December 29, 2006

When JB’s brother Joe was in high school, his class held a career-focused activity where each student had to shadow a local business for the day. Joe, wise-ass kid that he was, decided it would be amusing to hang out at the funeral home.

Funny how the smallest decisions can change your life’s trajectory. That summer he started working for them on a part time basis, washing hearses. Later, he was apprenticing with the owners. He eventually went to mortuary school, and has now been working as a funeral director for over ten years. He’s also picked up his bachelor’s degree, and spent some time teaching mortuary science.

Joe’s the only person I know who wears formal clothing every single workday: he dresses carefully in dark suits and ties. His job involves talking to grieving families, arranging services, driving out to pick up bodies, and preparing bodies for viewing.

I’ve always been curious about Joe’s job, and at family get-togethers I like to pester him with questions, mostly when his parents aren’t within earshot and I can ask awful things like, “Sooo…have you ever had to put a head back on?” (answer: yes, from a suicide who used piano wire to hang himself with, and Joe had to put a broomstick in the neck to re-attach the head).

On a recent weekend we were staying at Joe’s house, and as expected (he’s usually on call through the holidays) his phone rang. He told us he had to pick up an elderly woman’s body from her home and do an embalming, then he’d be done for the day.

I hesitate for a minute, then ask.

“Can I watch?”

I think Joe is pleased to have someone be interested in his work, because he agrees right away. I can’t come on the call itself, but he gets consent from the family for me to attend the embalming, and once the body is on the way to the funeral home Joe comes back and picks me me up.

I follow him to the driveway, where a van is parked. “Why no hearse?” I ask, vaguely disappointed.

It turns out the hearse is mostly used for funerals, not for picking up bodies. It seems people feel funny about seeing a hearse pull up to a house, so Joe drives a nondescript van. He calls it the Taliban Van. “Can’t you picture this thing filled with rocket launchers and guns?” he says.

It rattles and clatters, it’s metal and empty in the back (except for one gurney, holding an ominous shape covered in cloth). The van typically only contains a few gurneys and what Joe describes as hazard gear: materials used for cleaning up after a messy death.

I ask if cleaning is part of the job. Joe says no, but that he does what he can. “I think of Grady’s death,” he tells me. He’s talking about a friend in high school who shot himself while playing Russian Roulette one winter morning after a night of drinking. He had died in his bedroom, in his mother’s house, leaving heartbreaking evidence of the bullet’s fatal damage behind as his body was carried away.

I had never really imagined the grim emotional reality of death’s impact on someone’s carpet fibers. The unfathomable task of cleaning your child’s blood off the walls.

“I always clean after a suicide,” he says. “For most deaths I usually try and clean a little. Sometimes we take the linens the body was lying on and dispose of them for a family.”

I try not to think of these various linens and their various soils, and fail.

We arrive at the funeral home, the Taliban Van shuddering to a halt outside the double doors. Joe unlocks the building and we walk inside. A crematory sits directly in front of the entrance, and two walk-in coolers, used for storing bodies that have not yet been embalmed, are on either side. Joe swings open one of the cooler doors for a moment and I see a couple of draped bodies in the back. He also cranks open the crematory door to briefly show me its hellish innards; a blast of dry heat comes out and I see piles of ashes sitting back there.

We walk up a ramp and we’re in an employee area with a dry-erase board documenting the calls and funerals. Joe hands me a white medical-looking robe, which I nervously zip shut. He asks if I’m ready, opens a door and beckons me inside, and suddenly I’m standing next to five dead bodies.

Five. Dead. Bodies.

I’m in the prep room, the work area where the embalming is done. It’s narrow with bright lighting, there are six fluorescent rectangles in the ceiling. At one end of the room is a sink, some equipment, and a white table. On either side of the room are five gurneys, lined in rows. On each gurney lies a body, draped in a white sheet, head exposed.

They all appear to be elderly. Their hair is stringy and white and their faces are pointed towards the fluorescent ceiling and there is a thick, choking smell of sweetness and chemicals in the air. Their eyes are closed and their skin looks waxy and I cannot help thinking of horror movies and zombies and creaking limbs that move even after life is long gone.

I stare and stare and when Joe says he’ll be right back, I chase him out of the room, practically trampling on the back of his dress shoes. “I’ll just . . . come with you,” I say, and Joe laughs.

