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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Monday, July 31, 2006

They Like Me! They Really Like Me!

I found out today from a reliable source that both the owner and my immediate supervisor are impressed with me. The owner indicated to this source that he hopes I stay on after I complete my internship, and my supervisor told this same source that there wasn't any situation I couldn't handle. I'm not so sure about that, but I'm grateful that I know where I stand and that I'm doing as well or better than I suspected.

The old employee started back today. So far he seems pretty sociable and I don't foresee any personality clashes or conflicts. He indicated his willingness to teach me everything I need to know, and I am certainly willing to learn. For all of my education and schooling, it is quite different to actually be performing the work hands-on. There is no substitute for practical experience.

Today we successfully emailed our first obit photo to the newspaper. We've had the capability all along, but since my arrival and my admitted proficiency with computers, they are slowly bringing themselves up to where they need to be. Plus, since they've been so shorthanded all year, this is the first opportunity they've had to experiment with this process. We'll see how it works out when we get the paper in the morning.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Leading the Procession

I was told today that sometime in the next few months, I will begin driving the hearse in procession to the National Cemetery. At first, I was just a bit apprehensive, but then I realized, like everything I've done since I got this job, it will probably turn out just fine. Whenever they hand me a new assignment, I always get myself all worked up, worrying if I'll be able to handle it, and I usually do handle it, and it almost always works out fine. So I'm taking the approach this time that this is something I can do, and I'm ready for it.

Just to clarify, driving a hearse while leading a procession can be a bit of a challenge, because you have to drive in such a way that you don't lose the cars behind you, or you don't get the procession halfway through a green light only to have it turn red on you and then some timid driver two cars back who should keep on going ends up stopping. If that does happen, I'm supposed to slow down enough to give the rest of the procession a chance to catch up once the light turns green again. If the procession is really long, say about a dozen cars or so, you're supposed to slow down significantly through green lights so people can see the hearse, then lead the procession on through slowly so that even if the light turns, the other traffic will be forced to stay put until the procession is through. In my state, funeral processions legally have the right-of-way.

The nice part about this is the fact that by the time I'm supposed to start doing this, we will (most likely) have a new hearse (price tag: about $60-$65k) and I will be driving the 1996 model, which has a tape deck. If I don't have any passengers, that means I can take a favorite tape or two along and enjoy the music while I make the drive. I hate driving with the radio on, because, with very few exceptions, today's music stinks, and I can never find a station that plays the older tunes I like. I either drive with no music, or I bring my own whenever possible. When I was driving back and forth to school (90 minutes each way) I had my CD player and all my music with me and would enjoy the music and the drive. It was actually a very relaxing 90 minutes when I would make those drives.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Today I had to go to the sheriff's office and get fingerprinted as part of the requirements for becoming a funeral director/embalmer intern. The last time I was fingerprinted was in 1982, when I joined the Navy. I also had to complete an internet course on communicable diseases.
When I went to the sheriff's office, I ran into someone from my old town. He had worked security at the mall where I worked, but retired about 5 or 6 years ago. He recognized me, but he wasn't sure where he knew me from until I asked him, "Shouldn't you be at the mall chasing shoplifters?"
Talk about a small world.

Yesterday I posted about the new hearse we will probably be getting in the next few months. One of my regular readers asked me how much they cost. I don't have an exact figure, but $50,000 would be a reasonable estimate. I'll let you know the final cost when we take delivery.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A New Hearse On The Horizon

Today our owner had a hearse salesman come by the funeral home to discuss the possibility of ordering a new hearse. As of right now, we have two. I may have reported on this elsewhere in this blog, I'm not sure. Anyhow, our newest hearse is a 1996 with 21,000 miles on it. Our second hearse, which we use mainly for removals, is a 1988 with over 100,000 miles. This is also the hearse we use for those 100 mile (round trip distance) trips to the National Cemetery. I'm surprised it hasn't broken down on us while making one of these processions. When we do replace it, the 1996 model will become our "work" hearse, and the new one will be strictly for local services.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Former Employee Returns

Today an old employee of the funeral home came by. He had worked there for a while, but about six months ago he left, for reasons not known to me. He came in today to ask for his job back, which he got. This person is a very experienced embalmer, and in our owner's words, a very good one. I will be learning from him, but I'm not sure what it will be like working with him. I'm told he has some quirks, and that he can get impatient. I can learn just about anything that I set my mind to, but I don't want to learn it on someone else's timetable. I don't want him mad at me that I can't do certain tasks just because he showed it to me once and then expects me to be an instant master at it. I hope he's a patient teacher, and that our personalities don't clash.

Friday, July 21, 2006

My First Funeral, Sort Of

As expected, I had to take charge of the last half of today's funeral at the church while our Funeral Director went back to the funeral home to lead the procession to the National Cemetery. So me and the errand guy went up to the altar, turned the casket and processed to the rear of the church, where we removed the pall, exited the church and put the casket back into the hearse. It went smoothly, the family was very pleased with how things were handled, and my confidence has kicked up another notch.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Word Verification

As much as I hate to do this, I've turned on word verification for comments. The reason being I was comment spammed just a few minutes ago. I had 69 comments to weed out. I hope all three of you who read this blog understand. Thank you.

