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Typical Day

Get your black pens because blue is illegal, make sure the doctor signs off on the cause of death between the lines the first time, and for the love of the dead use spell check. After meeting with the family, you put on your liaison hat and begin to file all the paperwork required by your state for a burial or cremation permit. In addition, you will be fulfilling every promise you made to your families. so make those phone calls ASAP because, most likely, that specific priest will be on vacation, the pianist may have just raised their fee by $200.00 and the church is already booked the day you booked your funeral. Yes, stress. Hopefully you are also going to become an embalmer. If so, it’s time to go take a moment’s solace in the prep room. It’s quiet there; always dependably quiet.

Maybe by now the deceased has arrived at the funeral home and, if the family has chosen to view their loved one, it is a good time to view the body with a mind toward the preparations you are going to have to make. If you were meant for this career, you will feel like it’s Christmas as you unwrap the body from the plastic wrapping and sheet. In most states, embalming is not required by law, and generally it is the policy of the funeral home to require embalming for an open casket public service. For this reason, most states mandate a standard embalming authorization to be signed by the next of kin, which explains in cold technical detail that it is not required by law; however, the funeral home may require it in certain circumstances. So hopefully you already have your embalming form authorized and signed by the next of kin, because the sooner you are able to beat human decay to the punch and get that sucker embalmed (you’ve only get a 1-2 day window), the better chance you have to put all your skills to much appreciated work.>>

A dual license (consisting of both a Funeral Director’s License and an Embalmer’s License) is a hot commodity in funeral homes, and for that reason a good place to work will pay your yearly license renewal fees. A renewal for your Embalmer’s License is roughly $100-$200 and your Funeral Director’s License is $200-$300. To have the skills to walk the bereaved through the front door, through the arrangement room, and later meet the deceased in the prep room for embalming means to your employer that you are one paycheck instead of two. In other words, by going to you they get to kill two birds with one stone rather than having to go to someone different for the embalming. (Then you can plan the funeral for those poor birds.)

To your families, however, it means you are taking care of everything from beginning to end, and there is a lot of comfort in that. During the first call you demonstrated that you are a capable professional; in the arrangement you gained their trust, and at the first viewing by the family, you became someone they will never forget. You made grandma look beautiful. She hadn’t looked that pretty since before she became ill. In your desk is a stack of thank you letters verifying this fact.

So if you are an embalmer it’s time to glove up and get down to business. For the next couple hours or so, depending on the condition of the deceased and how they died, you will be getting up close and personal with death. The prep room is part salon and part surgical suite. This is the reason it smells really funny. But this sacred space demands respect and every body becomes your own kin. You likely never imagined lovingly plucking grandpa’s ear whiskers, or sudsing grandma's poodle perm, but here you are. And what’s even more bizarre is that you take some sort of kooky satisfaction and sense of pride knowing that you are caring for the dead in the most honorable way possible. You’ll be here too, some day.

Along the clavicle bone is where you will make the incision to cut the tissue until you discover a noodly artery and filmy, stretchy vein. You will expertly incise these two mine shafts and introduce your arterial tube and drainage tube accordingly. Next, you will set the features by using strange embalming accouterments like eye caps, needle injectors, mouth formers, mastic compound, suture, and super glue.

Chemicals mixed, features set, soap ready, radio on, personal protective equipment on; it’s time to flip the embalming machine switch on and watch it… do its thing. And its thing doesn't always go smoothly. You are rarely that lucky. Grandma’s right arm may have received sufficient fluid but her left arm looks like a sad, gray, weathered failure. Her stomach is distended and you’re scared it’s going to burst. You have no idea why or how but her toes are pretty pink and plump with the tell-tale signs of embalmed tissue. Luckily, you have all your embalming education filed away in that hair netted noggin and you know exactly how to proceed.

Towards the end of the day you will be returning all the missed calls and messages. Look how popular you are!

For a more meditative experience you fold some cardboard boxes that certain folks choose for direct cremations. (When a client chooses cremation, they choose a “container” for the body – sometimes it’s a wooden casket, but most of the time it’s just a plain ol’ cardboard box. Little cheaper.) Lastly, you arrange some standing floral sprays and finish by rolling a casket into a visitation room for the night’s wake.

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