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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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Two Funerals, Two Calls

Last night we had the triple visitation. It was so crowded and busy! Thankfully, despite the chaos, things went well. Today we had the two funerals, one this morning, then one about two hours after that. As soon as we returned from the first funeral, we had about 30 minutes to get things ready for the next service. Right in the middle of everything, we get a death call. We left for church, then one of our guys made the removal. While he was on that removal, we get another call. So we called the guy who was already out, and told him once he got back to the funeral home with the first body, he had another call to make. So when we return from the funeral, we got to work embalming the second call, as we had preplanned arrangements for him. The first call we got, we were unable to reach any next of kin for a couple of hours. Once we got hold of them, we were instructed not to do anything until they could come in, which will be first thing in the morning. All in all, a very hectic week, but I love it!

We got all the caskets moved out of the extra room. It took us a couple of hours to get it cleaned out, then another hour or so to get it cleaned up. Once the owner saw how nice it looked (it's been a storage room for over a year) he started thinking about not using it for storage anymore. It will need painting. Gee, I wonder who they could get to do that? Hmmmmm.....

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Triple Visitation

This Friday will be a busy one indeed. We have three visitations scheduled simultaneously, with two funerals on Saturday. This wouldn't be too bad except for the decision by the owner to do some last minute remodeling.

We have our main chapel, which is good shape. However, the paint job is white, and all of the doors leading into the chapel are a dark wood. He decided Monday that we should paint them white. So one of our guys has been working on that the past couple of days. Bear in mind, however, that when the owner says "paint them white" this translates as, "take them down, remove all the hardware, sand them down really really good, wipe them down, make sure there are no obvious flaws or glitches, then paint them with two or three coats, being careful not to leave any brush or roller marks, or drips, or clumps, and make sure they turn out flawless and glossy." So this isn't exactly a one day project, or even two, due to the drying time between coats.

Then we have a second, smaller parlor. A few weeks ago the owner had us remove the wallpaper, which was applied from the chair railing to the baseboard. The reason for removing the wallpaper is we will be redecorating that room in the near future. We pulled it off, and the wall underneath was pretty clean and in good shape. The owner decides that since we will be using this room Friday, we should go ahead and start painting it! Bear in mind that the chapel doors are still being worked on, we have two bodies to embalm, and now, since we have three visitations, we will have to clean out our third parlor and get it ready for visitation. Usually that room is never used, and right now it is full of caskets (about 14). Tomorrow we will move those out and get the room ready. A thorough cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, the whole nine yards.

Well, we got the smaller room halfway painted; we only did the section of the wall where we had removed the wallpaper. I don't think we'll have time to paint the rest of the room until after the visitations. Tomorrow, as I mentioned, we clean out the third room, then finish the chapel doors and re-hang those.

This morning, I successfully raised the carotid artery of one of the bodies I worked on. I also heard from my old teacher, who reads this blog, that I now have done more heart taps than him, since that is something he has never done.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Heart Tap

Today I did my first solo heart tap. A heart tap is a procedure for draining the blood during the embalming process. The usual method used by most embalmers is to raise a vein and drain through that. Our firm prefers the heart tap since it is faster, easier (usually) and definitely not as messy.

The way it is done is after the injection of the embalming fluid has begun, monitor the body for signs of good fluid distribution, and keep an eye out for any swelling that may occur. After the body has received a decent supply of fluid (about a gallon or so), insert the trocar into the abdomen, puncture the diaphragm and insert the trocar into the right ventricle of the heart. This is the chamber that receives blood returning from the veins. Since you are basically doing all of this by "feel" since you can't see into the thorax, it takes a bit of knowledge and skill to do it successfully. If done improperly, it will ruin the circulation of the embalming fluid and you will have to raise multiple vessels to complete the embalming process. This is why most embalmers prefer the more cumbersome, but less risky method of veinous drainage.

When I have done heart taps in the past, it has always been with someone's hands guiding my movements, and basically doing about 75% of the work for me. Today I asked to do it unassisted. After we injected about a gallon and a half of fluid, I made the tap and it was perfect.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Busy Month All Of A Sudden

This month started off very slow. By the 8th or so we had only received about 3 or 4 calls; today is the 22nd and we are now at 17. I haven't sat with any more families since my last post, but the boss is going out of town at the end of the month. He'll be gone a few days; and in February the owner is traveling for at least a week. I'm sure I'll be sitting with a couple of families in his absence. I hope I continue to do well and improve. The secretary told me today that she plans on taking some time off as well, since I am now familiar enough with the paperwork for her to feel comfortable leaving the office for a few days.

In my last job, I had responsibility: I was an assistant manager at a watch and clock store. But somehow, the responsibility I had there seems trivial and unimportant compared to what I am doing in my present position. At the store, the worst things I dealt with were people unhappy with their watch repair, or trying to return an item without a receipt, things of that nature. Here, I'm dealing with people who are going through real emotional turmoil. I have to present a sense of steadiness and calm assurance in order to put them at ease and help them arrange the final details. The difference between the two levels of responsibility sometimes seems almost overwhelming.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I Sat With My Second Family

We had a very busy morning today. We got one call last night about midnight; this one called for embalming, which we did this morning. About 5:30 this morning, we get another call. This one was direct cremation. I brought this body back to the funeral home, where we still had one body to prepare for visitation later in the day, and the funeral service tomorrow.

