Seven months into Islam and I still kick myself for taking so long to finally convert, after three years of thinking about it. But there is one thing about being a convert, particularly an American convert, that will always set me apart from those born into the faith – complete and total separation between the genders being the norm.
No dating, no being alone with the opposite gender – to me, that’s expected, and easy to follow. But in Islam, there is no speaking to a man. No being in the same room as one, not even at Islamic functions. We are expected not to even look at one another. Certain exceptions are granted if there is no reasonable alternative; for example, you are allowed to have a job, if the job is necessary for your support, and as long as you do not become too familiar with men at work. You are allowed to have a male doctor if there are no female doctors available.
I have a deep aversion to female doctors and other medical staff. My doctor is a woman, but you know how it is in American healthcare, you basically get what is available. I have also, until recently, been fortunate enough to be a person who rarely has to see a doctor. But whenever I can pick, even for mental health services, I will choose a man.
Being a funeral director who interacts with medical staff on a daily basis has allowed me to glimpse the flat-out petty, childish, power-tripping ways of many female doctors and nurses. One time, I was sent to drive across two states to pick up a body, and when I arrived, I couldn’t take the body because the doctor wouldn’t sign the death certificate. She was right there, and the signatures are electronic, so signing is a matter of logging in and clicking. Her reason: legally, she has 72 hours to sign, so she’s going to take that 72 hours, and screw the funeral director who drove ten hours to get there. I still got paid for the trip, and my hotel was paid for, but that means the family had to pay for someone to come out twice, because this woman had to show everyone who was in charge. The funeral home, and some people who work with this doctor, all confirmed that “she does this all the time.”
Women are likelier to do that highly annoying thing where they talk to a co-worker about you, with their backs to you when you’re in the room, and pretend like it’s not meant for you to hear. “Can you believe the funeral home sent her out here BY HERSELF?” “So I asked if she wanted me to flush her engine and she said no, guess she doesn’t care about her car.” [At a prenatal visit] “She’s gained 50 lbs and isn’t even upset.”
On the job, if anyone has complained about something to my face, men are more likely to bring up fair points. Don’t eat or drink in front of families at a visitation. You need to learn how to run the music and lights. Women, on the other hand, complain about things far beyond my control. One woman at a nursing home commanded me to “stop banging” every time my gurney made a noise. If you are familiar with a mortuary cot, you know they are made of metal and they will creak and make shifting noises whenever they are manipulated. They aren’t very streamlined, smooth objects. So I’m wheeling the body down this long hallway with many tight corners, and with every twist and turn: “Stop banging. Stop banging. Stop banging. Why did they send you by yourself? Stop banging.” I had a good laugh about it with my (male) director. I mean…it’s a cot. A wheeled device designed to carry a human being. No one in the world is able to wheel it in an absolutely silent manner.
The two complaints filed against my professional license were also filed by women. One for “unprofessional conduct” was tossed because it was insane – a woman couldn’t believe that the entire portion of cremated remains would easily fit in an urn; she believed the portion must be as big as the human body and therefore, I must have been throwing out the “extra ashes.” [Cremated remains are pulverized bone fragments and in most adults, total less than ten pounds, enough to fill a shoebox.] The other was for embalming without permission and was found in a court to be unsubstantiated. I had written permission from the decedent in a pre-need contract. But I believe that men are less likely to file complaints. Actually, in my case, the families who send back those surveys have all been men, and all with favorable comments.
Women who have earned authority do not like it challenged. My job sometimes involves telling a doctor what to do. I have had to call doctors on their personal cell phones and badger them into signing a death certificate. Sometimes I’ve had to go to their offices and do the same. I am also five feet tall, look younger than my 40 years, and wear hijab (plus, apparently, keep banging the cot). I present as a small, annoying figure that manages to take up a lot of time and space.
It is most often women who assume I’m physically incapable of doing my job, and call in a lot of unnecessary, overcrowding extra “help.” Men also frequently exclaim “They sent you by yourself?” but they seem almost pleasantly surprised, while women have that tone that suggests my boss or the funeral home must be idiots.
Women complain more about a driver who is late. Men seem to understand that an ETA means estimated time of arrival; things happen. Of course, there is no excuse for being unreasonably late to pick up a body when the family is waiting, but it’s always the women who call when you are five minutes behind your ETA.
But this is all part of the job. Any customer service position means difficult customers. I don’t know if funeral service customers are more difficult than others, and I would say that most of the time, it feels like an honor to serve families. But in all cases, these are people having the worst day of their lives, and the funeral or cremation service is a one-time event that has to be perfect and also has to be put together in a few days or sometimes less.
It could be that other women in funeral service would report the exact opposite experiences; men being jerks and women being empathetic. My experience could be clouded by personal beliefs or “mommy issues.” I admit that.
I am pleased to report that I had my back surgery and it was a success. Male surgeon. Male nurses. I am now pain-free, drug-free, lifting weights at home and back to work. And, on an unrelated note, I am 14 months sober; just forgot to brag.