And So Begins My New Life

Join me as I embark on a new life and new career in Funeral Services.

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Location: Southeast, United States

I'm a Funeral Services graduate embarking on a new career. I graduated high school in 1981, served honorably in the United States Navy from 1982-1986, been married since 1986, and have one son. I've relocated to a new state and have begun working in my chosen profession of Funeral Services, and I've never been happier.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My Big Fat Greek Funeral

Yesterday afternoon we got a call from a Greek family. The mother/grandmother had passed away. We show up at the house to bring the body back to the funeral home. The kids/grandkids are running around the living room, chasing each other and playing as if there weren't a dead body in the next room. The adults in the room shooed them out of the house while we were moving Grandma onto the cot.

My immediate supervisor warned me this would be a dramatic scene. Sure enough, when we bring mom/grandma through the house on the way to the hearse, the daughter starts screaming, "Oh My God! Oh My God!" over and over again. The family is fussing at each other in Greek, and watching every move we make, saying things like, "We want visitation TOMORROW!" So they show up this morning, make the arrangements, with visitation later in the day.

When they show up, the whole hysterical scenario begins all over again, with various members of the family very verbally (and very loudly) expressing their grief; "Mama! Don't leave us! Mama, I love you! Oh...! Oh!!!..." It's almost like they're trying out "out-grieve" each other in some sort of mourning contest. Get the picture? Please understand, I'm not criticizing them for the way they grieve, it's a cultural issue and I can appreciate it. But I noticed one potentially negative side-effect of this process. The adults carried on so much, that it affected the kids. The same kids who had been chasing each other so playfully yesterday are sent into similiar hysterics. What's happened? Do they suddenly love Grandma more today than yesterday? No, it's one of two things. Either they think they're expected to do this judging by how the adults are acting, or because they're so freaked out by watching all the adults breakdown at the casket. Right in the middle of all this, one of the adults took one of the kids aside and asked, "Why are you crying? Calm down...Why are you crying?"
WHY DO YOU THINK HE'S CRYING, LADY!? He's just seen the adults have a freak-out, so now he's probably freaking himself.

Thankfully, I'm told we don't handle too many Greek funerals. I'm glad, because I don't think I could stand all the melodrama.

Monday, May 29, 2006

I Raised My First Vessel

I had to go in to work today. I didn't mind, though. One of the things we had to do was dress and casket one body. That went fairly smoothly. The other thing to be done was an embalming. We had a case come in either late last night or early this morning. As soon as we got the one body in the casket and ready for visitation we started on the embalming. We raised the femoral artery and began injecting fluid, but as soon as we tried to initiate drainage we ran into problems. My bosses like to use what is called a "heart tap" for drainage.

There are two ways to drain blood from the body while embalming. The most common is to raise the artery for injecting fluids, and the accompanying vein for draining. The vein is opened up, a drain tube
(about a foot long) is inserted and as the formaldehyde is injected, the pressure forces blood out the opening in the vein. The less common method is the heart tap. This is where the trocar (about 2 to 3 feet long)
is inserted directly into the heart and all of the blood drainage exits via that route. The drawback to this method is if it is done incorrectly, you usually have to raise multiple vessels and inject at several points on the body. This is what happened this morning. Either we missed the heart, or there was so much clotting we could not get good drainage.

So we raised six vessels (right and left carotid arteries, right and left brachial arteries, and right and left femoral arteries) and embalmed the body with multiple injections. I was charged with raising the left femoral, which I did easily, I'm relieved to say. I made the incision, probed around with my instruments, located the vein, and since the femoral artery usually lies lateral to the femoral vein, I started looking next to the vein, and in no time at all had found the artery, raised it, cleaned it, and opened it up and inserted the cannula.

For more photos regarding undertaking, check out this site: or follow the link at the top of my links list.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Holiday Off? With Pay? I'm Confused!

I found out this week that not only do we get Memorial Day off, we get it off with pay! I've been working retail for so long I had completely forgotten the fact that some people in this world actually get to enjoy their holidays, spending them with their families instead of standing behind a counter all day waiting on the next idiot in line who had nothing better to do on a day off from work than come to the mall. Of course, this comes at a small price. I have to be on call for half of the day. I must make myself available from 8am to about 1pm. However, I can go anywhere my cell phone will take me, so I do have some freedom. And being on call is infinitely better than actually being at work. Not that I mind being at work; after all, I am loving my job and still in that euphoric state where I actually look forward to working. You have to understand; for the past ten years I had been so miserable in my retail job, so loathing of the work I did, that some days it actually made me nauseous just to show up. Have you ever had a job you hated that much? By comparison, I am living a dream come true in my new career.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Another Limo Day And Family News

Today I got to chauffer another family to the National Cemetery in our state. That is a nice little drive, and the cemetery is really nice. Even so, I'm told that other national cemeteries are even nicer. I suppose you may have heard the news by now about how an employee of the Veterans Administration took home personal information on about 25 million veterans, then had a break- in at his house and this information {which was on his laptop and other portable storage} was stolen. I am one of those 25 million affected, it would appear. I only hope nothing comes of it.

