Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A day in the life

This happened to me when I was twenty one years old and just, I mean just, starting in the funeral business. When I graduated from mortuary school the next step of course was to find myself a job, a place where I could fulfill the requirements of the 1 year apprenticeship that needed to be completed before I got a full license. I learned about the position I eventually took from a friend of a friend of a friend and was very happy to accept it.
It was a large company that had branches in two other states and was really a good name to work for. Because I was an apprentice I was given a lot of the work that others who had been there for a while didn't particularly want to do, but now that I think about it, they were more valuable to the firm doing what they did anyway.

It was at this firm that I learned how to embalm, sure I had the book knowledge and had actually gotten my hands involved on occasion at school but it wasn't until I saw it daily that I really learned what to do. It was during this time, between times of queasiness, that I realized that I enjoyed what I did and had made the right choice.

We had a mixed bag of people working together all for the same goal; I thought. We had the office staff, the dispatcher, at the time, a switchboard operator, and directors and apprentices of varying age. We had the director who was a biker on his days off, the one who made jewelry in his spare time, the head embalmer who was always the cause of hysterics and of course the owner and his family of managers. No one seemed to have any kind of problems with each other and the time was enjoyable for the most part.

This was a Jewish funeral home and a great many people were placed in a shroud, un-embalmed and laid in a pine "box" which bore the Star of David; some were fastened with wooden pegs while others were closed with screws which were really big eye hooks. Each of the bodies had toe tags on but they were also identified with the "work order" attached to the table they were on or to the casket they were in. This sheet would explain how each person had been prepared and was to be signed by the preparer. This was a good way to track who did what. I was at first unaware but it could also be used to locate the direction in which the finger would point if there was a problem; and this day was.

I was sent down to the preparation room to bring up a person that was to be buried that same morning. When I approached the casket I did as I was taught and opened it to give it a once over to make sure that everything looked alright in case the family wanted to see the person. That's when I noticed that the persons mouth looked odd, too taught, it had been glued which was not our habit. I decided that I was going to put my newly learned skill to practice and fix it. When I finally got the un-embalmed persons mouth open i saw it. There was no mistaking the bloody holes in this persons jaw...........where there once were teeth!!!!!!!!!!! I have to be honest with you, I nearly shit in my pants that morning. I didn't see it happen but my mind was reeling and the vision of it was playing before my eyes. All of the stories that I had considered bullshit, that I had heard about funeral directors pulling teeth were unraveling right in front of me! What the hell do I do now??!!

I closed the casket and headed straight to the top. I was sure that this was not common practice here and knew that the owners would be grateful that I let them know. They called one another and all gathered around while I told them what I "thought" I'd discovered. No questions were asked of me however I was asked if I could keep this quiet. I of course said fine but in my head I was thinking "no way, this is going to be my last day here, nope this isn't for me". Within 20 minutes, there was talk going around about the person who had just gotten fired. Apparently, the "work order" was all the proof they needed. Later that day it came out that the 20+ year veteran of the company had admitted to the deed and it was mentioned that he would be buying gold to make jewelry from now on. I have no idea if anything happened beyond his being fired but it was never discussed again. I couldn't believe this was happening. I made a conscious decision that day to completely walk away from this business if I ever even heard of something like this happening again. Needless to say I'm still at it and that was the first and only time I ever came across a situation even remotely similar.

Today was the first I ever mentioned this to anyone ( so why not tell it in front of millions and millions of people! ). Seriously though, I had to tell you this today because I wanted all of you to be aware that I don't live with my head in the clouds. I know that there are people in this world that do crazy shit and I also know it could happen in my business. What I also know though, is, there are many, many, many, many, many, many more people in this world who are good than evil and most are just trying to get by as best they can. So recognize the shit, just don't dwell on it.


Bryan @ One Man's Goal said...

That's terrible. I would never even consider disrespecting the dead like that.

How horrendous.

DeathSweep said...


No one in their right mind would...no one who had an ounce of decency or morality in them could do such a thing. We're talking about a real uncaring sicko here. He's probably dead by now and I hope for his sake that his body was respected the way he should have been respecting others. This is obviously a case of total irrationality - If someone had told me this, if I hadn't seen it for myself, I don't think my mind would have allowed me to believe it.


MedStudentWife said...

Creepy DS. I shudder at the thought of anyone buying his jewelery & finding out years later where the gold came from....

What impelled you to tell this tale after so many years ?

And I wonder why no one at that funeral home ever tweeked to it - unless they saw but couldnt believe - it went beyond what they could reason or believe, so chose to ignore, aka cognative dissonance (if my little psych education is still not lost or mixed up *lol*).

And you being the newbie and still fresh, hadn't yet developed preconceived notions

DeathSweep said...

MS, I know exactly how you feel. Creepier than creepy though, just...can't find the right explative. What made me tell this? I'm not entirely sure why I told it here but I think I just wanted to get the point across that "I know", "first hand", that a lot of what's inferred about funeral directors has at one time probably happened. I also wanted to point out that these things are not the norm. We're not all "creepy".


MedStudentWife said...

We probably all have industry tales to tell. Creepy all round or seemingly creepy by those who are not immersed by the culture of the industry

I dont think I ever had really "off the wall" experiences, but I know of graft & corruption in what I used to do. I also know of actions that I consider funny, but many outside of the industry wouldnt.