While we were embalming, we got another call. This call was also direct cremation. I'm covering the phones while my boss goes to get that body, and the family of the midnight call phones up and we set an appointment for later in the morning. The owner came in and we were discussing all the new business. He asked if the embalming case had pre-arrangements. They did, so he informed me about an hour ahead of time that I would be sitting with this family.

So I studied the file, the pre-arrangements and which casket the plans called for, and so forth. The original casket choice was no longer in production, so the owner and I look through our inventory and find an appropriate substitute. The arrangements went well; I could have been more thorough explaining a few things, but overall it went very well. My confidence kicked up another notch, and I'll be more prepared to deal with the next arrangement.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Embalming Work

Today we received a total of three calls. Two were direct cremations, but one was a ship out, so we had to embalm. I was tasked with raising both femoral arteries and injecting the legs. I worked largely unsupervised, which is easier for me, as I don't have someone standing over me watching every little thing I do. Just leave me alone and I'll raise the vessel. And I did. I raised the left vessel, then injected it, but the cannula started sliding out of the artery. I tried to clamp it down, but I was too late and it popped out. When I tried to re-insert it, I tore the lining of the artery, called lumina. I didn't know this until I began injecting. The fluid came gushing back out and the leg started swelling at the injection point. I stopped injecting and decided I would leave the left leg alone for the time being and raise the right vessel. While I was trying to find the artery, I tore a vein and the incision site immediately filled up with blood. To me, one of the worst smells in this job is decomposing blood. Right in the middle of trying to blindly find the artery in a pool of stale blood, I get sent out to pick up one of the other calls. When I returned, I went back to work. First, I immediately found the right artery, then I went back and looked at the left leg. I had inserted the cannula improperly and ruined that section of the artery, so I extended my incision and inserted the cannula further away from the bad section. We injected both legs successfully, and afterwards I returned to the right leg, located the damaged vein and tied it off to prevent excessive leakage at the incision site. While I started off disappointingly, I'm pleased to say that I went back and took care of everything solo.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I Didn't Drive

I posted the day before yesterday that I was being loaned out to a nearby funeral home. It turns out that the service they had prior to my arrival ended much earlier than anticipated, and they did not need me after all. On the one hand, I was relieved, because this would have been only my second time driving in procession. They do use lead cars, so that wouldn't have been a huge issue. On the other hand, I was disappointed because I could use the practice driving in procession, and this would have given me the opportunity to see how other funeral homes function as compared to our methods of operation.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I'm On Loan

I'm being loaned out to one of our friendlier competitors tomorrow. They are apparently having two funerals and need our hearse and a driver. This will be only my second time driving in a procession. I'm told this funeral home uses lead cars; I hope that's true as I've never led a procession. I was also told that while the owner is on vacation next month, I'll probably be conducting the funerals at the National Cemetery. When that happens, I will be leading processions without the benefit of a lead car. Still, I won't be alone, as we always take two people to the National Cemetery. I still haven't sat with any more families. We are off to a slow start to the New Year; only three calls in nine days. We finally got our trim paint, and our embalmer and all around handyman is working on that this week.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Who Solves The Crimes?

This post is a bit off-topic for the nature of my blog, but my son pointed out something interesting to me a few weeks ago.

According to TV shows, who solves crimes?

The Cop shows (and I'm reaching way back into my early years for some of these) like Dragnet, Adam-12, The Rookies, or more recently, Law and Order? The cops on these shows did their investigations, followed their leads, and put all the pieces together until they were able to zero in on the culprit.

Or is it the Lawyer shows, like Perry Mason or Matlock, where the client is actually innocent, and the lawyers and their staffs, in the process of preparing their cases, do all the detective work and unearth the "real" evidence which not only exonerates their clients, but points directly to the guilty party?

Or is it the new breed of criminalists, the Crime Scene Investigators, with their high tech tools and cutting edge science?

Actually, in real life, I'm sure it's the police, in conjunction with the CSIs who are responsible for the majority of solved cases. Nowadays, defense lawyers don't necessarily defend the innocent, they try their damndest to protect the guilty from getting what they truly deserve.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Happy New Year!

Sorry I'm so late in getting a new post. I've had a very busy end to the Christmas season. We had two death calls on Christmas day, and two later that week. The two that came later had visitation over the New Year's weekend. One was New Year's eve, the other was New Year's day. Since I was on call, I had to work them all. So while most of my co-workers and my wife were taking some time off, I was on duty at the funeral home; half a day Saturday, half a day Sunday, and all day Monday. I didn't mind a whole lot, but I'm looking forward to this weekend off, if I get it. We had two calls to start out the New Year, both of them coming Tuesday night. One is a direct cremation, with a memorial service a week or so down the road, but the other is a full burial on Saturday. I have made it known, politely, that since I had to work all through the New Year holiday, that I would prefer if I didn't have to work this weekend, as well.
I was relaying this story to my wife, and she made a comment that really really really pissed me off bigtime. She said I sounded like I was back at my old job. I told her that wasn't fair, and that it was easy for her to say because she got about a week off at her job, while I didn't. She apologized later.