Archive for the Embalming Room Category

Episode 30: The Potato Chip Mogul

Posted in Celebrities, Charity, Death, Embalming Room, Funeral, Funeral home, Funeral Service Professional, Gratitude, Legacy, Life, Mourning, Personal power, Remembrance with tags , , on January 20, 2015 by Morguie

English: A pile of potato chips. These are Utz...


When CJ was away, attending mortuary college, she had been blessed to find a position inside a rather infamous group of mortuaries in the big city. She worked in a large service center for a conglomerate— inside this service center were many, many people, all deceased, who needed preparation for burial (or cremation). Since the service center served more than a dozen facilities, it was a bustling beehive of activity, in two shifts each day. CJ attended classes in the morning and afternoons so she worked alone at night in this mid-city place.

She was just beginning her shift one evening

, which was just after ordinary close of the office, when she received a call from one of the mortuary executives. Apparently, there would be a delivery that evening of a V.I.P. and she was instructed to handle the embalming of said v.i.p. immediately upon his arrival. Now, you must understand that the rules and strict policy of this service center dictated that all paperwork, especially a signed authorization for embalming, MUST be forwarded to the service center or there would be NO prep work, period. That also happened to be the law. But mind you, the exec calling for this job was habitual in his ordering of work BEFORE the paperwork was sent. Therefore, the rest of the prep room personnel typically blew the guy off and ignored any requests he would make to do work without papers.

CJ knew he was good for his word…he ALWAYS was. But, she knew he was ‘old-school’ in that he didn’t exactly follow the rules, by the book. She also felt, that because his name was on the sign out front,  that she could rely on his word. So when he called that night, she automatically agreed to do as he asked, because she knew the papers were a formality that would be cleared by morning.

Later, as she worked on this still warm body, she secretly rejoiced that she had an opportunity to ‘knock one out of the park’ by delivering to the exec a very well-done body, perfectly preserved and looking so well for his v.i.p. funeral coming within the next few days. What she didn’t know about the v.i.p. is that he would be a particularly well-loved, highly reputed man within this huge metropolis…a special businessman of great fame and fortune. Furthermore, he was nearly considered a living saint in his inner circles; he was a prime benefactor for a nearby university. He’d spent much of his life working to champion educational causes and worthy scholarship opportunities for underprivileged but promising youths of high intellectual quality. Those students he would help would go on to do great and noble things with this higher learning opportunity, thanks to his tireless efforts.

After the v.i.p. had been laid to rest on an afternoon later that week, CJ received a special visit from the exec in charge of the potato chip magnate’s arrangements — the exec came down to the prep room to very ‘publicly’ laud CJ’s efforts in making the man look so good. The exec thanked her so much for her beautiful work to make the v.i.p. look so good for thousands of mourners to view. The rest of the staff took notice. They began to whisper and snicker, right in front of the exec, as he was well aware that they purposefully ignored his instructions all the time. He turned to tell them of the 10,000+ people who came to view this magnate, and the beautiful compliments that came afterward. He proceeded to tell the story of the v.i.p. and the very important accomplishments and contributions the man had made in this huge city. The college stadium was filled with mourners, he told the room. The snickers stopped. Looks of envy were falling across the faces of her more experienced peers. How they wished they could be the ones spoken of so highly. CJ had been the low man on the totem pole — until now. But she had worked hard to earn this praise. Earned it she had, and there was certainly no shame in that.



©C. S. Thompson, 2015.

IF I DIED TODAY — Obituaries — What Will Yours Say?

Posted in Death, Embalming Room, Eulogy, Funeral, Legacy, Life, Memorialization, Planning Ahead, Remembrance, Tradition, Wisdom with tags , , , , , on July 1, 2014 by Morguie

People who are fully engaged in living their lives tend to overlook their own life story. Think about it…while so many of us are busy doing what we do everyday, we seldom pause to think about what it all means in that ‘big picture.’ We often discount our own achievements, accomplishments, and basic significance in life. Most of us would not be comfortable ‘tooting their own horn.’  I sure was in an awkward spot, recently, when I was asked to provide a brief biography for my editor, to be used for a social media web page they were creating as a companion for the magazine I write for.

I’ve never been arrogant or ego-filled. I tend to have self-esteem issues — been that way all of my life. I typically discount my so-called good qualities; instead I am usually focused on my flaws and short-comings when I try to sum myself up. It took a long time to come up with something acceptable to submit.


Have you ever thought to do this for yourself? I want to gently remind you that death is an inextricable part of life. All things that are born, shall cease living someday. No mortal has gotten out alive and come back to tell about it, unfortunately. It is highly doubtful that you will be that mortal.


Where am I?  HEY!!! Where are my PANTS?

SNAP!!! I never thought THIS would actually happen, to ME!


