It’s Saturday night and I am in my little black dress and sparkling Louboutins, hair freshly blow-dried bouncing as I walk towards the bar. Espresso Martini in my manicured hands, I am mingling with the nightlife lovers.
There is a cute guy sipping on his drink and we strike up a conversation. It’s going strong…until he asks me what I do for a living.
His eyes widen, mouth gapes open and he almost drops his drink.
‘You don’t look like a funeral director!’ he gasps, just like so many others before.
So, now I ask you?
What do you think of when you hear the word; Mortician? What do you think a Funeral Director looks like? Do you imagine the mortuary hidden away in a cave, bats hiding in the dark, gloomy corners? Are legs broken to help fit the deceased into a coffin? Are the clothes cut to assist in dressing and is the mouth stuffed with cotton wool and sewn shut?
Allow me to shed some light. There’s plenty of it! The mortuary is big and bright, tucked away behind the casket showroom where family’s stroll and choose the final pillow for their loved one. Our radio sings Top 40 hits as we stitch wounds and bathe bodies, dress them and polish their nails.
The mortuary tables are side by side; like the shiny surgical theatre room on your favourite medical show. Except our working stations are obviously much different! Our mortuary trolley is littered with shampoo bottles, lipsticks, body wash, razors, needles and thread, bandages and hairspray. We wear similar protective clothing to a surgeon and we wink over our face masks at one another telling in house jokes, (not about the deceased of course!!!).
We are regular people with an unusual passion.
We walk amongst you everyday and share the queue with you at the supermarket.
I have often pondered while waiting in line as I watch the shoppers ahead of me…They have no idea that a mortician is standing behind them and was elbow deep in blood only an hour ago.
We have romantic lives, insecurities, and eat bangers and mash. We’re not vampires, necrophilia’s or morbid.
The interview process is as tough as a triathlon and the managers at a funeral home are often retired paramedics, nurses or army soldiers and very particular who they employ. A little kooky, you have no chance, and they can detect this almost immediately.
Above all the myths on the funeral industry, the worst of all came to me from my own daddy. He told me over a couple of beers one night that he believed the mortician broke the jaw of my granddad to create the ‘resting’ look.
“In the hospital, that last time I saw him, his face was frozen in pain. His mouth was crooked and open wide, then when I saw him at the viewing, his mouth was closed and not crooked at all. They broke his jaw, I tell ya! There is no other way they could have made him look so peaceful…’’
My heart split in two as I watched his eyes glaze over and he swigged from his beer bottle, froth gathering in his beard.
In the mortuary we learn many different mouth sutures to close the mouth and make the deceased look peaceful and at rest. WE ABSOLUTLEY DO NOT CRUSH OR BREAK ANY BONES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE! I will go into more detail about the mouth suture in my upcoming book. Stay tuned!
And Ladies! If you’re like me and indulge in a bit of the Fashion Channel and stuff your face with nachos while watching the Victoria’s Secret Models sparkle on the runway, I’m sure you have wondered how on earth those tall limbs would ever fit into a coffin!
…Or maybe not.
Do we break legs to fit a deceased into a coffin or casket?
When a deceased arrives into the care of the funeral home, the transfer crew will advise the mortuary staff on the height of the person. 6 foot 4 and blessed with lovely long legs, the body will not fit comfortably into a ‘standard’ coffin and the family are advised they will need to purchase an ‘oversize’ so the deceased can fit accordingly. Then there are times when someone may only be 5 foot 2, but bed ridden for the past decade has resulted in the fetal position, legs curled or a hump in the spine. Even though tiny and thin, the deceased will be placed in an oversize coffin to accommodate the unusual position their limbs.
I personally don’t cut the polo shirt Uncle Joe died in to remove it, unless absolutely necessary. Even if drenched in blood and spew, we gently remove the shirt like we would on a baby.
While bathing the body in hot soapy water, we massage the hands, face and legs relieving rigor mortis. The stiffness relaxes and this not only makes the person look less ‘dead’, this makes our job easier when dressing.
Do we fill orifices with cotton wool?
We create a barrier in the oral and nasal cavities, sometimes the anal and vaginal passages also, with cotton wool to prevent fluid from ruining clothing, the coffin and basically to prevent any odour and unpleasant scenes at a viewing or funeral.
During my training, not feeling comfortable with it and thinking I wasn’t being paid enough to be wrist deep into someone’s butt, I did not ‘plug,’ and once Mr. Richardson was dressed and looking suave in his Tommy Hilfiger suit, I moved him from my mortuary table to his casket. Once placed inside, his relaxed bowel expelled liquid poop like a fountain, polluting his expensive coffin and trousers. Not a good look. And let me tell you, dead people poop is nothing like live people poop 😦
While inserting cotton wool into places that would give you nightmares, please understand we do this because we care and respect the deceased and their families and we want their final farewell to be as beautiful and memorable as possible.