A Chat with Sheri Booker

Today I am pleased to welcome Sheri Booker to the Death Writer blog! Sheri and I both went to Goucher College.  (In case you were wondering, not everyone who goes through the MFA program at Goucher writes about death.)  Sheri's book, Nine Years Under, is about working at a funeral home as a young woman.  I look forward to reading it.

DW:  I read that you began working in the funeral industry at the age of 15, which I think is amazing. How did that happen?
SB:  I lost my great-great Aunt Mary to cancer. She lived with me and was my everything. The funeral director who buried her was a member of our church and close family friend. I needed closure and was very curious about what happened to Aunt Mary, so I accepted a position at the funeral home that handled her services. While most people run away from death, I ran towards it. What was supposed to be a simple summer job turned into nine years of living and learning through death. I know it will sound cliché but everything I learned about life, I learned through death.

DW:  Did you have experience with death prior to working in a funeral home?
SB:  No, just Aunt Mary. If she had not passed away, there was NO WAY I would have worked, stepped foot in, or even looked twice at a funeral home. 

DW:  What was your job title at the funeral home? 
SB:  I had so many different roles at the funeral home that I didn’t have a specific title. We were a small business and so you did a little of everything. I probably held every hat there, except embalming. Some days I was a receptionist, greeter, hearse driver on service, personal concierge. I’ve done hair, makeup, helped dress bodies, written obituaries.

DW:  What was your favorite aspect of this job? 
SB:  I worked with some amazing people and they made the work we did so much easier. I felt blessed to be able to service grieving people, especially since I had been on that side of death. I knew how important it was to be that voice of comfort on the phone when we received a death call or that smiling faces when they came to the funeral home to make arrangements.

DW:  Were your coworkers a support network for you when there was a particularly upsetting death that you all had to handle? Was there someone you could talk to? 
SB:  Yes, we were a family. There were no secrets between us. My boss, Mr. Wylie, was like a father to all of us and Ms. Angela, the office manager, kept everything together. We laughed a lot and we had to because we saw some really heartbreaking cases. Working there made us all stronger.

DW:  Did you learn anything about yourself during the writing process of this book? 
SB:  Absolutely. I happened to be one of the youngest people in Goucher’s MFA program and all of my peers kept telling me that I was too young to write memoir, that at the age of 23 I couldn’t possibly have one in me. But in my mind, I had stories for days and days, more than one book in me. Looking back, I’ve realized that they were right about me being too young to write a memoir. I didn’t have the distance and maturity that I needed to really delve in. I struggled through a few revisions because I just couldn’t come to terms with what had actually happened. I think when writing memoir you have to have the ability to be subjective.

DW:  Burial or cremation? 
SB:  It’s so interesting. For me personally, I’d like to be cremated. Of course I want to have a viewing and funeral but for my final disposition cremation all the way. For a long time cremation was taboo in the African-American community because it’s such an inexpensive service. Many people assumed that if you chose cremation you just didn’t have the money to bury someone. Now it’s more of a preference for families. 

DW:  Are you going on a book tour? 
SB:  Yes, I will be having events in Baltimore, DC, Philly, NYC and ATL this summer. Check out my website www.sheribooker.com and www.nineyearsunder.com  for more information.