I work in a funeral home, and I have some stories to share with you.
At a graveside service, a dove was released as a symbol of a free soul at peace. As the priest invited everyone to watch the bird circle in the sky, a hawk suddenly darted in and knocked the dove straight out of the air; the dead weight dropped into some nearby bushes. Everyone watched on as the bird of prey made a beeline to its lunch. The family wondered out loud if they still had to pay for the dove release.
Staff were in the upstairs office while a visitation was going on downstairs, when a blood-curdling shriek filled the funeral home. Rushing downstairs, we expected to find someone collapsed from a heart attack. Turns out the family hadn’t checked what exactly was already on the USB stick they had given us to load with pictures, to play on loop throughout the course of the visitation. Surprise: interspersed with heart-warming photos of the deceased and his family was also homemade amateur pornography starring the man now in the casket.
Did you know?:
Dead bodies poop. A lot. Hence, packing orifices with cotton to prevent leakage is crucial.
Crazy glue is like the duct tape of the embalming room. The uses are virtually endless.
Vaseline will bring blackened, dehydrated lips right back to their pre-dead plumpness in a matter of hours.
Respect to the body is key in every prep room I’ve worked in. Bodies must be covered with sheets to maintain dignity, embalming equipment and tools should never be placed on top of anyone, and though the atmosphere is casual – singing along to the radio while embalming is something I do often – jokes are never made at the expense of the deceased.
Making a body look “natural” and “resting” is ironically one of the most unnatural and arduous tasks. Hours go into injecting, massaging, suturing, aspirating, dressing, cosmetizing and casketing, to create that perfect “just sleeping” look. The amount of detail painstakingly taken to create a comforting and lasting memory is enormous, and though I have strong opinions on whether or not our approach to death is psychologically healthy, I have a deep respect for skilled embalmers and the work they do.
Don’t send low-cut clothing for your loved one to be dressed in. It makes it harder to hide the incision used for embalming, which is usually along the collarbone. Along the same lines: pulling jeans or tight clothing onto a clammy dead person is not easy. Think of your local mortician, stick with easy breezy blouse and slacks.
Do understand that just because we’ve been given a picture, doesn’t mean we will necessarily be able to recreate the resting face of that person. They may not look like they’re sleeping, that’s because they aren’t.
Don’t ask us to remove gold teeth.
Do educate yourself about your rights as a consumer in the death industry. In most provinces, you are legally allowed to do everything yourself, from registering the death, to holding a visitation in your living room and building a casket. The more personal effort a family puts into being a part of their loved one’s sendoff, the healthier the grieving process tends to be.
Cheers to life and death,