Anyhow, today was very pleasant. I have started the paperwork to receive my apprenticeship papers and begin interning as soon as all the paperwork goes through. I still have to get my diploma, which should be arriving any day, and I need an official transcript from my college. I will order that as soon as possible. I emailed the school about my diploma, but have not heard back from them yet.

In family news, my son has accepted a position as camp counselor at a place called Canby Grove He leaves June 5 and is very excited about this opportunity to serve the Lord. He will be gone until the latter part of August. My wife and I are not going to know what to do without him. We love him very much and will miss him terribly. We are very proud of him for wanting to do this, and I believe it is God's will. When he found out about the move, he arranged for a transfer to the Chick-Fil-A here. When he arrived he found out they really won't need any help until the latter part of August. Is that an amazing coincidence or is that God opening doors? I vote for God. This will be my son's first airplane flight. I hope he enjoys the experience and I pray for his safety while traveling and while at camp.

Monday, May 22, 2006

My Least Favorite Part Of The Job

After about a month of steadily working in my new career, I believe I have discovered my least favorite part of the job: working visitations after-hours. The afternoon visitations are ok, when we have to be there anyway. There's usually at least two or three people around, you can still get some work done, and you can always find someone to talk to. However, after-hours visitations are a whole different ballgame. You are usually there alone, you really can't do a lot of work because you have to watch the door, make sure people are directed to the proper viewing room, be available to answer any questions, and in general just mill around the lobby for two hours. I don't like that at all. Plus, I hesitate to sit down because it looks unprofessional in front of the guests. So two hours on my feet in dress shoes equals sore feet for the rest of the evening. And yes, I am gellin' like a felon, but it doesn't help much. Despite this one aspect, I am so grateful to be working in my chosen field and even more grateful that I'm no longer stuck at the mall.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


All through school I kept hearing how most people already in the funeral business have the hardest time dealing with infant deaths. Today I experienced my first infant case, and I have to tell you, it didn't bother me like I thought it would. Yes, the death of an innocent baby is tragic and sad. But when we put the baby on the table, it just didn't seem like a real human. It was like working on a replica or a facsimile of a human being. I had a fellow student tell me once that it wasn't babies that bothered him the most, it was small children. He said babies don't have the personalities and interpersonal communication that small children have, and that they haven't begun to live their lives the way children have. I don't know if I explained that well, but I don't know how else to describe it. Anyhow, if this sentiment offends you, blame him; I'm just repeating what he said.

A Very Busy Weekend

I've had two more calls today. This morning I went down to the Medical Examiner's office and picked up the infant. Poor little girl, she looked so pitiful. We got her taken care of and she looks better. After we got her taken care of I got another call to go to a nursing center and make another pickup. That is a grand total of five in two days. Did I mention I love my job?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Make That Three

Three solo removals in one day. Immediately after posting my last entry, I received another call and had to go to a local hospital to pick up another body. All of this practice is building my confidence, which is a good thing. Plus, since all of these removals were after regular working hours, I get paid extra for each one. Did I mention I love my job?

First Solo Removals

Yes, that is a plural in the title. Today I did my first and second solo removals. Thankfully they were at the local hospice and were less tense than had I been at a family's residence. Everything went smoothly both times, I'm happy to say. The first one I ended up taking directly to the crematory; the second one I brought back to prepare for embalming. I did as much work as I could: I closed the eyes and mouth and got the body ready for embalming. That was as much as I could do without having a supervisor in the room, so I returned home and am waiting for him to call me so we can prepare the body tonight. I love my job.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Still Driving The Limo

I received my internet DSL kit today. I will install it when I get home from typing this post. It's been a busy week so far. We've had three services, all of them burials, with two occuring on the same day. We had two shipouts, which I took care of this morning. It was my first time shipping out a body. I went to the Air Cargo section of the terminal and dropped them off at the appropriate airline cargo bays. It was much easier than I anticipated, and getting down there is simplistic! I'm finding it very easy to learn my way around my new hometown, especially with all of the driving I've been doing. I've had to chauffer three families in the limo this week; I almost feel like the limo is now "my" car, if you know what I mean. We did have one sad piece of news today. A friend of a family came in to let us know there is a one-month old infant at the Medical Examiner's office. We will be handling the service next week. I was told that the owner never charges for infant cases. I think that's fantastic.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Family Reunion And Stretch Limos

My family has arrived! They came in Sunday around 2pm and we spent the rest of the afternoon getting the truck unloaded. We are slowly getting the apartment set up, but it's a chore. I will be without internet access for another week or so. I'm typing this at the local library.