I spent a good chunk of time last weekend trying to craft a fitting obituary for a peer, who was a long-time funeral home owner. He had reached his mid-eighties, finally succumbing to a long-time decline in health. He’d had lived a long life and done much in his time. It was a task which required a summary of all of those years, stated in the most compact and complete way possible. It needed to fit in a small space. I found the task daunting.




I’d had the privilege to go from being a no-nothing greenhorn who performed house removals and transported bodies to ultimately earning the man’s confidence and trust as a knowledgeable and skilled peer. He was of the old school way…a small town and rural community undertaker. He’d dedicated 60 years to his calling.






He was stubborn about the way he stuck to his traditions— and the younger folks in the business often regarded him as a crotchety old geezer, often missing the gifts of what wisdom they could have taken from knowing and working with him. Some  accused him of being a nit-picker and too demanding.  I considered him a mentor. What he showed me or demanded of me, or shared with me…all of it helped to shape my experience as I endeavored to learn the trade.


He was a nit-picker. He was demanding. Why? Because he wanted to serve his families correctly and with all details properly handled. He was serious about his duty to care for the dead and the grieving. That’s everything in the eyes of a good funeral director. I was truly proud when I’d reached a point that he would ONLY speak directly with me when he needed a particular detail handled. I earned his trust and respect…I delivered what he needed, which was not usually such an easy thing to be able to do. If I told him I would, I did. He especially trusted me with the worst kinds of tasks…traumatic deaths with need for extensive reconstruction and restorative work in order to allow for viewing.








I struggled to understand how a life-long funeral director could have left this world without a basic funeral plan…at least an obituary sketched out or written down.  To be asked the favor of my assistance,  was a compliment. I wrote from the perspective I knew, and the family was pleased. They felt it was an obituary which summarized him, his ethic, and his life as succinctly as an obit could; obits are merely a death notice with a general bio, not full accounts of our lives.


As funeral directors, or traditional undertakers, such as he truly could be termed, who deal with death every day, we understand the importance and responsibility of planning our final affairs. We gently preach, but in this case, did not practice.


Death Valley

What will be said of you, when YOUR journey is through?  (Photo credit: |Dusk|)




I have had my own obituary written and tucked away for quite some time, now. I wanted to make it easier for my girls. I wrote down what I’d like it to say, about what I’d managed to do with my lifetime. They are free to add whatever they’d like, when that time comes.

OTHERWISE,  leaving it to someone else may result in…something like this, which fortunately was written by a daughter who had a sense of humor as she told others of her dad:

…it went viral and is worth a read!




What would you like to see in the snapshot written of your full and significant life? Share the story with a brief written life summary of yourself, then put it away with insurance policies, wills, and other vital papers. Once this task is undertaken, there will be peace that it has been done.


This post is part of my series, ‘IF I DIED TODAY.’ Posts in the series are presented with the hope that we can prepare ourselves for our own eventual end-of-life issues before the end comes; so that we may have peace of mind for ourselves and our loved ones may be undistracted by our personal worries. Let’s be allowed to enjoy the final days together, to the fullest.


Such preparation now frees us in many ways, from the very anxiety death creates in us.  Let’s start the conversation and quell our fear.


©2014,Colleen S. Thompson.




C J Talks About: Funeral Service– Part 3

Posted in bereavement, Cemetery, Death, Embalming Room, Eulogy, Friendship, Funeral, Funeral home, Funeral Service Professional, Grief, Life, Losing A Parent, Loss, Love, Memorialization, Mortuary, Mortuary Management magazine, Mourning, Relationships, Remembrance, Tradition, Wisdom with tags on March 23, 2014 by Morguie


English: Funeral Service of Marie Thérèse Raph...

English: Funeral Service of Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle at the Paris Notre Dame, November 1746 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


As I have mentioned before, funerals are important because they serve the living by honoring a cherished loved one. There is so much beauty and grace in the tribute given to someone who touches our lives in a special way. A meaningful and thoughtfully planned celebration of that person’s life will be shared with family, friends, and others who wish to show respect and sympathy expressed over this loss. It helps to reinforce the reality of the death so that the work of mourning can begin.

A good funeral director knows how to work with a family to achieve this. It is a very personalized service, one which is unique to each family and their loved one.

 I absolutely want to crawl into a hole and stay there when I hear someone tell me of an experience they had that was less than optimum, or that they did not get to have the detail they wished, etc. To me there is just really no excuse for people to be served poorly. EVEN WHEN I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, there is a certain amount of shame and embarrassment one feels when news reaches them that somebody else in the profession treated a family rudely, badly, or anything less than perfectly.

You see, the funny thing about a funeral is, you don’t get a ‘do-over’ and there isn’t a rehearsal. One shot to get it right. PERIOD. So everything is about service.