I follow him back to the Tali-Van and he rolls the body out, using a collapsible gurney. The body belongs to an old woman who died under hospice care at home, so picking her up was a straightforward process. Sometimes Joe has to go to hospitals or nursing homes, sometimes the police need to be involved when he takes a body.

He pushes the draped, rolling gurney back up the ramp and into the prep room. This time the bodies aren’t quite so startling, and I take the time to look more carefully at each of them. Each of their heads is carefully propped on a plastic block, their hands crisscrossed under the sheets on their chests.

Joe tells me he has a job for me, and I blanche before I see the iPod in his hand. “Pick out some music,” he says, amused. I choose Bob Seger. “Like a Rock” starts playing through some unseen stereo and Joe cracks his knuckles. “Ready?” he asks.

Truthfully, I’m not completely, 100% sure, but I nod and furtively zip my robe a little tighter.

Joe rolls the gurney containing — oh, let’s call her Lady X — close to the white prep table at the end of the room. He squirts a gel-like substance on the table, which he tells me makes it easier to slide the body, and cuts Lady X’s clothes off.

With practiced movements he slides Lady X from the gurney onto the table and she tumbles slightly, her limbs kind of collapsing around her, and my brain is helplessly stuttering DEAD, DEAD, that’s a DEAD PERSON, and now there she lies, her naked body white and sagging.

Joe makes note of her jewelry, scribbling in a book. “Yellow bracelet. Yellow watch. Yellow earrings.” I ask why he doesn’t list them as gold, because they clearly are, and he says that funeral directors have to be careful not to make assumptions about the value of a deceased’s jewelry. Otherwise they can be held liable for a “diamond ring” that was really cubic zirconium.

Lady X has a catheter, and Joe removes that (I decorously look away, for some reason) and puts it in a container labeled BIOHAZARD. He begins to “block” the body, arranging the body into a position that will be later viewed in a casket. The hands are placed on the body’s midsection, left over right so the wedding ring is visible. The head is balanced on a plastic block, and the feet are rested against another block.

I ask if they need to leave those blocks there forever, and Joe tells me no, the bodies become stiff and hold their position. He demonstrates by removing one of the blocks behind the head of a dead man in a nearby gurney: the head moves only slightly, somewhat gummily on the stem of his neck.

I find it profoundly disturbing to see the man’s head unsupported, and breathe a secret sigh of relief when Joe replaces the block.

Now Joe explains he’s going to cut into the neck and tie off the arteries. The embalming process involves moving chemicals throughout the body’s circulatory system, fluid typically runs through the carotid artery and drains from the jugular. Joe needs to locate these arteries, and isolate them. He does this now so he can focus on restoring the face before beginning the embalming.

He uses a scalpel to cut into Lady X’s neck, just below the clavicle on her right side. I wince as the blade enters her flesh, but it is surprisingly bloodless. White skin peels open and reddish layers of tissue lie underneath, which Joe digs into with two small metal tools until he finds the carotid artery, which looks like a thick white rubber band. “Can you see okay?” he asks. “Come over to this side.”

I try and shake off my squeamishness and walk around to the other side, closer to where Joe is working, and peer into the wound as Joe uses string to tie off the carotid, then does the same with the jugular, which is a large blueish-purple vein. Lady X is left with a hole in her neck, the skin peeled back and two veins protruding outward, tied with string.

“Now we set the features,” Joe says. He uses a shaving brush to sweep on soft white clouds of shaving cream, explaining that every face benefits from a shave, even women who only have peach fuzz, because the mortuary makeup that is later applied looks better on smooth skin.

He shaves Lady X in swift, efficient strokes, and there is something gentle about this, something almost ancient. Like the ritualistic washing of a body in some cultures. It looks tender, at least until Joe uses a small hose to aim a stream of water down Lady X’s face to remove the cream — this somehow reminds me of the rinse cycle in a carwash.

Joe uses something called stone oil on her face, smoothing it on her skin and under her eyelids. It moisturizes the face and helps keeps the eyes from drying out, he tells me. He arranges her head with the nose pointed slightly to the right, which will tilt her head towards the viewers when she’s in her casket.

“I like to clip the nose hairs,” Joe says while doing so. “It’s the little things that make a good embalming.”

To keep the eyes closed, he slips a plastic disk under each eyelid (once again, I look elsewhere, because I don’t want to see her actual eyeballs). The eye cap looks like an opaque contact lens with serrated edges on one side, which hook into the flesh of the eyelid and prevent them from rolling back and scaring the bejesus out of someone during the funeral. He massages the skin around the eyes and makes certain the inner corners aren’t gapped open, too.