Work is busy. I left last night and we had three bodies in the prep room. I came in this morning and there were two more. Monday we had a burial at the national cemetery. For those who may not be aware, veterans who were not discharged dishonorably are entitled to a free plot in any national cemetery. I drove the family up (it's about an hour away) in the stretch limousine. Of course, I was nervous about driving such a large car, but once we got rolling it went smoothly. You may have noticed I'm somewhat apprehensive about driving these larger vehicles, but now I've driven almost every vehicle in the company fleet, and I'm no longer nervous.

Tomorrow I get to play chauffer once again; I have to pick up a family at their home in the morning and bring them to the funeral home prior to the service. So far I am still loving my job. I know it's only been a month or so, but I'm truly happy. My family is thrilled to have rejoined me, as am I, and we are together at last.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

My Family's Arriving!

My wife and son will join me tomorrow! I'm so excited, I miss them so much. I can't wait for them to arrive. I do have to work some tomorrow, a visitation from 1-5, but I should be home before they arrive. I've had the past couple of days off, so I've been relaxing, doing a little grocery shopping, catching up on laundry and doing some reading. Yesterday I spent a good bit of the day vegged out in front of the TV watching HBO. I saw "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." It was ok, but I'm just not a huge Potter fan. I also watched "Kingdom of Heaven" which was a good movie. I may put that on my "to buy" list.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Day Off

It seems like I've worked every single day since I arrived. That is not the case, but I know for a fact I've worked the last fourteen days straight; most of those were weekdays, the usual 8-5, then I worked a couple of hours on saturday, and a couple of hours on sunday. In all, over the past two weeks, I've worked about 95 hours. Tomorrow I am off! I don't have to show up, I'm not on call, I can go anywhere and do anything. I'll probably spend it doing laundry and ironing my shirts.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Back From The Road

I got up this morning at 5am, showered, shaved, and stopped by Steak 'N Shake for a breakfast sandwich. I arrived at the funeral home around 6am, and ate my sandwich and drank a cold soda. I left the funeral home {driving the hearse} around 6:15 or so to go pick up the owner and proceed on to our final destination, some 4 1/2 hours away. I missed the turn for his subdivision, so I called him on my cell phone and he got me straightened out.

When I arrived he was still getting ready, so I waited, of course. We hit the road about 7am, with me driving the hearse. Traffic was light, at first, but the closer we got to the nearest large town, the heavier traffic became. Rush hour, in a hearse. However, I did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself. I didn't get overly anxious, made judicious use of my mirrors, and had some assists from the owner in helping me change lanes and so forth. About 30 miles down the road, he asks me to stop for coffee. After he got his cup, he took over the driving duties.

We arrived at our destination about 45 minutes before the funeral was scheduled to begin. We talked to the priest, got ourselves oriented in regards to the order of service, which flowers the family wanted taken to the cemetery, and other small but important details. Overall the day went smoothly, the family was pleased with the job we did, and I got to spend 9 hours on the road with the big boss man. We know each other a lot better after today.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Tough Removal

I got a call at 10pm tonight. There was a death and I had to go help make the removal. T went with me again. This was at a residence, and it was the toughest removal I've done, not that I've done many. Even T, who's been doing this for about 3 years, said it was the hardest one he's come across. The house had an upside-down Y staircase leading up to the porch. Once inside the front door there was another, smaller staircase (about 6 steps) leading up to a common room, where the deceased was. If this had been a typical 100 pound, 80 year old lady, it would not have been a problem. Unfortunately, whatever the deceased died from caused them to have a significant weight increase. This person must have been at least 300 pounds.

So we got the person onto the cot and all covered up and strapped in. We brought the body out feet first, with me at the feet, trying to hold up the cot and maneuver it down the stairs. T was at the head, so he had a good portion of the weight on his end. When we started down the first flight of stairs, the body began to slide toward me. Inwardly I freaked out, but maintained an appearance of control. I thought for sure the body was going to slide right off the cot and onto the floor. I told T what was happening, and we got down to level ground as quickly as possible, but still with some more slipping and sliding of the body. Once we got on level ground, we tightened down the straps, did some readjustments, and finished bringing the body down to the driveway. Despite our best efforts, though, there were some moments I thought we would lose control. My arms are sore from holding up my end. I can only imagine what T's feel like, or will feel like tomorrow. If I never have to do a removal like that again, it will be too soon.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Road Trip

