A Mortician Tells What It's Like To Work With Dead Bodies Every Day
From the strangest requests he's ever had to what happens during cremation and embalming practices where the body is temporarily preserved for viewing purposes, here's the closest most of us will ever get to knowing what it's like to work in a morgue.
Q: What is the strangest request that you've ever received for a funeral service?
A: We had a dead clown one time. This person was buried in full clown costume with makeup and all. The whole family was clowns. All the friends were clowns. And at the family's request, the funeral directors were clowns too. They supplied costumes and did our makeup. Family and friends had one tear drop painted on near the eye. Definitely my strangest.
They were all sad clowns with a tear.
Q: Any other funerals that stand out in your memory?
A: One time we had a person who did some acting and modeling in California. A hand model. The family came in early to set up pictures and things.
I showed them in, helped them get started then left them. I came back about 10 minutes later to check on them and just about every picture they put up was this person's hands from the various ads they did. There were some family photos, but most were a pair of hands.
Q: What is the most embarrassing thing you've done to a cadaver?
A: I had this guy to prep one time. He had an intubater ... this tube down his throat and was taped on his face. One piece of the tape was across his mustache. When I took the tape off, most of his mustache came with it. So I shaved it. The wife was super pissed. She threatened to sue unless we fixed it.
So what am I to do? I went to a costume shop and bought a pack of fake mustaches. We had a picture of him, but none of these mustaches worked. I picked the best possible match and put it on him. We then called her to come look. We were nervous. It was bad. So she comes in and absolutely loves it! I couldn't believe it. She then turned super sweet and hugged me.
Q: When you cremate someone, how often do the ashes from previous customers make it into the current customer's mix?
A: There is some co-mingling involved, although very minimal. It is unavoidable since you can't get every single grain out. As long as you sweep it properly after each person, it is very minimal.
Q: What exactly happens to the eyes during an embalming? Do you glue the lips of the dead person together?
A: The eyes usually start to flatten after death. Think of an old grape. They do, however, remain with the decedent. We don't remove them. You can use what is called an eye cap to put over the flattened eyeball to recreate the natural curvature of the eye. You can also inject tissue builder directly into the eyeball and fill it up. And sometimes, the embalming fluid will fill the eye to normal size.
Yes, the eyes and lips are glued together.
Q: Will there ever be a job you refuse to do?
A: I've seen pictures and have heard about people being embalmed and placed on a motorcycle, stood up in the corner, in a recliner ... This all seems ridiculous and disrespectful to me. Especially if the deceased did not request it. I say I would refuse to do this to someone, but who knows? I mean, if the family really wants it.
Q: Did you go into the business by your own choice?
A: Yes, I did. I was fascinated by the industry as a kid. When I was 12, there was a bad head on collision near my house and a man in a truck didn't make it. My family and I were standing around with all the other neighbors when the coroner arrived. He pronounced him deceased, then they took him out and put him on a stretcher and his head turned to the side looking straight at me. I remember being curious as to what happens to people when they die, as far as the physical body.
Q: Are women creeped out by your
A: Some are. I like to date other morticians or nurses. They seem to understand and are over the whole novelty of it.
Q: Would you be embalmed yourself? Or would you want to be cremated?
A: I'm ok with being embalmed and buried. I'm also ok with being cremated. I will let my family choose the method which best suits them at the time.
Q: What kind of person would make a good mortician?
A: It's funny. I was a waiter for many years in my younger days. I always say, if you can be a successful waiter, you can be a successful funeral director. They are similar in many ways. They both wait on families and provide what should be excellent customer service. The only difference is that one puts a pizza in the oven and the other puts a body in the oven.
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