Now he’s got to set her mouth in a position that looks rested and natural. He gets out a tool called a needle injector, and before I can brace myself he aims the tool against Lady X’s upper gum line and shoots a small metal stud into her jaw with a distressingly loud noise. The stud is connected to a wire, which is used to thread through the lips to sew the mouth shut. He triggers the needle tool a few more times — KA-CHUNK! KA-CHUNK! KA-CHUNK! — and sighs in frustration. “Her gums are no good,” he says, and he pulls out the studs with a fleshy tearing sound.

I shudder.

Next he gets out a long, curved needle with thread on the end of it, and he uses it to pierce Lady X’s jaw, lips, and winds the thread through her entire jaw and nose. The needle passes through her septum at one point, going in one nostril and out the other.

In an effort to distract myself slightly from the sight of the needle punching through her soft tissues, I ask how many people require this hand-sewing. Joe says about one in five, but some funeral directors actually prefer this method.

Joe fusses over Lady X’s mouth for a long time, lining her gums with a plastic piece called a mouth former. He packs in cotton webbing cut into small strips, which absorbs any seepage and provides form to the loose, collapsed mouth of the dead. “This is the hardest part,” he says. “You want a hunter’s bow shape here.”

I take a good look at Lady X. Her mouth is ever so slightly curved at the edges — not as though she were about to smile, but in a way that implies comfort. I’m amazed by the difference he’s already made. Joe makes a few more small adjustments, then he reluctantly decides he’s done.

“You’re a perfectionist,” I say. “Nah,” he replies, shrugging, but I can see him looking at her mouth, trying to figure if there’s any way he can improve the job.

Now it’s time to start the actual embalming. This particular process is called arterial embalming, which uses a mechanical pump to inject chemicals into the body via its circulatory system. Joe chooses from a set of bottles, pouring them one by one into the reservoir of the embalming machine. He uses something called an arterial conditioner, the traditional formaldehyde, a tinted humectant, and a dye. The combinations creates a disinfectant, preservative, and restorative solution that will be injected into Lady X.

It is bright pink and smells horribly sweet. It is familiar, as I realize that’s what the room smelled of before, but the odor gets cranked up now until it’s like a physical thing lining my nostrils and throat.

Joe sprays disinfectant on Lady X’s body, then uses a pair of small scissors to snip into her exposed jugular artery. He gets out a long metal pair of forceps, which he slides inside the hole in her vein. He pushes the forceps deep down into her chest, all the way inside of her heart, then opens them about an inch.

I ask over and over, “Really? It’s all the way in her heart?” because I can hardly believe it. But it’s true: the metal tool Joe is holding goes all the way in her heart.

He then snips a hole in the exposed carotid artery, and inserts the arterial cannula, which is a nozzle of sorts attached by tube to the embalming machine, and turns on the machine’s pressure.

Chemicals from the machine’s reservoir are now being pumped into Lady X’s carotid, circulating throughout her body, and coming back out the hole in her jugular. Along with her blood, of course. I watch dark blood and chemical water sluice down the white table and into the drain, and I guess I probably would have found this unbelievably gross before I walked in this room, but it’s not nearly as bad as the jaw-puncturing.

Joe massages her body to loosen blood and move clots through her system. He motions to the slowed-down trickle at her neck and tells me it’s because she’s got too many clots, it’s clogging up the circulation. He holds the forceps and saws them back and forth a bit while widening the opening in her vein, and a fierce gush of coagulated blood floods out. “She’s going great guns now!” he says happily.

The clots, now, those are pretty gross. I wrinkle my nose as lumps float down the table. “Where does this stuff all go?” I ask.

Answer: the sewage system. Oh.

Joe uses a pair of scissor handles to lightly crunch down on Lady X’s fingernails, which leaves them a softly glowing pink as a result of the embalming fluids. “Old funeral director trick,” he tells me. I raise my eyebrows in appreciation. “Nice,” I say, because I am a Salty, Been-There-Done-That Funeral Assistant now.

I ask when he knows to stop, and Joe says he can tell by looking at the body. “See how she’s looking better?” he asks, showing me her arms and legs. Her skin is filling out a little, turning a rosier color.