Sunday afternoon we got a call. An elderly lady passed away and the daughter wants to bury her mother in a distant city. Even with the price of gas, it would be cheaper to drive her there rather than to send her by plane, so Wednesday yours truly gets to make a four hour drive south. Right now it looks as if I will be riding shotgun with the owner of the funeral home, but that is subject to change without notice. However, it has been brought to my attention that I may be asked to drive the hearse. I would rather not, as I have never driven one before. Still, if I have to do it, there's nothing to be done but climb in the drivers seat and set sail.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Speak Of The Devil

No sooner did I finish my Happy Birthday post than I get the call. A patient in a nearby hospital passed and we went to pick her up. They sent another guy with me, and he watched as I went through the process, told me where to park, where to go to get the paperwork, etc. We got her loaded up and drove her directly to the crematory. I guess there will not be a funeral; maybe a memorial service later.

I don't think I could have done all of this solo; not yet, anyway. In time, I will learn the ins and outs of making removals, be they from hospitals, homes, or hospice. I would like to do a few more team removals before I'm left on my own. I'm not sure when that will be; a couple of weeks from now or my very next call...who knows?

Happy Birthday To My Wife

Today is my wife's birthday! Happy Birthday, sweetheart! I'm sorry I can't be there to celebrate with you, but only one more week to go until we're together. I love you and miss you. I miss my son, too. I love you too, N.

There have been no death calls for us this week at the funeral home. I've been spending the last few days painting. That is one thing they didn't teach us in school, so to any students who may be reading this, when you're not busy with the business of death, you will be busy with the business of cleaning and maintenance. I'm told that before too long we will replant the flower beds out front. I bet you didn't know there was such a glamorous side to this business.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I Wish My Family Were Here

When I landed my position at the funeral home in March, my family and I had a couple of options. We could all move down together, which would have been a logistical nightmare. Two licensed drivers, two very old automobiles, and one UHaul truck did not make a good recipe for success. In addition, my wife and son had to finish their school year and my son is in a wedding on May 13th. So we decided I would come down at the end of April in my car, with my wife and son to follow when they finished their schooling in early May. Her car would be towed on a trailer attached to the Uhaul, and men from our church would help her load the truck.

The downside to this plan is the three weeks we are apart. The first week wasn't too bad; I was busy learning my way around the funeral home, how they did things, and so forth. My first three days were very busy, and the week ended with a 9am funeral that first Saturday morning. This week, however, has been slow. Since we have had no bodies, we have been painting and cleaning up around the place. Since I am not busy, it's given me time to reflect on how much I miss my family. I love them dearly and can't wait for them to join me so we can begin our new lives here. I sent my son an email last night, apologizing for uprooting his life with little warning or forethought. It seems everytime we make a big move like this, we somehow neglect to include him in the decision making process. Son, I am so sorry.

I'm on call until Wednesday. That means if we get any requests to pick up a deceased individual after regular business hours, I would be the one going out the funeral home, getting in the hearse and driving to the destination to make the removal solo. I've only done one removal in my entire career, and that was as an observer and occasional helper. I'm apprehensive about having to do this by myself until I get one or two more assists under my belt. I pray nothing comes in after hours this week.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Very Close Call

Today was another slow day; a chance to catch up on some paperwork and other menial tasks that cannot be accomplished while conducting visitations and funerals. I was asked to drop off some paperwork at the Vital Statistics bureau, where death certificates are issued. I also ran the deposit to the bank and went by the crematory to pick up cremated remains to return to the family. Upon my return to the funeral home I thought I would back the car into the garage, which I did easily. I parked, got out and saw immediately how very close I came to catastrophe. I had stopped the car about 3 inches away from a dozen or so caskets standing on end. Had I even bumped one slightly, I would have toppled most, if not all, of them, resulting in the irrepairable damage of about $20 to $30 thousand dollars worth of merchandise.

June 17, 2006. I have posted this photo, taken with my new cell phone, to show you the caskets in question. Behind the 4 you see, there are at least 4 more, and when I had this encounter, there were at least 3 or 4 more present that have since been sold.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Just Another Slow Monday

Today was pretty slow. We had a memorial service this morning at 11am, complete with squalling, crying, whining child {see previous post} and the adult in charge of her spent the entire service outside the building because the child simply would not shut up. Just proves my point.

Anyhow, I spent the day doing routine stuff. Cleaning, mostly. I dusted down all the caskets in the selection room, then worked the memorial service, and then had lunch. Following that, I finished cleaning up in the selection room and started cleaning the prep room. Since they've been so busy and so short-handed, they've not been as diligent about keeping the place as spotless as they would like. That will probably be my pet project over the next few days.