Episode 27: Mind Over Matter
Today, I am going to tell you a story CJ related to me, recently. We had been discussing problems and difficulties, in general. We talked of some of the more difficult things to deal with as an embalmer and restorative artist. She told me about her first days as an apprentice, about some of the things which she hadn’t expected to find so hard to learn. She said she managed to work through a lot of them, but not without looking at the situations in a different light. Attitude and thought adjustment, she claimed, were key.
CJ learned many years ago that she was going to have to mentally turn certain unpleasantries around in order to get herself through them. For example, when she was learning how to perform tasks involved with embalming. Right away she found that it was difficult to do the cavity embalming.
For those that are unfamiliar with the procedure, the easiest way to describe : it is probably ( in CJ’s own opinion, it IS) the most important detail in embalming, due to the nature of what the cavity (abdominal contents are the main vital organs and digestive tract) holds. There are a multitude of various bacteria which occur there in life, and these bacteria translocate after death. It is imperative to keep this post-mortem activity to a minimum by applying very specialized chemicals (containing formaldehyde and other strong disinfectants) to this area.
To do this, the embalmer must first take an instrument called a trocar (long tube with a sharp point) to suction the natural fluids out (this is the very instrument that surgeons use to perform liposuction to remove fat) and then replace that removed fluid with the preservative and disinfectant by reinserting trocar needle to distribute the chemical.
The cavity is where decomposition of a dead body truly begins and is the source of the worst post-mortem problems—that is why refrigeration is mandatory, if embalming is not desired or chosen. It is optimal to embalm if there will be a viewing of the body…obviously. That is due to the preservative which slows the decomposition, therefore making the body much safer to expose to the living, generally. Disinfection kills a lot of the harmful germs and microbes, but cannot kill or slow them all, of course. The technique is a vigorous one, which involves full insertion of this 24″-30″ long instrument.
CJ worried about how she was going to go about this task without becoming emotionally tormented. The very first time the task was shown her, Mr. B. could see this. So, he told her to take the trocar into her hands, he placed his hand over hers, and he guided her hand in the task. As they did this together, her fear dissolved, but the unpleasant task still caused tears to run down her cheeks. It seemed so violent. She HAD to find a way to think of ‘something else’ instead of what she was doing, if she was ever going to master this process.
It didn’t take her long to come up with the ideal thing. She began to think of her ex-husband. Breaking free of the violent marriage, the abuse was physical and emotional; he had been a monster, especially the very final day she lived with him. She left at the end of that most bloody day. She was lucky to be alive…she decided she could never, ever go back after that.
The anger and rage she felt for his mistreatment of her fueled her resolve to make him a permanent part of her past — but she had long secretly wished she could have exacted some painful revenge for it. Of course, she never did so.
So, when it got to the task of cavity work, she just imagined it was her ex-husband lying there on that table.
It was perfect! In no time, it seemed she was mastering the technique and doing a very thorough job of it. Mr. B. noticed how well, indeed. He asked her how she overcame her fear to do such a good job.
She told him the secret behind her method. Then, they laughed together, so hard, that there were tears rolling down Mr. B’s cheeks. (Years later, when CJ and the ex were on good terms, she even told HIM this very story — and, even HE had to laugh about it!)
Sometimes after that, he’d come through to inspect a body later, poking and testing for firming and overall preservation of the remains. He’d smile at CJ, signaling his approval of her work and then he’d say, “You must have been thinking pretty hard about that ex-husband today!”
And that is the story of how CJ conquered her first challenge (formerly known as an obstacle or problem). It was, simply put, mind over matter!