Today Wasn't Too Bad

Both visitations we had scheduled for today went smoothly. I only hope tomorrow is equally smooth. My only concern will be the three hour absence of our only licensed funeral director while he makes the trip to the National Cemetery and back . Hopefully nothing will come up that will require his attention.

On a side note, does anybody else wish those stupid Cavemen from the TV commercials would just accept that guy's apology and move on with their lives?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Thursday And Friday Will Be Busy

We have received four calls in the past three days. Two of those were direct cremation, where we merely take the body to the crematory without any embalming or funeral or viewing of any kind. However, the other two are full service funerals, complete with visitation. One is a burial in the National Cemetery, the other is a cremation. Both families have decided to have their visitations and funerals on the same day. Visitation will be Thursday afternoon and evening, and the funeral services will be Friday morning. One will be in our chapel, the other will be at a nearby church.

Our owner is on vacation, so there are three of us to work funerals, plus the secretary. We've decided to handle Thursday and Friday as follows: The cremation family is having their funeral at the church 30 minutes before the burial family is having theirs in our chapel. So, our only licensed Funeral Director will drive the hearse to the church and stay for the beginning of the funeral. Once that is underway, myself and our errand guy will stay behind and work the conclusion of the funeral and return the body to the funeral home for cremation. In the meantime, our Funeral Director will return to the funeral home and work that funeral, at the conclusion of which the body will be placed in the hearse and taken in procession to the National Cemetery, which is about an hour away from us. By this time, myself and the other guy will have returned to the funeral home and can handle {hopefully} anything that comes up until our third guy returns about three hours later.

This will be the first time I've taken charge of a funeral, or at least the end of one, unless you count the Greek funeral casket-turning incident. I am confident I will be able to handle it, as all I have to do is approach the altar, bow, turn the casket and roll it to the back of the church. There we will remove the pall and exit the church. Since Thursday will be so busy with all of the visitations, I am having to work on what would have been my day off. I don't mind, though, because I love my job and it's time-and-a-half.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I Actually Felt Like A Funeral Director

I got up at 4am this morning to take the international ship-out case to the airport. When I returned, I had a cup of coffee or three, read the paper, and did a little light cleaning while waiting for the rest of the crew to arrive. We had absolutely nothing going on this morning, so I was anticipating another day of landscaping, or cleaning, or painting, or some such necessary tasks. About 8am we get a death call, so me and my boss leave to make the removal. When we return, we get the body on the table, get him ready to embalm, and I had just raised the carotid artery when we get yet another death call. My boss goes to make this removal solo while I stayed behind and finished raising and cleaning the artery and preparing the solution for injection. When my boss returns, we get the second body ready. This one was a cremation, but the family wanted to see their loved one once more, so we got her dressed and put her on a cot and placed her in the chapel. Once we finished taking care of the bodies, we started on the paperwork. Our secretary was off today, so my boss and I took care of it. I printed death certificates, filed burial transit permits, printed social security forms and typed obituaries. It was very refreshing to finally act like a funeral director instead of a landscaper, painter, janitor, etc.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

International Shipout - An Exercise In Red Tape

We received a call this week from a local hospital. A man had died while visiting relatives. He was from out of the country and the family is sending him home. In order to do this, we have to fill out a whole slew of paperwork, in copies of 5, no less, and send it to the consulate of the country we are shipping to. Some of the items include: Copies of the decedent's passport photo page, a statement from the local health department verifying the decedent did not die from a communicable disease, an affadavit of embalming, lists of all of the decedent's relatives, both here and back home, and the name and address of the receiving funeral home overseas. Once they receive and approve the paperwork, we can then send the body. However, one of the items they require is a copy of the shipping manifest. So my question is, how can we send a manifest when we can't book a flight until all the paperwork is approved? What we did was book a flight that we had a reasonable chance to make, taking into account the delay in getting the paperwork approved by the consulate. Talk about putting the cart before the horse.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Unbelievable, Yet Sadly True

Today was a limo day. I had to pick the family up at their home at 8:45 and return them to the funeral home by 9am. The funeral was at 10 at a local church, followed by burial in a nearby cemetery.

The wife? Fiance? Girlfriend? Companion? I don't know what her relationship was to the son of the deceased, but this person actually brought a six pack of beer to the funeral! Beer! At a funeral! At a church! At 10am! What kind of desperate alcoholic was she?

When we got to the church, rather than go inside, she walked to the corner of the parking lot, sat down on the curb and proceeded to drink her beer. She did not budge (as far as I know) from her spot for the entire funeral, abandoning her boyfriend in favor of her beer. I don't know if she didn't want to enter the church because she wasn't a believer, or if she was just so addicted to her morning beer that she couldn't give it up for even a day.