After ten minutes or so Joe decides Lady X is finished, so he stops the machine and cleans off the table with some running water. He sews shut the hole in her neck. “Just your basic baseball stitch,” he tells me as he quickly and carefully runs a needle in and out of her skin. He’ll cover this area with wax or with clothing, when she’s readied for viewing later.

He shampoos Lady X’s hair, using a bottle of what I think is Suave. His funeral home has a hairdresser on staff who will fix Lady X later, working from a photo. However, Joe will be the one to apply makeup, which he won’t do until right before the viewing. He shows me the cabinet of mortuary makeup, and my eyes helplessly fix on a small container labeled “INFANT TINT”. I think, not for the first time, that while it’s one thing to watch this process being done to an elderly person who died of natural causes, it would be quite different if the body belonged to an accident victim, someone younger, or — impossible, absolutely unthinkable — a baby.

Now Joe has to deal with the body’s cavities, which do get embalmed during the circulation method but require stronger saturation. He could wait a day or so until the organ walls harden a bit, which makes them easier to penetrate, but he decides to finish it now.

Joe takes a tool called a trocar, another wandlike device, and unceremoniously plunges it into Lady X’s midsection. He wields it like a plastic surgeon (it is, in fact, the same tool used during liposuction), pushing it into her heart, lungs, esophagus, bladder, liver, and intestines. The trocar vacuums out the contents of these cavities, through a clear plastic tube connected back to the drainage system. Stuff moves through the plastic tube with a wet sucking noise as he shoves the trocar around.

He attaches a bottle to one end of the tube, and uses the same wand to inject cavity fluid into the body, to preserve Lady X’s organs. His final task is to rub stone oil all over Lady X’s face, and screw a plastic “trocar button” into the hole in her midsection (to prevent leakage).

I muse over the fact that every single modern embalmed man and woman resting in caskets all over U.S. graveyards has one of these plastic buttons in their body. I wonder if future generations will find them in the strata someday, bones and flesh gone but the button still there.

Lady X is wheeled to the side of the room, joining all the other bodies whose faces are shining with oil. I’m surprised to see that their faces look rested to me now, fixed in calm dignity rather than being fiercely held by death’s grip.

When it comes time for their viewing, they will be dressed (sometimes with only the top half of their clothing), their faces will be made up, and their hair will be styled. They will lie in a gleaming wooden box, and their loved ones will gaze upon them.

“I’ve seen people get angry,” Joe tells me. “The loved ones left behind sometimes yell at the body, tell them off. It’s not always a Hallmark moment.” He pauses for a moment. “But they always, always feel better for having had the chance to see them one last time.”

I never understood why the dead were painted and made to look alive, but now I see that’s not really the purpose. Watching Joe at work, I see that he restores bodies to a restful state, rather than an unnatural one. They don’t look like they’re going to sit up in the casket and say howdy, they look dead.

They do, however, look readied for a journey; dressed up, cleaned, and arranged just so. He creates an environment that helps people say goodbye.

I picture the great web of people Joe has influenced, whose tears have soaked the shoulder of his suit jackets, whose loved ones’ bodies he prepared for their last reunion, and I am proud of what he does, every detail. I couldn’t do it. Most people couldn’t. But I’m glad that he can.

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Caitlin
Caitlin
17 years ago

Write a book already. Damn that was good.

DiWriter
17 years ago

Wow – As I’m sitting here, pregnant and facing a birthday, this made me think about life in a whole new way.

I’m with Caitlin, above.
Write the book.

Pete
Pete
17 years ago

“I PUT THE FUN IN FUNERAL”, what a great post.

Heather B.
17 years ago

Excellent, Linda.

I’d be curious to know what JB thinks of his brother’s career…? Has he ever sat and watched before? And did he find it odd that you wanted to go watch the process?

Sundry
17 years ago

JB started to watch once, but bailed as soon as the needle injector/gums action started.

He’s really proud of Joe, just a little more squeamish than me. I don’t think he thought it was odd that I went, although he did say ‘that’s a hell of a mental picture to have on Christmas Eve’. : )

Julia
Julia
17 years ago

You don’t need to try to sound like a bad-ass journalist – you are a bad-ass journalist! When do you start at the Times or PI? :) I visited a funeral home in high school, kind of along the same lines of a career day. When I got creeped out by the idea that I was standing next to a freezer that had dead bodies in it, I decided it wasn’t for me. But I vaguely remember the smell of the embalming room. Vague because it took me .05 seconds to know that it was NOT for me. But reading your experiences was definitely, interesting. In fact, I had to turn off the Cooking channel because meat was starting to look too much like tissue! What a great read.

