Archive for dead body

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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EPISODE 19 — Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire

Posted in Death with tags , , , on July 15, 2013 by Morguie


CJ and I were down in the storage room, taking inventory of our chemicals on another slow, simmering summer afternoon. There are so many kinds of powders, solvents, fluids, fillers, cauterants, creams, gels, waxes, and disinfectants! There are other supplies CJ refers to as sundries: rolled cotton, suture threads, eyecaps, crash bags, and OF COURSE gloves…and many other items too numerous to count. So much goes into the work of preparing a body for viewing and burial it boggles my little mind!

Embalming Chemicals

Embalming Chemicals (Photo credit: bsimpsonuk)

Mr. Becker came in to tell CJ that she should go on home and take the rest of the afternoon off— he needed her to meet him out at the crematory around 7 p.m. Since this funeral home was currently experiencing a lull, I wondered what in the world it could mean…

Later, CJ and I showed up at the crematory, as directed. Mr. Becker sat down at the desk with her to tell her something rather disturbing…and that this conversation would have to stay here. Apparently, a funeral home in the remote edge of the county was going to be coming soon with six bodies, all to be done overnight and ready to send back by the next evening. CJ’s brow furrowed at this. Mr. B said that the state inspector had called to tell him that this particular establishment was under surveillance and being investigated for some very serious offenses, allegedly. The inspector said we were to take this work on and accept the bodies, reporting the conditions of the remains to him.

CJ cringed at the thought of having anything at all to do with a rogue director or whatever that director was allegedly doing which would prompt such an investigation. She knew that there were some bad apples in this profession, as there are in every other profession. She and Mr. Becker often talked about these rogues, trying to figure out what had made them turn to criminal acts or other inappropriate practices as they had. With the death care profession, such behavior was reprehensible. Trust placed in funeral business is viewed as sacred. To act or seem to be acting with malice here undermines the trust of the community and creates suspicions of goings-on in funeral homes, where the processes of preparing the dead for burial is already shrouded in mystery, myth, or taboo.

The rogues in this business hurt the entire profession when they engage in bad practices or illegal activity. Most of the bad apples are found to be committing fiduciary offenses, or misappropriating pre-need trust monies. However, a very small number also commit offenses that involve the dead bodies themselves. Those offenses could be accidental, meaning mistakes made without intent to do harm. Mr. B and CJ knew one thing…they believed that all ‘accidents’ happen because somebody was in too much of a hurry to bother with standard protocol or due diligence. They  believe there can be no accidents in this business, period.  

English: Cremation is the process of reducing ...

English: Cremation is the process of reducing dead bodies to basic chemical compounds in the form of gases and bone fragments. This is accomplished through burning—high temperatures, vaporization and oxidation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are some rare cases, unfortunately, that grab headlines. Perhaps bodies were mixed up and one was cremated when it should have been a burial. There is NO remedy for such a mistake. For every one of those events, the profession is dealt a terrible blow. Rumors start going around in a huge way, until it seems most people believe EVERY funeral home engages in this chicanery or negligent behavior.

By dark, the bodies had all arrived, in three vehicles. CJ and Mr. Becker were professional in their duties, treating the ‘rogues’ in a business-like manner, as usual. The drivers unloaded the cremation containers and departed. CJ and Mr. B assessed the bodies, completed the packages of documentation for each one, and made notations to report to the inspector. The bodies were all of elderly people. Several appeared with sunken orbs, desiccated lips, and obvious signs of advancing decomposition. Each was double-checked for implanted pacemakers or defibrillator devices. These devices were removed. The first cremation was started, and after that one, the next and so on. Mr. B left after a couple of hours to go home for the night. CJ and I remained for the entire night and well into the next morning, finally finishing all of the cremations by noon.


The following week, another four cases were brought. This went on for a couple of months. Then, there were no more. The rogues were shut down for absconding with the trust funds, which had caused the backlog of bodies. The director was also extorting more money from the families by lying about the actual values of the pre-need trusts and holding the bodies until the families could make up the ‘shortfalls.’ That is why the bodies were in such poor condition and several in number, when they finally made it to the crematory.

Thank heavens these things happen so rarely. The horrible thing is, somebody’s family was traumatized or otherwise victimized in each case. Wrongs done by a scant few damage everyone in the picture.

That is why the other 99.8% of the funeral service professionals work so hard to build and retain the sacred trust placed upon them as they care for the dead. They believe with the core of their being, that every family deserves to receive compassionate care and service, as they deserve and expect. Every life is precious, and the utmost respect is given to each after life ceases. It is a ‘calling’ and people doing this special work take it very seriously. Funeral directors are tasked with many legal duties and responsibilities by statute. Compliance and the strictest adherence to laws and these duties are overseen by regulatory agencies, which consistently inspect and audit the establishments with regularity.

