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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Friday, June 30, 2006

Not Since My Navy Days

I haven't worked this hard since I left the Navy! You may remember from yesterday's post that I had to rise early this morning to drive all the way across the state and make a pickup. I got up at 4am, got ready and left the funeral home at 5am on the dot. I got back at 2pm and worked until 4pm. At that time I took an hour supper break, then came back in at 5pm to work the evening visitation. I worked that until 9pm, then had just enough time to have some supper with my wife before I got a call about 9:45 to make another pickup. I made the pickup, and right in the middle of it my boss calls and says to put the body on a table and get him ready to embalm. This means I had to wash the body and set the features. The only problem was that all of our tables were full, so I had to move one of those bodies to a temporary table, then put the other body on the prep table. These are not necessarily easy things to do by yourself, but I did them. I am learning more each day and my confidence is growing in leaps and bounds. When I first started, I was terrified of moving bodies around by myself. Now, I am learning how to do it, and each success builds my confidence. Anyhow, the upshot of it is, I have just finished about my 20th hour of work (21 if you count the hour I spent getting ready for work this morning.) I'm tired!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

More Yard Work

Today was day two of yard work. We worked all morning, then around lunch got a death call. We brought him back and embalmed him, then finished up in the yard, for now. All we got done was to pull the old mulch out of most {but not all} of the flowerbeds. We still have more mulch to pull, then we have to get new mulch and wood chips and lay those down, but it won't be any time this week. We got yet another death call, this one is all the way across the state. I will be leaving at 5am Friday morning to go pick him up. It's about a four hour drive each way, so I'm going to have a long day, on top of probably waking up sore and stiff from all the exertion. But remember what I always say when I talk about working hard; it's better than being at the mall. And since we had our hands full with the first death call and printing up memorial folders and making telephone arrangements with the family across the state, we didn't get to leave early, after all.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Yard Work

The much dreaded yard work has arrived. We have reached a slow down; we have not had very many calls these past few days, so today we started working on the landscaping. We spent about 4 hours trimming hedges and pruning bushes. Tomorrow we finish the pruning then proceed to clean the old mulch out of the plant beds and flower boxes, then lay down new mulch. As much as I'm not looking forward to this, I will say that it's better than working at the mall. Plus, I'm told when we work intensively in the yard like this, we usually get to go home early. On the down side, however, just when I was firing up the hedge trimmers I spotted a 2 foot long black snake nearby. Like most people, I don't like snakes at all, even the harmless ones like the one I saw. Still, I got in there and did the work, always keeping an eye out for any slithering in the neighborhood. Thankfully, he must not have liked all the activity and stayed away.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Cremation? Burial? Entombment?

Cremations are a very large percentage of our business, but I personally would not want to be cremated. I would like to be buried in a National Cemetery, complete with a flag-draped casket, military honors, and a flag-folding and presentation to my next of kin. Some people are entombed, laid to rest in an above-ground niche or crypt. Some are cremated, and the remains are buried or put in a niche, or you can just hang on to the ashes and keep them around the house.

One of the projects we had to complete in our Psychology class while I was in school was to write our own obituary and plan our own funeral, complete with music, people to give the eulogy, our final disposition and resting place; the whole works. My son said it creeped him out and he didn't want to hear any details. My wife said for me to keep it and put it where she could find it if anything happened to me.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dying Alone

We had a gentleman a few weeks ago who died without any family around. He had one child who lived all the way across the country, and apparently they did not get along. We took care of the arrangements, including a visitation and a memorial book. Only a couple of people came to pay their respects, and today, while a family was saying farewell to their mother, I couldn't help but reflect on how terrible it would be to die and have no one show up to say goodbye. Even if someone were despised and hated, I think that would be better than dying alone. In order to be hated, people have to know you exist. How much more terrible to die alone and unknown? No close friends, no one to send flowers, no one missing you. Please don't ever let that be me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

You Want Me To Do What?

We received an autopsied body this morning. When a body has been fully autopsied, all of the organs {including the brain} are removed and studied. Once the Medical Examiner or Coroner is finished with the body, the organs {called "viscera"} are placed in a plastic bag and put back into the now hollowed-out body. Once the body arrives at the funeral home, this bag is removed from the body and set aside, where the contents are saturated with a chemical called cavity fluid, which retards their decomposition. Once the rest of the body has been embalmed, these organs are placed back into the body cavity and the body is sutured closed. A lot of funeral homes will simply place the bag of viscera back into the body, but today I learned we actually remove the viscera from the bag when we return them to the body. That was my job. I handled the liver, the brain, the intestines, all of it. Once I returned the viscera, I sutured the body closed. Tomorrow we dress her and place her in the casket.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Never Wait Until The Last Minute

