Or rather: “What would you like your mother to wear?”

It doesn’t matter if we’re “just gonna burn her up.” She needs to wear something. She can wear a sheet, she can wear a hospital gown, but she cannot wear nothing.

My purpose isn’t necessarily to see that all my cases are fully dressed; it’s to get people talking and thinking about things they may never have considered. I see death every day; you probably do not. Most people have no idea what happens from the body’s arrival at the funeral home to the date of the service. You probably know your father was placed in some sort of refrigeration. But what does that mean? Where is it? It could be in the very next room, or it could be in another city. You should know.

Some refrigeration units hold only one or two bodies, while others are the size of a warehouse and have people stacked to the ceiling. You should be curious about what it means when you are told he is “in refrigeration.” Is he in a drawer in a wall? On some sort of shelf? Stacked in a pile? I was impressed with one removal technician when I heard him explain to the family, “We’re going to wrap him in a sheet, and place him inside a thin plastic liner. Then we will slide him onto our gurney and cover him with a quilt. You are welcome to observe all of this, or wait in another room. Then, we will roll him into our van and drive him to the funeral home. He’s going to be placed in a refrigerated room and he will be on his own shelf. His name will be written on the shelf and in our log book, and a director will call you in the morning. Do you have any questions?” He explained everything as though he were speaking to someone who had lost a loved one for the first time, which sometimes is the case. Most people do not see death every day. Most people do not know what a Cremation Permit is. You cannot explain too thoroughly.

So maybe you don’t want to bring clothes for your mother, whom you do not plan to view and who is being cremated. Maybe you don’t see the point. I can understand not wanting to pay for dressing for a body you will not view – more on those charges in another post – but some funeral directors, myself included, will not charge you extra if the clothing is simple and if there is no viewing. Even if your mother would scoff at the idea of burning up clothing, how about the idea of lying in a box naked in full view of the crematory staff and any interns who happen to be working that day? Maybe there are caskets and flowers being delivered. Maybe the police are there taking prints. A mortuary can be an extremely busy environment and sometimes we run out of room. I have had to work while stepping around several other dead people, some of whom were stacked two to a table.

(Note: for some reason, I have only seen bodies stacked after embalming. Never in the cooler. Even if you bring in a fetus in a tub, he gets his own shelf.)

Also, consider the people who might work in a crematory. Most crematory operators I have known are very good people and know how to act appropriately. Many had cremated their own mothers, and I would trust my mother with them as well. But that is not the case everywhere. Occasionally, a crematory operator or assistant will be a mortuary school dropout or a convicted felon who could not obtain a funeral director’s license. Sometimes they’re college kids, or the sons and nephews of the funeral home owner who pushed them into the business when they have no desire to be there. They do not always have the most respectful attitudes.

A crematory operator might burn ten bodies a day. Since no one wants to make ten trips to and from the cooler all day, he may wish to get this out of the way soon and just take all ten bodies and line them up at the crematory, for anyone to see as they walk by. In some funeral homes, the crematory is set up so that all staff have to walk through it to get anywhere else. This means that if you don’t want your mother dressed, she might be lying naked in a box all day and be seen by dozens of people.

Can I please just put a hospital gown on her? It matters.

This is why, when dressing a body for public viewing, I ask for bras, underwear, stockings, and shoes. I paint toenails that no one will see, then I dress them in the nylons and the shoes that also will not be seen. I had one lady who was a cosmetologist so I made sure her pedicure had a base coat and top coat, which no one saw. I dress all bodies in adult diapers, and then over that diaper I will put on the thong or the boxers you brought. It matters.

A question that makes every mortician laugh is “They don’t need pants, do they?” Yes. They need pants. People think that in an open casket, the body is viewed from the ribcage up, when it’s more like the upper thighs and up. Your crotch is not covered. And, more importantly, I’m guessing your mother didn’t walk around with no pants. Why put her to rest forever with no pants?

I like to put people to rest the way they would have wanted to be in life.