Diana
Diana
17 years ago

Absolutely fascinating!

Kym
Kym
17 years ago

You ARE badass. I never would have done that. I truly admire your ability to look at it clinically but also with compassion. I would have cried and thrown up. Your brother-in-law sounds like a wonderful man, too.

JennB
JennB
17 years ago

Fabulous, fabulous. I love it. What a great recreation you paint, and, while I like to consider myself somewhat badass, I could not absolutely not watch that.
Kudos to you, though, for pushing that aside. If it were a baby. Forget. It.

fifi
fifi
17 years ago

Some years ago I read a book “The Undertaking” by Thomas Lynch, which I’m sure you’d appreciate.
Your description was really interesting, I don’t think I could have been as sanguine as you.
When my mother died a while back, I was so pleased that one of the undertakers who brought her to the crematorium was a young man whose love of life, and sense of humour, she would have enjoyed. As it happened, he was the son of a colleague of mine, and the nephew of one of my old school-fellows.

Mary
Mary
17 years ago

That a was fascinating read! Well done! Reminds me a bit of “Stiff” by Mary Roach, but better actually. It had a lot of heart [no pun intended :)] as well as a light touch of humor. I’ve always had a bit of a morbid interest in death and cemetaries (only the old ones). I feel a little odd for that, but after reading this I see why I have an interest. It’s comforting to know that there are people who are willing to devote their career to taking care of those who pass for those who are left behind. It gives a sense of comfort and serenity to a very scary part of life — death.

Ashley
17 years ago

That was awesome to read!
So do you feel different after watching that?

Dawn
17 years ago

Man, there is no way I could have stood there and watched this without keeling over, as I’m feeling woozy just reading it. However, thank you for this – it was absolutely fascinating, and well-written as always.

angela
17 years ago

this entry rules! i wish i could have seen that.

until recently, i was also immune and desensitized to violence or whatever on TV. but something clicked, and now when someone dies in a movie or when someone is hurt, or even if they’ve just had a bad hand dealt to them in life, i become emotional and misty eyed. i still watch these movies, but i feel more human now that i react to them like i do now. i think it’s good to be reminded that life is fragile, so that way we enjoy what we have and live for today.

/cheese

erica
17 years ago

Fantastic post. I was so jealous that you got to see an embalming, but reading this made me feel like I was there, too.

Joe seems awesome. When I die, I want someone to treat me with that kind of care and attention to detail. Only without the gum action.

Liz in Australia
Liz in Australia
17 years ago

Wow. What a fascinating post. I really admire your BIL for being able to stay focused and professional but still compassionate. I could never do it. (Infant Tint. Made me cry. A lot.)

I laughed at the bit about Joe deciding that going to the funeral home for work experience would be funny, then staying. I never thought about how people get into the funeral business. Or at least, if I did, I figured that there was a reason for so many firms being “[Undertaker] & Sons”…

lisa
lisa
17 years ago

I remember the first time I walked into the cadaver room at college. Seeing a dead human being on a slab forever changes your view of life. You’ve captured that experience perfectly.

Swistle
17 years ago

This reaffirms my earlier decision to put cremation in my will. And it makes me wish my grandparents hadn’t wanted The Works, because now it freaks me out to know that they had their mouths sewn shut and their eyes clawed shut. That seems really…..creepy, even though I can see why it’s necessary, and why it would be creepier not to.

Jenna
17 years ago

This was a wonderful post. Two days before Christmas, a close friend of mine passed away. He was a very young guy, too young to die so soon, only 19. He was attending mortuary school in Texas, and his story was similar to Joe’s. He worked at the funeral home during high school and was working there when my grandfather passed away last Christmas. I enjoyed this because I always thought that it was strange that he wanted to work at the funeral home, but now I understand why he wanted to go into that field of work. Thank you.

Liz
Liz
17 years ago

What an incredible experience this must’ve been for you. Thanks for posting it!

Colleen
Colleen
17 years ago

Wow. What an intriguing post. Thanks so much for sharing this interesting experience with us.

Deanna
Deanna
17 years ago

I know you’ll get a lot of comments like this, but I’ve lost two in the past 5 years – my only brother and my best friend, both at the age of 32. I have obsessed over what was done with their bodies, a morbid curiosity I know. Thank you for this post. Thank you for being a witness for me, for letting me experience it for myself, through the safety of your words.

