For the first time since my brother’s memorial service, I cried at a funeral.

I did a really nice job on my friend. He was positively glowing; guests were literally gasping over him and crowding around to take pictures and I came away from it feeling like I had done something nice for a fellow embalmer; the way he would have wanted. I got several more requests from other embalmers to work on them, which of course I said I’d do. His body was held for two weeks before the service, and I was checking on him the entire time, making sure he got good fluid distribution and wasn’t dehydrating. I buffed his nails. I used my personal cosmetics on him, I mean live-people makeup.

I sat in one spot for a solid six hours and just…stared at the open casket. I remember bringing my dog in case I needed comforting, but I left him in the car the whole time and I didn’t move at all.

And now I’m depressed. The funeral and burial are over, I’ve been to the graveside, and now it’s just…work, but without my friend. Without trading stories and one-upping each other. Now it’s just other work people.

So, I thought it would be a good time to list my 20 most depressing cases/services/times in this business, the times that make others wonder why anyone would do this job.

Because I can’t imagine doing anything else.

  1. One of my first infant cases. I dressed him in this little tuxedo outfit that was far too large for him. He was the second baby this couple had lost. I wonder if they stopped trying.
  2. A man who hanged himself in his garage and was found by his disabled mother. She was partially immobile and lived in a hoarder home. They were a Jewish family and I needed to get special permission from the Rabbi to have him buried in the Jewish cemetery. Fortunately a lot of religious leaders are now realizing that suicide can be a symptom of mental illness, and God doesn’t punish those who were not in control of their actions.
  3. The 2-year-old rape victim whose mother went to McDonald’s in the middle of the service
  4. The 2-year-old who just never woke up from a nap. He had a twin brother. I wonder when the brother stopped asking about him.
  5. The 13-year-old who went to the school nurse with a headache and was dead by that evening
  6. Cutting down a teenager who hanged himself in his room
  7. The baby who drowned in the bathtub while each of the parents thought the other was watching him
  8. The young man who got a motorcycle for his 21st birthday and died in a wreck later that day
  9. The 18-year-old who shot himself in front of his parents
  10. The middle-aged man who shot himself in front of his wife
  11. The military man who poured gasoline on himself and lit himself on fire in front of his wife
  12. The one-year-old who died of neglect after being left in a car overnight
  13. The four-year-old beaten by three adults simultaneously
  14. The 80-something man who shot himself while his wife was in a mental hospital. She was so heavily medicated she barely knew what was happening during the arrangements and service.
  15. The man who shot his wife, young children and himself. I had to turn down this case because my facility was too small to hold what would be hundreds of mourners.
  16. The 12-year-old killed by a 13-year-old with a gun stolen from an 11-year-old
  17. Having to tell a family who were so certain their sister had been strangled that she had actually been stabbed 27 times and therefore couldn’t wear the sundress they picked out for her
  18. The 15-year-old who shot himself in the head with a shotgun, and died over a day later
  19. The mother who lost a son to murder and a son to suicide in the space of three weeks
  20. Old couple with Alzheimer’s, living in separate care facilities. The wife died, and the husband had no idea where he was during the funeral. He kept asking “Whose funeral is this?” and someone would explain to him that his wife had died. He burst into tears, and then promptly forgot the conversation and would again ask whose funeral it was. This went on for several minutes. This poor man felt that first hard hit of grief over and over again.