Rest assured, the bad guys don’t fly under the radar for long.


The best thing the consumer can do is ASK if he or she has any questions, doubts, or reservations. If a consumer has that ‘somethin’ ain’t right’ feeling, they need to contact the agency which regulates the profession and express those concerns. That’s the best way to handle just about ANY problem with any industry.

©2013, C. S. Thompson.


EPISODE 15 — The Hoarder (Part 2)

Posted in Death, Mortuary with tags , , , on June 20, 2013 by Morguie
disinfested cockroaches

disinfested cockroaches (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The firefighters continued breaking a path ahead. CJ and Bill retreated, and once back in the safety of the open yard, were busily knocking more roaches off each other. The bugs were in every growth stage and I want to say, there were LOTS of them, scrambling about through their clothes, inside CJ’s blouse, and some tangling into her long locks. CJ was freaking out, just shy of full-blown hysterics. Bill began to pull his socks up, over the cuffs of his trousers, to prevent any bugs from crawling up his legs when they went back into the house. He advised CJ to do the same. He gave her a minute to calm down and compose herself, then they moved to the porch. I noticed a pile of junk on the porch bench. Hey! There were fresh oranges and a bunch of greenish-yellow bananas setting atop the day’s edition of the paper. Huh! I thought, this must be the safe place to keep the produce at this house. On the porch!hearnoevil

The firemen met them in the ‘tunnel’ which led to the kitchen. There lay the woman, face-down on the floor in front of the stove. There were several cans of Ajax powder around the counters and on top of yet more piles of refuse. I could see half a dozen cans of aerosol roach killer, some on the floor, some laying on their sides, scattered willy-nilly about the place. A wonder a fire had not claimed her before now, really. Darkness had fallen and the beams of light from the flashlights were all the light we had in the house now. The deputy was correct in his assumption—no way was that gurney going to make it through this mess! However…just a few more feet past the dead woman, like manna from heaven, stood the back door! One of the men pushed and pulled until it opened. The incredible stench of putrescine¹ and cadaverine² were overtaking all of us; Bill was gagging and clamoring to get outdoors. I was not feeling so great myself. However, where could I go? Yes, indeed, I would remember this! NEXT time I believed I’d just be a mouse and stay safely inside my quarters, minding my business! For the time being, I would have to suffer silently in the pocket — a just punishment. CJ was holding her collar flap over her nose as she bent over the woman on the floor; in the darkness she thought she saw a wristwatch on the left wrist. She picked up the lady’s hand as the flashlight beam shone down. YIKES!

 It wasn’t a wristwatch! A host of roaches scattered in every direction — they had been feasting on the arm, encircling the wrist, causing a ring of open flesh there. Rigor mortis had come and gone;  as they rolled the body over,  advancing decomposition was evident around the belly, judging from the greenish-black color of the skin there. The skin had begun to ‘slip³’ as well. Liquid purge  issued from the mouth and nose. It was such a typical scene, though, when a body has lain dead for a couple of days, especially with the heat. Ugh!

As CJ and Bill worked to stifle their gag reflexes, they slipped the linen sheet around the woman, tying knots at either end. This enabled them to carry the heavy body with ‘handles.’ The firefighters had cleared a path out the door to the back of the house. Bill ran around to retrieve the gurney.

I noticed that, just beyond the rear walkway, in the yard, stood a card table, on which there were lined up very neatly. Antiquities of many types, were all in neatly organized areas, in the back lot. Incredible!  

Cobalt Blue antique glass bottles under Bremne...

Cobalt Blue antique glass bottles under Bremner Ave in Toronto excavation site (Photo credit: Roberrific)


Without much waiting, the coroner investigator arrived, did a quick evaluation, and decided she would sign off on this one. It looked like a ‘natural’ death by her estimation. She said she would forward the documentation to headquarters after she called the woman’s physician in the morning. With that, the woman was loaded and we set off to drive back home, finally.

CJ and Bill discussed the incredible clutter and talked about what they were going to need to do once they got the woman back to the mortuary, such as notifying the husband. I thought about the fact that the estranged husband had moved to the eastern seaboard. I thought to myself, a very smart move! Three thousand miles seemed to be a good enough distance from that house…sadly.sleepingcat


I would be spending the night away from my nest. They were planning a major spray-down and fumigation when they took her into the prep room. The poisons would be deadly. I could only hope that none of those odious roaches would survive. I knew I wouldn’t get a wink of sleep that night, even upstairs in the parlor fireplace hole. It would be tricky just making my way to it; Chester would be sleeping nearby, and worse, those guillotines with the unmerciful jaws were placed like landmines along the baseboards I had to run to reach the hole.


CJ’s night was going to be one of little sleep, too. She detested roaches. No doubt, there would be signs of maggots, too, by morning. Poor girl!   