As many of you know, I no longer actively serve in the capacity of ‘funeral director’ or ‘embalmer’ but I will always be those things in my heart and spirit; I was meant to do that work. I was born to serve others, help comfort others, and at one time, my whole “universe” revolved around establishing myself in funeral service and becoming my very best professional self at it. Everything went to hell when I injured my back, thus ending my hard-earned career status all too soon. Barring that, I’d still be there.

My ethic remains. Deep down I know I still belong to that work. So I serve in a different way today —  in writing about it, helping to educate others about things associated with it, answering their questions about it, and generally befriending folks who are grieving and come by to read a little here. I also write professionally focused articles for Mortuary Management  magazine, a funeral service trade journal, each month, which really is an honor to do.

Today, I thought I might take a moment to explain to you, my readers and regular folks, what funeral service is NOT. (Assuming most are NOT familiar with the finer details of performing the tasks of funeral director or arrangements counselor).

By the way, IF YOU ARE a funeral provider, take special note, if the scenario I describe next fits your style of handling a client-family,  because it means obviously you don’t know what this business is about. 

English: Flower arrangement for funeral Dansk:...


THIS REALLY HAPPENED, an example of which I’ve never witnessed myself (because I never worked with this level of mediocrity or ill-trained staffing in a place), but which had happened to an acquaintance very recently, when she went to arrange her mother’s funeral and burial at a “combo” establishment — cemetery and mortuary all-in-one facility —  and she said she was terribly regretful that she’d gone with that funeral home, in the end. The main reason to do so in the first place was that the mother had begun to look into getting her pre-need plans there and wanted to be buried there as well. The daughter and the family went down to meet with a ‘funeral counselor’ and expressed  their wish to set a service for a certain morning at 10:30 a.m. Turns out, it was a ‘no can do’ situation, which straightaway, in my mind made me think that apparently the place was going to be busy at that time serving another funeral or burial, etc. That would be completely reasonable and understandable and a good reason to decline the family’s request. There are other complexities, possibly for other situations but they did not apply here.

SO what happened?

The DAY was fine, however, according to the funeral counselor,  but the TIME could not be accommodated because…there was a staff meeting set for that time!

Wow! Excuse me? Come again? Did I hear you say, ‘staff meeting?’

WOW! WOW! WOW! Really?


Just to reiterate:

> A funeral service professional is supposed to serve YOU, the family.

> If it would appear that,  by YOUR coming to an establishment and requesting service there is somehow going to be a  conflict with that establishment’s set-in-stone ‘staff meeting time,’ then I would BEG OF YOU, to calmly halt the arrangement, immediately, and excuse yourself. If at all possible, take your business elsewhere.

Go to a place where YOUR NEEDS won’t be such an IMPOSITION; go to a place which makes meeting your needs a PRIORITY of the day, instead.

©2014, C.S. Thompson.












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EPISODE 26 — It Was Greek To Us

Posted in Cemetery, Death, Embalming Room, Funeral, Funeral home, Funeral Service Professional, Humor, Life, Mortuary, Relationships with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2014 by Morguie
Angel of Patience
Pissed Angel of Patience

Disclaimer: The following account is a very true story, of course, names of agency and persons have been changed. HOWEVER, this is NOT a typical (at least we hope it isn’t) example of an “everyday” experience one might expect to encounter in any national consulate’s office. We hope you just enjoy our experience, all the same —however oddball and unsettling as it was at the time, so many years ago. We are certain diplomatic protocols have changed to be more friendly since the 90s…we…hope. 


It was an early Spring day and C J and I were taking a little break from a flurry of cleaning activities in the prep-room.

We emerged to set upon the steps out back so C J could indulge in her cigarette habit as I took in a little of the warmth on the soft earth. Just then, I spotted a fetching dandelion, about to go to seed! Ha! A nice treat that would be…

…or not! Just then, Mr. Becker appeared and I scrambled furiously up the cuff of C J’s pant leg, which elicited some vocal excitement from her and an equally surprised look from Mr. B as I did so.

“C J! What is the matter with you? Always so easily spooked! You really ought to cut back on that fancy coffee you drink so much of…” he rambled.

“What did you need, sir?” asked a startled C J, hurrying to her feet.

“I need you to take these papers for Mrs. Galey down to the city, to the Fantasian* Consulate’s Office,” he said.  We were going out of town today. Going on a long trip, oh boy!

“Yes sir, I’ll go up and get my things put away and get ready to leave right away,” she answered.


Within half an hour, we were headed down that long road leading toward the metropolitan place they referred to as ‘the city.’ That place was huge and fascinating, but as a mouse, I can say with certainty that I would be terribly frightened to have to fend for myself in such an expanse of noise and concrete and cars.


