozzle becomes almost automatic. Then drill time is over. I’m not ready to stop, but everyone else is. Everything is stowed and Johnny backs Engine 1 into its bay. We all follow the pumper inside, everyone talking, except for me.
I am so pumped up by what I’ve just practiced, something that could actually save a life, that I want to scream with exultation. I have now done something that Ralph hasn’t and probably never will do. He’s so good at everything he tries—the first time he tries it—that I have always been discouraged from trying new things, but now I’m thinking, watch out mister, because I’m going to be better at this firefighting business that you ever could be. That does not take into account, I muse belatedly, that Ralph wouldn’t even be interested in being a firefighter. It doesn’t matter. I won’t even bother telling him about my accomplishment.