I learned an important lesson today. When I left work yesterday, the only thing we had going on was a visitation for today at 2pm. The only thing that needed to be done was print the memorial cards and a sign that says "Donations in the name of {the deceased} may be made to {insert charity of Family's choice}." Lo and behold, when I arrived at work, we had received several floral deliveries, which needed to be put out. This meant rearranging the existing flowers that we had set up yesterday. In addition, the phones are ringing while I'm trying to get this done (I was all alone in the funeral home), and I had to redo the charity sign because there were two charities of choice and I had only listed one. I had to make up address cards for the second charity (we had self-addressed envelopes for the first one) and right in the middle of all this, a gentleman came in to pay his respects because he would not be able to come later in the day. The lesson I learned is, if you have something that needs doing and you have time to do it, then go ahead and do it. Don't say, "I'll do that in the morning" because you don't know what the morning will hold. We could have gotten a death call and I would have had to leave to make the removal. Fortunately, I was just finishing up everything when the family arrived, and they were pleased with our arrangements.

Friday, June 16, 2006

I Got A Kiss!

Today we had a visitation and memorial service combined. The deceased was being cremated, but the family had a viewing. After it was over, one of the mourners came up to me, kissed me on the cheek and told me to take good care of her, meaning the deceased.
That is one of the reasons I got into this business; to help people at a difficult time in their life. I cannot tell you how touched I was that this happened. It is so much more satisfying to go home at the end of the day, knowing how much you've helped, as opposed to my old job where the best you could hope for was to not have anyone yell at you because their watch was still out for repair.

On a separate note, I have a new cell phone with camera, so I'm trying to liven up my blog with the occasional picture. I hope you enjoy the change.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I See Dead People

One of the things I like most about my job is my limited interaction with the public. For those who may not have read my initial post, I come from a background of 20 years in the retail sector, and by the time I left I had lost all faith in the intelligence of the average shopper. To see why, click here and read a few of the stories from those poor souls who are still trapped in the Hell on Earth known as retail. But working in the funeral home has freed me from dealing with the general public. Yes, we do have visitations and we do have people coming in and out at those times, but by and large they are there to support the families and usually have very few requests to make. I've been at my job for about 6-7 weeks now and I still love it every bit as much as my first week. Maybe even more so.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Too Much Time On My Hands?

I usually don't post multiple entries on the same day, but I'm having a little bit of difficulty filling up my spare time. When I was in school, this wasn't a problem. My commute to school was 90 minutes each way, a couple of days a week. Work was an average of 40-42 hours each week, then there was church on Sunday morning, homework to be done, laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. Plus, I had my favorite TV shows to keep up with (Mythbusters, Modern Marvels, pretty much anything on the Discovery Channel). My days were pretty packed from start to finish. Now, though, that's all behind me. I work banker's hours (8-5) and have my evenings to spend with my wife. I enjoy that, and we get to eat supper together regularly, but after supper she likes to watch TV. I don't watch it as much as I used to before the move, so I usually retire to the bedroom and fire up Winamp and listen to some music while playing Freecell or Spider Solitaire, or surfing the web.

However, this routine is growing old quickly. There are classes I can take for free online at the Hewlett Packard website. I don't have the link right now, but I've been considering taking their HTML course. But I'm not even sure about that, because I really don't have the interest in HTML that I did when I first started this blog. I need to find something, though. I've considered reloading my EA baseball game, or firing up Tiger Woods PGA tour, but I haven't gotten around to doing that yet. I've read a few books from the local library (which is a great library, by the way, better than my old one). Somebody pointed out to me that I now had time for a hobby, I guess I just have to figure out what that will be.

My Wife Got A Job

My wife has found a job. She is working at a dental office as a receptionist and all-around paperwork Goddess. She files insurance forms, makes appointments, etc. Today was her first day and she told me she has an awful lot to learn. Some of the more experienced people told her it usually takes new people three months to get up to speed. She can handle it, though. She loves paperwork and she can learn anything you show her how to do. The best part is, she works nothing but days, as do I, so we will finally start to live like a real married couple; coming home about the same time, eating supper together, relaxing in the evening before bedtime, all of the things we weren't able to do before. She will not have to work any weekends, and the only time I do is when I'm on call and something comes up, plus the usual half-day every other Saturday. All in all, this is wonderful, and I'm thrilled for us both.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Time To Be With My Family

One of the nice things about my new career is it allows me to spend time with my wife, which is something I have not been able to do these past few years. The reasons being that our school schedules and work schedules kept us on the go and rarely at home together. In addition, since we both worked retail in the same store, we never ever had a Saturday off together, and we worked alternate Sundays: one of us home while the other worked. Today my wife and I drove halfway across the state to visit her grandmother, who is 92 and still going strong. Along the way we stopped at a rest area where I noticed the sign you see. I thought this would make an interesting picture, so I used my new cell phone to take the photo. I had to retouch it slightly with Photo Editor, but at least it's readable (if you can't read it, it says "CAUTION Venomous Snakes In Area). It was a good day, and it was heaven to be able to spend all of it with my wife. I look forward to many more.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

