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, August 31, 2007

On My Own

For all intents and purposes, I'm on my own this weekend. The owner is out of town and my boss will be leaving the state for the weekend. I have a memorial service to oversee tomorrow, as well as a cot view. I will also be handling the phones until my boss returns. He will be available by phone, but if anybody calls up or walks in and wants to talk about arrangements, I'm on my own. I believe I'm up to it. I just hope everything goes smoothly tomorrow.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

One Long Weekend

Today was just as bad as yesterday. We had a visitation from 2-6pm, so I figured I could show up about 11am and get the flowers situated and put the book out and be prepared. Well, it turns out we had two families scheduled to make arrangements from a couple of the calls I took yesterday. Last night, or god-awful early this morning (about 3am), however you want to look at it, we get another call. So I make the removal and call the family this morning. I scheduled them for noon, since we had a 9am and an 11am arrangement already scheduled. Right in the middle of the 11am arrangement we get a call from a family who lost someone late last night. So I get her information and have her come in at 1pm. So from 9am to 1pm we met with four families, and after each meeting the owner came out and had me type up the obituaries so the families could proof them before we send them in. In addition, I'm trying to enter the files into the computer so our secretary doesn't walk into Monday Morning Hell tomorrow. Right in the middle of working on the files the family for visitation shows up, so I show them in and make sure everything is to their satisfaction. While the visitation went on, I continued doing as much as I could with all of the files.

In summary, my weekend was: one removal Saturday morning at 7:30am, eight hours workday on the clock, including a two and a half hour roundtrip, a middle of the night removal, and another eight hour workday today. For the funeral home: five calls over the weekend, four arrangements in five hours, one visitation, two burials to arrange, a memorial service this weekend to plan for, and two direct cremations. I'm beat.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Never Ending Day

Today was a perfect example of why business in a funeral home can be so unpredictable.

On Saturday mornings, the routine goes like this: Whoever is on call goes in about 8 or 9am, does some cleaning, brings in the mail and generally is available in case anyone calls or comes in. Today was my Saturday to work, and in addition to cleaning, we had a body to dress, place in the casket and prepare for visitation tomorrow. I made arrangements with a co-worker for him to come in at 10 to help take care of the body. I was to arrive early and get the cleaning done.

At 7am my phone rings and we have a call. So I get up, hating the fact that I don't have time to take a shower before I go out, because I cannot stand to start my workday without a shower and shave. So I make the removal, thinking that I can get my shower after my workday is over, which I anticipate being around 11am. Well, it turns out the new call has pre-arrangements which call for embalming. I bring the body back and get it on the prep table, and do as much as I can before help arrives.

Right in the middle of embalming the body, we get a phone call. Someone has lost a loved one and is inquiring about services. I call the owner and give him their phone number so he can deal with them (I don't give quotes to customers, as I'm still on the learning curve). So after I talk to the owner, we get back to embalming. Then I hear the front doorbell ring, which means someone has just walked in. I go up front and it's a family who just lost somebody, and they want to make arrangements. So I call the owner and he has me sit with them initially and take some preliminary information until he arrives. So I get them seated and start taking the information. The owner shows up shortly afterward and takes over. Right in the middle of his arrangements, the other family calls back and wants to use us.

What started out as a quiet morning with nothing to do but some minor housekeeping and preparing for visitation has turned into a three-call morning. After the owner finishes with his family, we get word that one of the two bodies is ready for pickup. This body is about an hour away, and the other one is in a local hospital. So I head for the long-distance removal while the other co-worker makes the trip to the hospital. He and the owner embalm this body while I'm making my run. I pick up and the body and head for the crematory, as their is no viewing or visitation. I arrive at the crematory and get the body in the cooler and head back to the funeral home. I got home at 5:45pm, which made my three hour workday eleven hours long. It seemed even longer, as I was hot, sweaty, unwashed and unshaved. I finally got my shower, though, and it was heaven!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Backing Up With Mirrors

My dad, who is the reason I'm in the funeral industry, worked for the phone company all his life. His vehicle was one of those big, full size vans with no windows anywhere except the rear and side doors. Due to this, my dad learned early on how to safely maneuver his van in traffic using only his mirrors. Anytime he was in the car when I was driving, and I would look out my rear windshield to back up, he would say, "Don't you know how to back up using your mirrors?" And I would tell him no, because I never mastered that skill, until I came to work at the funeral home. We have two hearses, one of which we use exclusively for removals. We park this under our carport, and we back it in so we can pull straight out whenever we need to use it. Visibility in a hearse is awful, so, like my father, I've learned how to maneuver in traffic and how to back up using my mirrors. Whenever I park the hearse, I always softly say out loud, "Look, Dad, I'm backing up with mirrors."

