Once you are settled into your funeral service career, it occurs to you that you will most likely embalm, cremate or otherwise personally handle the remains of your closest family members. So you come to terms with it, maybe even discuss it with them. Yes mom, I will personally come to your house and drive you to the funeral home and do the cremation. Maybe some of you have worked on a relative – I have – and it didn’t impact you much.
But there is one thing that wasn’t mentioned in school – that we will also bury our own fellow morticians.
If you are in your 40s, you are considered “young people” in this business. I work with a lot of people in their 70s, and even a few who are over 90. They could retire. But most of us don’t. So if you are 30, 40, 50 years old and have several years in this business, most likely you will be called on to handle the services for your closest friends, mentors, those who saw you through school or who helped you start your business, those who were your family when your own family wasn’t, those who understood your desire to work on Christmas because you understood their desire to work at the age of 90.
Doing the final honors for another embalmer is a whole different ballgame from embalming a relative or someone else not in the business. It takes “is this what he would have wanted” to another level. I brought him Home from the hospital, to what had been his home for twenty years, twenty years of personal tragedies and loving tributes, with two of his closest business associates, after saying our last goodbyes in an intensive care unit and understanding what the others meant when they said “I can’t do it.” “Neither can I, I could never do it.”
“Corinna? Can you do it?”
I can do it. I went straight there after getting off a 22-hour plane ride, and it was so bizarre, how normal and healthy he looked. I may have even been the last person to see him still breathing. The nurse asked if there was any family.
“Just us. We’re all from the funeral home.” And we took him with us, in my car.
The other two stayed, and now wasn’t a time to remind them they weren’t licensed to be there. I know when to break the rules. People ask me if it was easy. After I started, it was easy. It was biology. I was doing my job. I don’t take money when it’s someone in the business, and I have worked on people in the business before, but never someone that I’ve actively grieved and cried over.
I didn’t know him outside of work. But he did visit me the second time I ended up in an involuntary psych ward, and although I was quite embarrassed, I think he knew how appreciated it was. I mean, a busy funeral director has a hundred better things to do than go out of his way to a very unpleasant place to visit a weird coworker.
We all think we go out of our way for our cases, that we treat every decedent like they were our own family, but until you work on someone you know, you won’t know just how much extra effort you can really go to. I want all these bodies cleared out of here and he can stay on my cot instead of going in the cooler and someone needs to go to his house and get his things because I know he didn’t use no disposable razor. What was his favorite embalming fluid? Where did he want the incision done? Did he ever mention this to anyone? Don’t we have any fresh scalpels?
When it’s someone you know, you’ll go in every day to make sure he looks good, to see if there’s any follow-up work that needs to be done. And it’s never really done, because you’ll never know if it was done the way he wanted. You don’t know if you’re checking on your work, or just visiting your friend. You have the added pressure of knowing that both your work and your friend are going to be on display at a very large service.
Last time I did the preparation on a coworker, it was this man who saw that I got recognition at her service for my work. I kind of always assumed he’d be involved in planning my service, not the other way around. I had told him several times what I wanted.
Three gallons of straight Introfiant, six-point injection, hard enough to stand up in a corner
He seemed to mentally file that information away, while disagreeing with my chosen method. He always said I did too many six-point injections. He said a lot of really strange random things. We butted heads a lot. I often got the feeling we were alike in that we had little else going on other than work. This is what we did.
And this is what I do. More than faith, more than family, more than my own basic needs, this is what I do. I hope it was the way he wanted. And most likely, I will do it again for another one.