What a creepy end to an otherwise perfect summer day!

 ¹Putrescine, or tetramethylenediamine, is a foul-smelling organic chemical compound by the breakdown of amino acids in living and dead organisms.   ²Cadaverine, (literally “essence of dead cadavers”) or  pentamethylenediamine, is a foul-smelling diamine compound produced during putrefaction of animal tissue. Cadaverine is responsible for urine odor in the living.³ Skin slip, or loosening of the skin,  is a natural part of decomposition after death.

 © 2013, C.S. Thompson.

EPISODE 15 — The Hoarder (Part I)

Posted in Death with tags , , , on June 17, 2013 by Morguie


It was close to the end of the business day, mid- summer. The sun was deceptively high still in the western sky when the phone rang. A death call over in a little mining town about forty miles away. Mr. Becker served a wide area, but was also a designated first call liaison for all of the regional coroner‘s offices in the tri-county area. A coroner call could be an unattended death at home (no doctor’s care of the person in the past 21 days, usually), a traffic fatality, a suicide or homicide, or any cause of death which requires an investigation. 

It seems a neighbor decided to call the sheriff, who found the deceased, after she hadn’t noticed her for a couple of days. The neighbor knew the lady lived alone and became concerned at the lack of activity normal for the house. Papers, two of them, and the mail had not been collected, as well.

We got very few details, but since it was in the next county, we assumed it was a possible coroner’s case. We would know once we arrived and assessed the situation and got the sheriff’s information. This was going to be a very new adventure for myself. A coroner’s case? Sounded serious…I noticed CJ was anything but thrilled about this. Not to say she was EVER thrilled to attend to a death call. However, she seemed less like her usual self, not happy-looking in the least. I wondered why…of course I planned to tag along on this one; soon I would know why.

The sun was beginning to sink to the horizon when we arrived at the house.  Bill and CJ got out of the van and approached the deputy standing in the yard. The deputy gave the information about the deceased to CJ, who busily scrawled it onto a first call sheet. The woman, Mrs. Santini,  had no children. She was estranged from her husband, who lived somewhere on the east coast. Once the deputy gave her what he had, CJ and Bill went to pull the gurney out. The deputy said something about leaving the cot on the porch, there was no way he could see that it would be workable to take it inside the house. CJ and Bill exchanged puzzled glances. The deputy hesitated, obviously not wanting to go back inside the house to show CJ and Bill where the lady was. He said he’d called the fire department and notified the coroner investigator, both would be along shortly. He had to go; he said he had another call to attend to. Just like that, the sheriff’s car pealed from the driveway, the deputy was gone. Hmm, I thought. Why was he acting so strangely? Sure as heck wasn’t forthcoming about why the gurney wouldn’t work in the house…odd. The gurney nearly ALWAYS works in the houses; the exceptions were trailers or upstairs apartments without lifts. This was a good-sized house, complete with a large, albeit cluttered veranda.goat

I was thinking about popping out of my place down in CJ’s jacket pocket, just to get a look around inside. What could be the big deal here? I didn’t need to, it turned out. Just then the big fire truck pulled up out front, on the street . One of the firefighters asked CJ about what they needed to do to help. Bill and CJ had not been into the house, so the two men grabbed axes and followed them into the home. I could see it was very dark. I climbed up to the top of the pocket to see. We were scarcely a few short paces inside the front door when we stopped. The firemen flipped on their flashlights, advising CJ and Bill to wait right there.

What I saw was the most incredible sight! The entire room, stacked to within mere inches from the ceiling, was a massive pile of books, newspapers, household items—a narrow footpath led through the tunnel-like walls of stuff on either side. Another footpath led around the other way, to an old shabby recliner, and then wound beyond into another room. The entire place was solidly filled to the brim with trash and assorted items, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling! The firemen were making slow progress on the path ahead. Just then, a petrified orange rolled off the pile, tripping CJ, who didn’t have far to fall. “Bill! Help me! Please! I don’t want to see where I am falling to!” Bill quickly obliged, catching her forearm, while she attempted to steady herself into an upright stance. The massive avalanche of stuff that came down around them next made her scream. “Oh God! What the hell is crawling on my face?!”  Bill knocked a huge cockroach off!


I hunkered down in the pocket. This was no time to feel adventurous or even the slightest bit curious! No way did I want to have one of those creatures near me! EEEEK! Staying in my nest was suddenly a much safer option that I should have taken. Nosy, nosy ME! Why can’t I figure out when to mind my own business? This would be my lesson for the next house call. However, I was here now. In it for the duration…ugh!  There was an odor here, now becoming stronger; I hated my nose! My nose, my best sensory organ after my ears, was picking up the sickly sweet smell of…WHERE WAS THE DEAD BODY?

To be continued in “The Hoarder, Part II…


©2013, C.S. Thompson.

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