Christine
17 years ago

Wow. Just….wow. Thank you for that. Very touching.

oregoncoastgirl
oregoncoastgirl
17 years ago

It’s cool to know what actually happens, thanks.

But you witnessed THAT and are were weirded out at the dressing of an elk? :)

Marieke
17 years ago

Wow… that was fascinating!

We don’t really do embalming in The Netherlands, it’s only permitted for members of the Royal Family and for people who will buried after more than 5 days (e.g. because they have to be flown to their home country first). Virtually everyone will be “on display” in a frozen casket, either at home or in a funeral home, without “doing” anything to their body. Of course they’re washed and shaved and make-up will be put on if necessary, but that’s it usually.

It’s very interesting to read about other ways of preserving bodies, especially since you wrote from a non-professional point of view. Before I forget: that paragraph about the “yellow” jewelery made me wonder how “gold” would be described over here, in a much less “see you in court” society.

It’s a shame my brothers in law have such boring professions: can’t ask them. I love the way you write about your brother in law, he seems a really nice guy!

PoeticaL
17 years ago

I almost died reading that….but thankfully no need for a gut button yet. I’m glad for some reason that I read this.

April
17 years ago

That was a fantastic post! Thanks!

jonniker
17 years ago

I have such an enormous respect for people who work in funeral homes, I cannot even begin to express it. Just thinking about what they go through every day – how much they help people – makes me a little choked up.

I’m fascinated by this, and so glad you went through it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, odd as that sounds, because it’s such an important, rewarding job that is so underestimated. (I am sounding like I’m bringing The Crazy, but I have a neighbor who is a mortician, and I’ve attacked him with the same questions you do to Joe. I never got to go on an embalming, though! Damn!)

Morticians rock.

Erica
17 years ago

That was fantastic to read. I felt like I was there – which is great because I NEVER really could be.

Chiara
17 years ago

I am jealous of your day with Joe! It sounds really weird and cool and sort of scary and sad, and, therefore, awesome. I like thinking about the art and craft of mortuary work; thinking about the ways Joe helps people say goodbye.

Amanda
17 years ago

Oh god! I so don’t want to be embalmed now! Yech!

Really excellent writing, Linda. As usual.

Mary O
Mary O
17 years ago

Oh my god… that was so good. What goes on at the mortuary is something that is so shrouded in mystery to most of us, so this was really interesting to hear what really goes on.

girl in greenwood
17 years ago

Thank you so much for this account! I’m a nursing student and we visited a funeral home as part of our “end of life” unit, but we were not allowed to actually see any embalming or even the room where they do the embalming. We just talked with the funeral director. So thank you for having the experience for me, and for describing it so well! I’m going to forward this post to some of my classmates so they can read it, too.

babs
17 years ago

OMG, you are such an excellent writer! I’ve been catching up on Six Feet Under on Bravo, and have become totally fascinated with funeral homes. You’re right… people like your BIL play such an important role in helping us cope with death. Thanks for capturing it all so wonderfully.

Jeanette
17 years ago

What? No pictures? Just kidding of course. Thanks for that excellent post to satisfy my morbid curiosity.

Jennifer
Jennifer
17 years ago

Wow. Absolutely fascinating. I hung on every word.

Sundry
17 years ago

Jeanette, I would have LOVED to take some photos — but obviously that wasn’t really an option. Nor would they be something anyone would want to see. But still! A cool black and white series of the process would have been awesome.

Meg
Meg
17 years ago

That was the most fascinating blog entry I’ve ever read. This is the kind of stuff you never expect to learn! I think it’s great that you went, and that you think of asking him stuff like if he had to put a head back on. I would have thought he’d laugh and say no – who would have thought it was yes??

Joe sounds like a cool guy. Especially once you described that last part with the card- that’s just awesome!

Dude, I cried when I read the words, “Infant Tint.” I could never be the person to actually use it. And I don’t think I could be strong for people who cry around me. I would always cry with them, and while that might even be okay, I don’t think I could take it for very long, you know? I’m not really as creeped out by Joe’s job, as I am intimidated by it because of the emotional factor. That’s what makes me know I could never do, even if I could manage to get used to the other parts. I am incredibly awed and impressed by him and others in this field, that they do this on a regular basis. I wonder if people ask Joe lots of questions about his work (like you do), or if most people don’t want to discuss it with him, because it’s, you know, DEATH and stuff.

I’m totally going to send this to people. I’m sure lots of people I know will be equally as fascinated as I was. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Linda. I love the way you write, and this is incredible subject matter!

stormy
stormy
17 years ago

I’m so glad there are those “special” people in the world who make our lives easier. I would be proud to know him, too. Thanks J.B.’s brother.

Stacey
Stacey
17 years ago

My best friend got married in her father in law’s funeral home last summer. They didn’t have caterers, so my husband and I were in charge of cleaning up the dishes and rinsing them out in the embalming sink. That was plenty for me. I can’t imgine the real deal that goes on in that room. (shudder)

Bindie
17 years ago

Hey Sundry.

I’ve been reading your blog for a long time. . .and you’ve had some REALLY good posts before, but I really do think this is the best thing you’ve ever written. I was there with you every step of the way!!

Well done!

Josh
Josh
17 years ago

Wow, that must have been an awesome Christmas gift. Even though it probably wasn’t indended to be one. I would really enjoy the dead body part. I wouldn’t do so well with the greiving people. I already don’t care much for strangers, and compassion isn’t my forte.

But to embalm bodies all the time! Man it would be so easy to make my own zombie movie. I would probably be fired. The prospect of playing jokes with the bodies might prove far too aluring for me. I once heard about this guy who made his wife quit her job as funeral director after she put a human ear in his lunch. It serves him right for not packing it himself. But you could string them up on those wheeling hospital thingies. You know, the ones for IV drips, and spray paint the carts black. Then throw some sheer white fabric on em and you’d have some pretty realistic ghosts.

I don’t really get why so many people get freaked out by the macabre, but then I’ve been one of those people that poked roadkill with a stick since I was a little kid. Whether it’s weird or not, thanks for the details in your story. I learned a lot.

Donna
Donna
17 years ago

As always, very well written, interesting, and not something I think about every day. I’d already decided not to be embalmed, you don’t have to be if you pay for refrigeration instead, and you are buried or cremated pretty soon, like within 3 days I think.
What I’ve always hated the thoughts of (from when I worked ambulance) was being put into the wall refrigerators at OMI until an autopsy could be done, I used to hate dropping off bodies there.
I once opened it up and there was a tray full of animal heads waiting to be tested for rabies. I was freaked out because everyone else in there was draped, but the heads were looking at me.
It wouldn’t bother me to work at a funeral home though, it’s not the dead ones you’ve gotta worry about, it’s the live ones. Your bil is someone I think I would be proud to know, respectful, caring and considerate. There is something ancient in caring for a body, I changed my MIL before my hubby saw her, and I was so glad I did, when I turned her on her side, blood gushed from her mouth out onto the bed and then the floor. Had he been in there, he would have never believed that she died in her sleep, she had cancer, and it just finally ate her up. I got everything cleaned up, she looked presentable, he kissed her goodbye on her forehead, and they took her to the funeral home where she was cremated. She had her entire funeral planned and paid for, I highly recommend that too, and all we had to do was chose music and flowers.
If there is a God, he surely blesses morticians.

Fab
Fab
17 years ago

That was eye opening…….and another reminder why i want to be cremated…which I would hope they do without all this……

zu
zu
17 years ago

That was amazingly creepy. I always wondered but I had no idea that they are doing so much to those bodies. Thanks for the info.

Is there anything that they do to the body (some procedure) if the person wants to be cremated only?

Fascinating…

Gertie
17 years ago

I am SO jealous! Thanks for writing about it as a personal viewpoint feels a lot more accurate than something I would watch on tv.

squandra
squandra
17 years ago

You are just one hell of a writer.

Dawn
Dawn
17 years ago

That was really interesting. Thanks for sharing!! I always wondered what goes on “behind the scenes” at a funeral home, but I know that I would never have the guts to stand there and watch it like you did!!

Keri
17 years ago

Umm…ew? I admire your bravery to witness the gore of your BIL’s job. As for the last line? I can see clearly that Joe is definitely JB’s brother, both with a similar sense of humor. =P

SJ
SJ
17 years ago

Wow. I was sitting on the edge of my seat the entire time just waiting for what was going to come next. I admire your ability to sit through something like that. I’m not so sure I could do it myself. And I agree with many others, write a book already.

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