Teen motorcycle wreck found by his mom. He has to look perfect. I rebuilt features. There was a drill used.
I sank fifteen hours into him, told the director if my fee was an issue I would donate my time, and he looks…well, you know, amazing. One for the personal pride log. I should be pumped. But I’m not, because the parents haven’t seen him yet and only they will know if it looks like him. I’m already thinking of things I would do differently next time.
I’m really loving that airbrush machine! It’s been a money-maker, for one, and it was cheap to begin with. Fits right in my bag (Yes, local funeral directors, I will rent it to you; better yet, I’ll show you how much better this kind of makeup looks on normal cases too.) I love the work I can do with it. But I learned it doesn’t work too well on hands, or maybe I’m just not yet experienced enough. On this case, I found the hands looked a lot better with traditional mortuary opaque cosmetics, wax and paintbrushes.
When I started this blog, three years ago, I just recycled old pieces I’d written back in school or about a few interesting days. Now it’s mostly real time, but there are some cases I can’t say much about without the chance of identifying them. I can just say this case was why I do what I do, and I hope the image I was able to restore will bring some comfort. They were adamant that I not hide the hands, the way we usually will on these types of cases when no one wants to take the extra time. I requested the extra day and offered to donate it because many people do not realize exactly how long it takes to do something like this. Ideally I would still like to have had one more day, but I can’t, it’s done, maybe if he hadn’t been so young they could have waited.
I ended up taking apart my own work three times. I was in contact with the funeral director for this case, 90 minutes away, and she mentioned she had a kind of wax I didn’t have, and I had to use a different wax that wasn’t as good, so I got a metal tool and scraped off all the sort-of-ok wax, loaded up a kid with a shattered head into my van, finally got that low tire filled, got three lemon Rockstars and two protein bars, and drove to a funeral home 50 miles away to use their wax. I did precisely that for seven hours. Finally I just had to call it good. I set him up in the viewing room and played with different lights and he looks…like a child in a casket. Horribly out of place. The best work I will ever do is always an unimaginable horror no one ever wants to have to look at.
He died violently, and I didn’t get a “read” on him. I never do. I am not a spiritual person. Only one case has ever spoken back to me and it wasn’t a violent death. A lot of parents will ask me, “Do you think it hurt?” And I am not nice. If I think he maybe sort of looks like he died in pain, I will find a way to say it to these parents so they will leave the funeral home with a peaceful and subdued understanding, but I will say it, and they will understand exactly what I meant.
But if I don’t know, I don’t make stuff up to seem more in tune. And this kid…I don’t know. No idea what it felt like.
If getting beaten up can invoke some kind of survival response that shuts off pain and then gives you hours of pain-free energy, so you can run off to work and embalm a body and pick up two more bodies…maybe something similar happens while dying violently. I imagine it doesn’t exactly “hurt.” It’s probably a general sense of something really unpleasant occurring. I imagine I would sort of lie there and think about stuff, any stuff, just any kind of stuff I can put in my mind that isn’t this.
I have almost died maybe…twice?…from drugs and once in a small (drug-related) fire while sleeping, but since I haven’t been in a serious accident, I haven’t had that experience of panic or whatever at the end; the realization that the end is now here. I have always just sort of assumed I will die violently. Maybe young, maybe old, but it will be graphic and it will hurt. It will be a gun or blade. It will be preventable, but no one will prevent it. I will feel metal and things tearing and breaking. This assumption has no evidence, no basis in fact, it’s just a thing I believe will happen and maybe I will be proven wrong and I will die of the flu next week. Lame.
She has the gun now and asks if I am afraid of death. I calmly tell her no. I don’t tell her I am afraid of dying in the woods with her and possibly being fed to her dogs. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The two of us start laughing, crying, laughing again. She’s crying from laughing so hard. I am for a different reason. I didn’t want it to be like this. But is this it?
If it doesn’t happen like this now, will it be worse when it finally does? At least this time it’s a gun. It will be over soon. She hasn’t seen that I’ve completely relaxed, she’s fixated on the gun. I am fixated on her, and on her hand on my throat, seeing what I will do. I do nothing. I am going to die looking up at 1000 kinds of beauty.
Ok, that works. Let it happen.
And of course, nothing happened. I had met a strange person – imagine that – who enjoyed getting a rise out of people by talking about shooting. I didn’t give her the reaction she was hoping for, but I did learn that I am more afraid of not getting the perfect death “environment” than I am of the actual painful death. I am very oriented toward symbolism, meaning, associations. This was actually my exact reason for being interested in funeral service. Rituals to mark an event.
With this kid’s face, I had to keep reminding myself the parents do not have high expectations. I notice things, like how the cranial bones never really come together like a puzzle when so many are missing or destroyed, the lines of demarcation where I fused the newly created features to his natural skin, and how his mouth is just set in one position, the neutral-pleasant one. I can’t work the facial muscles to try and create a small hint of a smile, as if he’s saying everything’s OK. The parents aren’t going to see any of that. They aren’t going to measure his head and say hey now, this isn’t the way he was, why didn’t you do your job?
I ordered a few more things to make the next one easier, some new clamps and airbrush colors. The epoxy never got dry enough, and while it helped, drilling and wiring helped more. I am a little hesitant to carry my nice drill with me, the one my dad got me to celebrate a bodybuilding win. I said I needed a drill to build a trophy shelf and I mostly just put it through people’s heads now. The free tote bag I got for spending $400 at Sephora is bulging with machines, instruments, wax kits and various cosmetics. Going in to take some handprints of another case and leave itemized price lists of my restoration services with other funeral homes. People are starting to hear about me and ask for my services. People are starting to see that “not viewable” doesn’t need to be an acceptable answer.