Once we got to the cemetery, she wandered off, refusing to have anything to do with the ceremony. When we were finished, the family actually had to go searching for her. They found her after a few minutes; she had wandered into some nearby woods. Our guess was she had to take a piss.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Looking Forward To Christmas

I know it seems odd to be talking about Christmas in July, but remember that I come from the Hell On Earth known as retail, and July/August is about the time retailers start planning for the Christmas shopping season. Thanks to my 20 years in retail, I grew to despise the Christmas season. I would get grouchy and irritable, just thinking about how much I was going to hate working those 9 hour days, 6 days a week from Thanksgiving to New Year. I was Scrooge and by God, I was proud of it! My wife once asked me, "Are you ever going to enjoy Christmas?" I told her I would as soon as I wasn't working retail when Christmas arrived. Well, I'm no longer in retail and I'm looking forward to the holidays. Of course, what will be very sad is when it's Christmas Eve or something and I get a death call and have to go pick up a body. How terrible that will be for that family to lose someone during the holidays.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Full Moon

Me and my wife went down to a local tourist spot today and just wandered around, checking out the various shops and attractions. It was a really nice day, and we ended it by having lunch at a Greek restaurant. She had the gyro platter and I had a dish called Athenian chicken breast, which was a grilled chicken breast cooked with Greek herbs and seasoning. It was very good. While we were there, I saw this in a store window and couldn't resist taking a picture. Then, as we were walking down the street, I saw this t-shirt and busted out laughing:

Friday, July 07, 2006

I Guess I'm Doing All Right

We did more yard work today at the funeral home. We finished trimming the last of the hedges and pulling the last of the old mulch out of the beds. Then we fertilized the grass and began laying new mulch. While I was disposing of the old mulch, the owner asked me if I was still glad to be working there. I told him, "Yes, sir, I still love my job." He told me, "Good, we love having you." I take that to mean I'm doing a good enough job. He also complimented me a couple of weeks ago. He asked me if I liked the work, and I told him the same thing: "I love my job." He said, "It shows!"

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I'm A Shellback

There hasn't been much going on at work to write about, so I'll flashback to my Navy days for a quick post.

As you may or may not know, depending on how long you've been following this blog, I was in the Navy. One of our traditions is a celebration, or initiation, whenever a ship crosses the equator. Those onboard who have undergone this initiation previously are known as Shellbacks. The uninitiated are referred to as Polywogs, or wogs, for short. The night before the crossing, shipboard duties are relaxed slightly as everyone prepares for the big day, commencing with the arrival of King Neptune's court.

Following the arrival of the King's Court, we then hold a Miss Polywog contest. It's like the Miss America pageant, only uglier.

This was the winner:
The next day begins with the arrival of King Neptune.
All of the polywogs gather on the bow (the front part) of the ship. At this time we were offered a breakfast of pancakes with sardines cooked in. I declined. We then had to crawl from the bow to the stern
on our hands and

The whole time, shellbacks were standing over us with lengths of firehose, smacking us on the butt as we passed. Once we reached the stern, we had to kiss the Royal Baby's belly. The Royal Baby is the fattest shellback on board. His stomach is greased up with lard and a cherry is inserted in his navel. Polywogs then have to remove the cherry with their mouth. Of course, when you move in to take the cherry, the Royal Baby grabs your head and smears it around on his big fat greasy belly.

Once we kiss the baby, we then crawled through a garbage-filled chute.
After emerging from the chute, we then jump into a life raft filled with seawater and crawl to the other side. When we climb out, the shellback asks you who you are. Now, up to this point, anytime a shellback asked you that, you were supposed to say, "I'm a Wog!" However, after undergoing this hazing, you are now a shellback. Anybody who answered, "I'm a Wog!" was shoved back into the raft. Repeat until they answer "I'm a Shellback!" Now, all of this sounds a little cruel, but it's really all in good fun. Participation is strictly voluntarily and no one gets hurt. Of course, I had one question going into all this, "How do you know who's a shellback and who's lying?" Easy. It's documented in your service records. In fact, one of the last things I did before I left the ship was to check my record to make sure it was in there. It wasn't. I made them put it in while I waited.

I'm not sure why these photos didn't scan very well. Maybe it had something to do with the paper they were printed on. I tried my best to make them clearer, but I couldn't do much with them. Also, I always have a heckuva time posting multiple photos in the same entry. Moving them around and getting them positioned is very awkward, at least to me. Maybe I just don't know how to do it properly. Also, I don't know how to reposition the text to avoid all the blank spaces. Every time I try, I end up accidentally deleting the photo. If any blogger out there knows how to work with photos, I welcome your advice.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Then And Now

Before I graduated school and began my new life in Funeral Services, I worked retail. I usually looked like this:

Then, as graduation drew near and it looked like I might have a chance at getting out of retail forever, I started looking like this:

When I made the move to my new state and my new job, I looked like this:

Now that I've been working a while, learning a whole lot, increasing my confidence and taking on more and more responsibilities at work, I feel like this: