In the manner of another blogger I follow, Caleb Wilde, here are 101 things I have done as a funeral director.
1. Dressed a body in one of my own suits when she had no clothes
2. Put one of my own cashmere scarves on a body to cover an incision
3. Worked a whole day for free
4. Watched a sage-lighting ritual at a hospital
5. Seen fights break out at funerals
6. Listened to a eulogy which included the phrase “my ni**a” several times
7. Had someone yell “Wrong song!” when in fact I played the correct song
8. Lived in a funeral home
9. Celebrated Christmas in a funeral home because I had plans with family and my house was too small; brought them there and served dinner
10. Gotten a gift of homemade jam from a family a month after the cremation
11. Gotten a $300 tip from a family a month after a burial
12. Picked up a murder-suicide couple
13. Embalmed someone with an extra finger. Not a nubbin; it had a nail and was jointed. It was the size of all the other fingers.
14. Embalmed a transgender woman (and presented her in open casket as a woman)
15. Learned to tie a tie, though it still looks better to have men do it
16. Embalmed someone who died in the middle of performing surgery
17. Embalmed children who were tortured to death
18. Embalmed children who died for no apparent reason, too old for SIDS
19. Embalmed the second baby of a couple who lost their first baby as well
20. Signed death certificates in ink before they all became electronic
21. Graduated from the two-year mortuary school program in one year
22. Repaired some items from a child’s gravesite that someone vandalized. Her parents didn’t want them back, so I still have them. That was 12 years ago.
23. Gotten cards from families
24. Been homeless, and still made sure I had the cards, gifts and other sentimental items from these families with me in boxes, stored in whatever car or tent I could live in.
25. Gotten embalming fluid in my eyes
26. Gotten Feature Builder in my eyes (hurts way worse)
27. Gotten someone’s stomach contents sprayed in my face and all over the walls after the aspirator hose disconnected. I stood for several minutes, not moving, simply contemplating grad school.
28. Gotten stuck with suture needles and cut with scalpels
29. Dropped heavy limbs on myself (like when you are working the rigor mortis out of someone’s leg and holding it over your head, if you’re short)
30. Embalmed someone weighing 600 lbs
31. Failed the WA state funeral law exam the first time around
32. Gotten a DUI and couldn’t drive for 90 days
33. Had a mother throw herself on the gurney
34. Had a grandmother throw herself on the casket
35. Organized, if you will, a family of three who arrived in several bags
36. Been on TV driving a hearse at a funeral with 1500 guests. A stadium was used.
37. Been on TV removing a body from a crime scene
38. Been fired
39. Put cremated remains into (literally) 100 tiny glass bottles
40. Dressed someone in a velvet long sleeve jumpsuit with ostrich feathers
41. Put a mother and daughter in the casket together
42. Embalmed a relative
43. Dented a van
44. Accidentally broken a decedent’s jaw
45. And a forearm
46. And a finger
47. And dislocated a shoulder. Embalming is often not gentle.
48. Sutured stab wounds
49. Sutured a cutting suicide
50. Been told I wasn’t any good and needed to go back to school
51. Been told I was one of the best in the business that a 40-year veteran embalmer had seen…that same month
52. Shown cases after the medical examiner told me “absolutely not viewable”
53. Had a case with tissue gas that wasn’t noticed in time, resulting in a completely unviewable appearance right before the funeral and a devastated family
54. Reported my own direct supervisor to the state board for gross negligence, fraud, practicing without a license, theft, and reusing caskets…and that was just what I could physically prove.
55. Locked my keys in the van with a body and had to call a locksmith
56. Seen maggots
57. Seen a body dead for 20 years and disinterred
58. Held someone’s heart in my hand while I worked. Extensive organ donor; family specified heart was not to be donated, and I wanted to see how the embalming fluid would be distributed through the arteries, since the heart is literally the “hub” of this activity. I could feel it working, almost like the heart was beating.
59. Embalmed people who have donated nearly every possible bit of bone, skin, eye and organ tissue
60. Embalmed people who died of AIDS
61. Turned families away, even when I was just a student, because they wanted arrangements that would have disrespected the decedent’s wishes
62. Accidentally picked up the soap when reaching for the incision sealing powder and squirted a big glob of soap into the incision
63. Accidentally cut a dress up the front instead of up the back and had to fix it with glue and stitches
64. Cut an Armani leather jacket up the back
65. Seen a body gored by a bull; huge abdominal puncture
66. Embalmed in the middle of construction happening. I had to work behind sheets draped from the ceiling.
67. Set off the alarms in the medical examiner’s office at 2am trying to find a bathroom
68. Set off the silent alarms at just about every funeral home in Portland, OR when I worked for a removal service
69. Gotten lost in a funeral home where I had worked for nearly a year; had to call my boss on my phone so he could find me. It was kind of a big place.
70. Packed a body full of cat litter after years of looking down on embalmers who use it. It was amazing on a case that was very much not viewable.
71. Lain in a casket
72. Shipped bodies to several countries
73. Had an airline lose a body (and find it a day later, in the wrong country)
74. Had several funeral directors approach me about a boyfriend’s drinking after I got him a job
75. Did a “kosher embalming” where, in the rare case a Jewish person must by law be embalmed, you save every single drop of blood and anything else that comes from the body and put it in bottles to go in the casket. I spent all day doing this and training an intern, and the next day we found out he wasn’t even Jewish.
76. Saved my own personal embalming scissors the Dodge [chemical company] rep gave me during one of his visits to the funeral home
77. Gotten a funeral related tattoo (incision marks)
78. Mercilessly pranked fellow students (in ways not involving human remains)
79. Saved the dumbbells taken from a case who jumped in the river with them. His family didn’t want them back.
80. Broken veins
81. Broken arteries
82. Dissected tissue further up or down the limb to find the broken end of the vessel
83. Observed the autopsy of a 101-year-old woman; family “just wanted to see what happened” and paid thousands for that. Doctor’s words were: “She was old. She died.”
84. Painted toenails
85. Let families view the feet when they ask (now you know why)
86. Let families view unembalmed bodies
87. Let families view motorcycle-wrecked bodies before embalming
88. Talked families into home funerals they didn’t know were an option
89. Canceled a burial last minute because the decedent’s mother had remembered it was her own birthday
90. Embalmed a radial and ulnar artery on the same hand
91. Used a hidden suture technique
92. Completely hidden a cranial incision on a bald head with hidden suture, wax and cosmetics
93. Done removals at hoarder homes
94. Waged an all-out war on genealogical requests
95. Had a female manager grab my leg to make sure I wasn’t wearing jeans (charcoal slacks from Banana Republic)
96. Brought my dog on removals when they were two-hour drives and I hadn’t seen him all day
97. Brought my dog to work after hours when I had late night prep work; had him stay in the garage
98. Embalmed a murdered TSA worker
99. Injected ten separate vessels on a single intact body
100. Used an electric spatula to literally iron someone’s swollen eyelids
101. Embalmed a man who appeared to be in his mid-fifties, who looked very athletic and died with a smile on his face. I was curious about what had killed him, so I looked for his death certificate. The cause was unremarkable, but he was actually 102 YEARS OLD. No wonder he was smiling. He had finally gotten away from it all, and looked better than men literally half his age.