God Has Been Good To Me

Ever since I arrived in my new town, God has been looking out for me. He kept me from knocking over a collection of expensive caskets, He kept me from putting a dent in the rear bumper of the stretch limo (I was backing it out of the garage and almost backed into the phone pole), He made it very easy for me to do my first few solo removals, including my first residential removal, and He provided my wife with a quick paycheck while she looks for a job. The owner of the funeral home left for Italy about a week after my wife arrived, and he hired her to watch his kids and the house while he was gone. For this, he paid her a very decent amount, which allowed her the luxury of not having to settle for any old job while she looked for something in her chosen field of bookkeeping. Today she interviewed for a receptionist/clerical position at a dental office. In addition, He worked things out so my son could take a summer job at a Christian Camp in Oregon. Thank You, God, for looking out for us.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Residential Removals

Ever since I started this job, the one thing I dreaded more than anything was making a solo removal at a home. Hospital and hospice removals are not too bad; the family is usually gone by the time you arrive, and there is always a hospital orderly to help you out. With residential removals, however, the family is right there, sometimes in the same room. Most of the time you will have a hospice nurse, and they will help if necessary. The thing that concerned me most was making a mistake in front of the family. Last night, about 3:30 in the morning, I had my first solo home removal. It went fairly well, but my cot was higher than the hospital bed the man was in, and I could not get my cot to lower. I ended up sliding a sheet under the body, then bringing the sides of the sheet together in a sling-like position and just hoisting him up onto the cot. The hospice nurse helped with this, along with the niece of the man. She took his legs while we worked the upper body. It went fairly smooth, but not as much as I would have liked. Still, that first solo home removal is behind me, and now I have a better idea of what to expect.

Things They Don't Teach You In School

Today we went to a small cemetery to make preparations to install a granite monument. We dug the hole, set the form down in the hole, then mixed up about 200 pounds worth of concrete mix and filled the form with the concrete to form the foundation, or footing. In a week or so we will take the monument and base (totaling about 900 pounds) and permanently install them. I don't seem to remember any classes in mortuary school that dealt with erecting granite monuments. It was actually an enjoyable day to do this, though. The sun was shining, and there was a nice breeze blowing. Despite the physical labor and the high temperature, we didn't get too hot. I don't think I'll be able to say that next week after we wrestle the 300 pound base and 600 pound monument into position.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Home Alone

Our son left today for his summer job in Oregon. He will be gone two and one half months. It will be unusual not having him around this summer, but I'm sure the wife and I will adapt. He's very excited about this opportunity and just called from Houston to let us know he made his connection and will be leaving on the second leg of his flight soon. I'm very proud of him for doing this.

In the meantime, work has been going well. We were very busy last week, but unless we get some more calls, this is shaping up to be a slow week. Tomorrow we have a 9 'til 11 visitation followed immediately by the burial, and after that, we have nothing. Perhaps we will start cleaning out the flower beds this week. I'm told that's a job that takes about two full days, and I hate yard work, so I'm not looking forward to that at all. Still, no matter what we do at the funeral home, it's better than being at the mall.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

My Big Fat Greek Funeral, Part Two

Today we conducted the funeral service for the Greek family. Once again it was high drama. There were some unexpected moments awaiting me. We had anticipated the service lasting at least an hour. A word of explanation: In Greek funerals the open casket is placed on the altar, with the feet pointing away from the pews. At the end of the service the casket is rotated ninety degrees, with the casket ending up parallel to the pews. The mourners then file by and say their last farewells. Once the casket was in place, the owner of the funeral home sent me to McDonald's to get us some lunch. In the meantime, the other funeral director took the flower van on a death call (he went to pick up a dead body). I got back in about 20 minutes, and we stood outside the church eating. When I finished, I told the owner I was going to observe the rest of the service, so I went inside. I hadn't been in there 10 seconds when I heard the priest call for the Funeral Directors to come turn the casket. I was the only "funeral director" in the building, so I went up to the altar and turned the casket, with a little help from the priest (he basically told me when to stop turning) and then made my exit. I went outside and told the owner the casket had been turned and the mourners were preparing to file by. The other funeral director calls about that time to say he just now has collected the body and is on his way to the funeral home. The owner told him to hurry up and get back to the church. We had expected all of this to take at least an hour, yet it was only about 40 minutes or so, if that! The other funeral director arrived just in time to see the last of the mourners file by, again with the dramatic wailing and crying. Please understand, this is their culture and I am not trying to judge them or ridicule their customs. It is just so different from what I am used to.

Once the casket was outside the narthex, I began loading the flowers in the van. The other funeral director started helping me, then he and the owner decided the funeral director would drive the flower van instead of me and get the flowers to the cemetery, then leave to take yet another death call. That left the owner to drive the lead car, with me driving the hearse and one of our part-timers driving the limo. Talk about a day! My first Greek funeral AND my first time driving the hearse in procession. At the cemetery, the family witnessed the lowering of the casket, threw in some flowers and some soil, and then slowly began to disperse. It was quite a day!