Mrs. Galey was a ‘ship-out;’ that meant she was going to be sent for burial in another country. She came from Fantasia and that is where she wished to return for her final resting place as well. Sometimes these arrangements were made without any hitches; others were rife with problems. For C J, they were always an adventure. I liked it when we could get away from the old routine and hit the open road! We had never been to the Fantasian place before.

It was a long journey of more than two hours before we finally pulled into the very center of the downtown business district of the metropolitan city area. The buildings rose up to meet the blue sky like tall, blackened glass candles. I got dizzy just trying to see to the tops! I felt the plunk of a hand push me down into the briefcase, saving me from myself, as I nearly toppled off the zippered edge looking all about.

“Stay down or ELSE!” C J admonished in her loud whisper as we entered the door of the elevator. Of course, I did as told. I could feel the funny flutter in my tummy as we flew up the floors to our destination and very relieved when we exited at the 18th floor and made our way to the front desk of the Fantasian Consul’s office.

C J was handed some odd paperwork and asked to fill several pages about herself out as we waited for our turn. I poked my head out to see that she was perplexed with each progressively, personally probing page. Her brow furrowed, at first, and then there was an unmistakable scowl. Oh my! Whatever could be the problem?

C J rose from her chair, crossed over to the receptionist, and politely asked why she was being made to fill out these questionnaires. The papers were job applications! She was met by a blank stare and no intelligible answer from the doe-eyed dodo behind the desk. Dodo picked up the phone and, in a language assumed to be Fantasian, spoke to someone briefly, and hung up. Dodo managed a weak smile and said we could go in now.

Office Chair, gray and steel

We entered a spacious, light-filled suite which contained three desks and a whole lot of clutter dripping off  the shelves. There were two men and a woman, each at a desk littered with piles of papers and computers and such. They spoke to each other in harsh, strange language of their own, not of English; they waved C J to sit, in bare acknowledgment of her entrance into the room. They continued to banter amongst themselves for what seemed an eternity before one of the men motioned to C J to hand paperwork to him. In doing so, C J quickly snatched the papers beside me in the case, nearly lifting me out with them.

How do they get any work done?

It was all so off-putting, the gruff way he grumbled as he rifled through the neatly typed bundle of documents she’d presented. C J was shrinking in her chair, I could see. The moments ticked by like hours, as he seemed to ignore her there in front of him. Suddenly, in a burst, he jumped from his chair and literally threw the pages at the woman across from us at the next desk! The outburst in Fantasian was akin to what I assumed would be a curse word!

The woman replied with a gasp and spat out the word “Galey!” The look of disdain on her face was dark and ominous! She glared at C J with a curled upper lip as she picked up the paperwork to read further.

C J became even smaller in her chair…almost as if someone had just walked over and slapped the poor girl!

The woman began to speak loudly in her foreign tongue and repeated the name ‘Galey’ with indignity numerous times as she pulled a stamp pad from her top drawer and began to violently, deliberately stamp each page in the bundle. What in the world could be wrong?

English: A desk in an office.

English: An office chair that can swivel and b...

This went on for another fifteen minutes…I tell you, it was weird and tortuous. C J sat like a captive in her chair, frozen, unable even to flinch or speak. Meanwhile, the two men and the woman were engaged in what seemed like a personally charged argument, with animated hand gestures punctuating each retort and rebuttal. The debate went on. Periodically, the name ‘Galey’ flew from the lips of the woman and she made the spitting gesture at the paperwork, again rubber-stamping as she did so. It was surreal.

English: Busy desk. Español: Escritorio lleno ...

After another thirty minutes of this angry weirdness, the woman hurled the bundled documents at the third man, missing his head by a mere couple of inches. The inky, crumpled mess landed on the floor behind his chair and the whole rigmarole began anew. He shook his fist and threw a paperweight at her…it missed and landed in the waste can. YIKES!

This was getting serious! I crouched low in the briefcase. I feared that we might never be able to leave this awful place. Was this about to turn into an international incident?

Then, it became quiet.cropped-mousecringe.jpg

We were finally able to leave after another hour. C J stuffed the papers into the briefcase and rushed out of the suite, half-running for the elevator. We could hear the voices and yelling resume as the doors shut behind us.

C J was just so happy to have an approval for Mrs. Galey to be able to be flown out and accepted in her homeland for burial after that incredible experience. After all, it was up to those people to permit this and it sure wasn’t looking favorable, the way things were unfolding in there.

I didn’t understand why all the fuss. Give me some crackers and I am happy just handling the cares of being ME, thanks!

On our way home, we talked about the ordeal and we came to our own conclusion that the Fantasians must not have been too pleased that Mrs. Galey had apparently married an Anglo, or an American, and not a Fantasian — as apparent by her name ‘Galey.’

We never really knew for sure, but that’s the best answer we could come up with, because, as the old saying goes: it was all Greek to us.

©2014, C.S. Thompson.

* fictional name for the actual national consul’s office where this true event took place

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