C J Talks About: The Funeral Service Profession-PT. 1
A note from C J : Here are my thoughts about funeral service work. I speak only for myself here.
Sometimes I am asked about ‘what really happens’ behind the scenes in the funeral home, morgue, or crematory. I welcome these questions, because as a funeral professional, part of my work is to inform or educate about various aspects that concern handling and care of the deceased, disclosure of details and terms of funeral price lists and purchase contracts, resources outside of the funeral home that may be helpful for families seeking grief support, etc.
Personally, I felt I was called to this work. Much as a priest or nun is called to their vocation, it is something you know that you are truly gifted at and uniquely talented to help your client families as you offer comfort, empathy, and solace to them in their darkest hours of need. You cannot pretend to have the ability, you MUST have it.
When I was entrusted with the care and preparation of a deceased person, in my mind and in my heart, I treated that person as if he or she were MY own dear family member. How would I want John Doe to handle my dad? With reverence, decency, and dignity, AT ALL TIMES.
When I would get a person on the table, about whom I only had an embalming order and a name, with no details or foreknowledge of the person’s life or sometimes what caused their death, I could only wonder about what kind of person they were in life. I carefully bathed them, embalmed them, dressed them, with an eye to every detail, doing the very best work I knew how to do. I painstakingly spent countless hours of my OWN time to ensure they were appropriately cosmetized, and that means restoring facial trauma, using techniques and methods of plastic surgery and restoration art I was taught in mortuary science college and in my apprenticeship.
I actually got a written reprimand for working on my own time while I was employed in a large corporate-owned establishment. I didn’t care about getting paid, for me it wasn’t about a paycheck. I was working for Mr. Jones’ family (the deceased) NOT ‘such and such mortuary’. When the big corporates started to buy up all the small independently or family-owned funeral homes across the globe, they began to attempt a ‘standard procedure’ or “McDonaldization” of them…I protested loudly because THIS work is NOT one in which you can mold all things into a category, treat all people the same, do all work to satisfaction without going into overtime. THIS WAS DEATH!! Death is a deeply personal, highly complex experience. This isn’t the Cadillac dealership, where there is a shop rate for repairs. Every deceased body had its own unique needs, and some bodies needed extraordinary effort and time if they were going to be viewed. If they weren’t willing to pay me for it, so what? I WAS THE SPECIALIST into whose hands the talent lie, the one doing this delicate and extremely important work to enable that last chance to see their loved one. Let me do my work! I habitually spent hours beyond my usual workday and some of my days off. Many hours. This got me into trouble more than once. It was worth it, trouble or not. Considering the price of compounding the tragic grief of a family doing a half-assed job, no way was I going to let them down.
In reality, the manager at that time was trying to put me out the door. He was all business, 9-5, no ifs, ands, or buts. He was a lousy embalmer, too lazy to give much of a shit when it came to adhering to any of the prevailing embalming rules of safety or in practicing accepted methods or techniques. He had no talent in that department, I felt. So my dedication pissed him off. It showed him up and he disliked me intensely for that. It wasn’t right. But he was a much more qualified manager. One that could punish someone like me and turn me into the corporate poster child for breaking rules. I was the “No-No Girl.” I often wondered if he was ever appropriate to be in the profession.
TO BE CONTINUED…
© C.S. Thompson, 2013.