Archive for the Mortuary Category

EPISODE 28: The Father and Son’s Day

Posted in Death, Family, Funeral, Funeral home, Ghosts, Grief, Hope, Life, Losing A Parent, Loss, Love, Mortuary, Mourning, Parenting, Relationships, Special Needs, Spirits on June 13, 2014 by Morguie

christ-the-redeemer-rio-940x626                The phone rang in the middle of the night, and on the other end was Mr. Becker, CJ’s boss and owner of the funeral home. It was a first call (death call). CJ struggled to wake up and switch on the light. Quickly she grabbed paper and pencil to jot down the information. Mr. B. wanted her to pick up the deceased at a rehabilitation center, which was nearly 70 miles away. She rushed to dress and get on the road.

Boss has me everywhere at once today!!



Rehab places are nursing homes. Sometimes folks go there to get recuperative care, physical therapy, or post-op rehabilitation before they can fully qualify for release to return home. Sometimes, they are so infirm they never manage to return home.

Most of these places do not have a morgue or refrigeration available for the patients who decease, thus making it necessary to call the funeral home to promptly come pick up the bodies.       CJ was surprised to note that the man, Mr. Jennings, was just 38 years old. Apparently, he had been in the center as a  long-term care patient. As she glanced over the information on the paperwork, she saw that he had been admitted for a life-long degenerative disease, which had been at the end-stage. CJ signed for his personal effects, the paperwork, and then collected Mr. Jennings.

 The sun had begun to come up by the time she reached the mortuary. That is when I awoke to the clatter in the prep-room. I came out to greet her, scrambling up the cord of the embalming machine, on the counter beside the sink. She was washing her hands when she noticed me perched on the porcelain edge.

“You startled me! How are you, my little furry pal?”



I told her I was good and she mentioned she’d been out half the night to pick up this case. She warned me to stay out of sight, before she left to return home to dress and get ready for the work day. She was kind enough to stop at her desk to get me a cracker before she disappeared.


A couple of hours later, as she was finishing Mr. Jennings’ embalming, the intercom line rang. Mr. Becker needed her to get ready to go on a house call. She shooed me off the utility cart I’d been standing on, watching her as she embalmed.

“Hurry! Jump into my purse if you are coming with me. Hey, stay out of sight, too. Mr. B. is going out on this one with me.”      

I did as I was told and disappeared into the inner pocket of her purse. I love to go with her on calls. But, I knew I’d better behave or Mr. B. would kill me if he saw me.

As we got into the van, Mr. B. remarked that this was going to be a long day. He went on to say that the person they were going  to pick up was Mr. Jennings, Sr.

CJ looked at him with disbelief. After all, she’d been up all night dealing with a Mr. Jennings. “Are you serious?” she asked.


Apparently, when the rehab center made notification of death this morning, by telephoning the father of Mr. Jennings, he essentially died of a broken heart. Within a couple of hours, his heart gave out and he dropped dead.

He had been very close to his son, visiting several times a week. The old man was acutely aware that the end was near for his beloved only son and he tried to spend as much time as he could with him. It had grieved him to have to put his son in the care home, but he could no longer manage the complications and progressing medical complexities by himself, from their home.

He was in his late seventies and with his own infirmities.

He wanted only to ensure the best care for his son, so he did what he had to do.

It was all very sad. CJ told me later, as she was embalming the senior Mr. Jennings, that this is not very unusual. She said that it mainly happens with husbands and wives, though. People who have been married for decades. Jennings, the elder, had been a widower for several years, and his son was the center of his universe.

Osborne_Funeral_hanr_t728         As the day wore on, I pondered the whole father-son connection and bond. That was quite a strong tie they had. I imagined the poor father had struggled with many sorrows, through his son’s life. From the initial dreams for his son at his birth… then hopes for those dreams being dashed in learning of the disabling disease,  adjusting family life around this situation, caring for the multitude of medical needs and crises that came and passed over the years… no doubt the burden this father carried was one of great love and sorrow, too. It must have been terrible to know his boy might one day die, while he still remained, eventually to be tasked with burying him.


The best part of this story was the moving funeral service. There they were, at the front of the chapel, father, and son, together side-by-side in matching caskets made of dark cherry wood. It was beautiful, with the flowers all around, and matching casket floral arrangements of dark red roses. The celebrant spoke of the happy day the two must be enjoying in eternity; no longer encumbered by sickness or suffering for the young man and no more sorrow or worry for the father. A joyful day, certainly.  



Yes. Classic broken heart, it did him in. But in the end, I like to think that their spirits were joined that morning, and went together hand-in-hand, to that place souls go when they pass from this earthly existence.

I am convinced it was just in this way. One day, I shall know for sure.

©2014, C.S. Thompson.               christ-the-redeemer-rio-940x626

Episode 27: Mind Over Matter

Posted in Death, Divorce, Funeral home, Funeral Service Professional, Humor, Inspiration, Life, Mortuary, Philosophy, Relationships, Wisdom with tags , , , , , on May 19, 2014 by Morguie







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. 









Trocar (Photo credit: VCU Libraries)











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!













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No Excuse And Fewer Options

Posted in bereavement, Death, Friendship, Funeral, Funeral home, Funeral Service Professional, Gratitude, Grief, Guest Post, Inspiration, Life, Loss, Love, Memorialization, Mortuary, Mourning, Relationships, Remembrance, Tradition on March 28, 2014 by Morguie

The other day I talked about a place that put itself ahead of serving others, as regarding meeting the needs of grieving families in a funeral service setting…HERE IS A SHINING EXAMPLE OF EXCELLENCE!

A Simple, Village Undertaker

Over the last 36 hours, I have been reminded not once, but twice, why I have chosen this career.

The goal now is to be able to tell the story without it dragging on.

The first reminder is easy. Casket topjpeg

We were serving a family at George Funeral Home and the wife of the man who died, told Allen, the manager of the funeral home that she used to live in NJ and that I buried her mother and aunt when I worked at Quinn-Hopping Funeral Home in Livingston, NJ in 1990 and 1991.

We come into people’s lives in ways that often cause them to remember us, even twenty three years later. For me, that was a great compliment and I had a chance to chat with her yesterday and thank her.

The second story is not so short.

I live and work in a fairly sterile segment of funeral…

View original post 1,055 more words

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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