Friday, August 17, 2007

Prepared My First Cot View

I got to work this morning and noticed the hearse was gone and that one of our employees car was in the lot, so that meant we had a call. My boss met with the family about 9:30 or so, and the first thing they told us was they wanted to see their loved one right away. We refer to this as a cot view; the family doesn't want embalming, but they want one last chance to say goodbye. For these situations we place the body on a rolling table covered with a sheet. Then we close the mouth and eyes, pose the hands, apply a little red tint to the face, arms and hands, then cover the body with a comforter, up to the chest area, placing the crossed hands on top of the comforter. We also try to comb or arrange the hair as neatly as possible. We roll the body into the chapel, turn on the lights and music, and usher the family in. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it does take some time.

The owner was out of the office, my boss was meeting with the family, and the Returning Employee, who would usually make these preparations, was on vacation. So the job fell to me to get the body ready. I closed the mouth and eyes and did all the other preparations. My boss came in after he was finished with the family, made a couple of minor adjustments, and we put the body in the chapel. I felt very good about the work I had done and am satisfied I am progressing well in my performance.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Solo Service

This morning we had a memorial service at 11am, which I worked by myself. It was a small gathering, and everything went well. The family was very pleased, saying it was a lovely service. I put together a slideshow of pictures for them; they liked that.

That is our newest service, by the way, and one which I have been put in charge of, given my computer-savvy background. We installed the scanning software that came with our new all-in-one fax/copy/printer/scanner machine, and this new software is so much better than what we were using. Hopefully this will make putting these slideshows together much easier than my 65 picture ordeal I posted about a few days ago.

As I mentioned, I worked this service solo, which if memory serves makes this my first official solo service ever. I've had some where I've finished what others have started, but today it was all me, all the time. Thankfully, it was a memorial service, which means the body was not present. It was pretty much a family-only affair, so there were only about a dozen in attendance.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Worst Episode Ever

Well, today is Monday, and my Monday certainly lived up to the reputation that particular day of the week is famous for.
We had a funeral this morning at 10am. Right as it's ready to start, another family shows up to bring clothes and a picture for the obituary. Since I'm the only one who knows how to scan a photo and send it to the newspaper, I got to work. Unfortunately, the funeral ended at about that time, and it was time to go the cemetery for the burial. So I'm trying to send the photo while keeping an eye on the family, because I'm also driving them in the limo. The photo is taking forever to upload, and right in the middle of it the owner comes in to see what I'm doing. I tell him I'm still uploading the photo, but it's taking longer than usual. He asks me, "well, what are you doing?" I guess he wasn't sure exactly what I was up to or didn't understand me the first time I told him, but I said, "I'm sending this photo." He snapped at me and said, "Don't Get Frisky With Me! What are you doing?" I said, "I'm trying to upload this photo for the obit, but it's taking much longer than usual."

The whole reason I started this project was because I had this fear of missing the deadline, which is around 2 o'clock or so. I wasn't sure how long I was going to be out on the service, especially since I was driving the family, and for all I know they were going to stay to witness the casket being buried. So I really wanted to get this done before we left, but since it was taking so long, I just pulled the plug and said we could it after the service. So we left for the cemetery, and I got back in time to finish sending the picture. Then I'm told by the owner the family has 65 pictures they want scanned so we can make them a slideshow. Now, this is a new service we are starting to offer, and since it's so new to us, we're doing them for free with the understanding that they may not be professional quality. So after lunch I start scanning them. It took forever. Right in the middle of that it comes to my attention we have death certificates to pick up and drop off. Errand Guy is doing some of it, but he can't get to all the places in one afternoon. So I ask the secretary if Returning Employee can do it, and she gives me this look that basically meant, "I'm not sure if I would trust him to do that..."

What The Hell? You can't trust him to drop and pick up some paperwork? So, once again, I stop what I'm doing, which is very time consuming and time-critical (visitation tomorrow at 2pm) and pick up somebody else's slack and run the errands.

So I get to my first stop, a local hospital. I hate when we take death certificates directly to the hospital, because they can be in any number of places: the emergency room, intensive care, admitting, reception, medical records. The guy who dropped it off did not write down precisely where in the hospital he left this certificate, so I had the doctor paged. About 10 minutes later he shows up only to tell me his secretary put it somewhere, he'll go and try to find it. He comes back in about 5 minutes and tells me he has no idea where she put it and she's gone for the day. So basically I've wasted 15 minutes when I've still got two more stops to make and it's already after 4pm. I make the other pickups and deliveries and return to the funeral home. By this time it's 4:45 and we close at 5pm. So I made the most elementary of starts on my slide show. I debated staying late and getting it done, but in the end I decided I can work on it in the morning. We'll be fully staffed and I should be able to get finished. I only hope I don't hear any crap from my boss about "finish that later, we've got things to do..."

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Reflections On My Day Off

Today is my day off, and I awoke to the sound of some badly needed rain pattering on my window. I love those kinds of mornings, when you are nice and cozy and can just roll over and go back to sleep. Unfortunately, I also awoke to a list of tasks to complete, mostly involving laundry and cleaning the kitchen. I got a load of towels started in the washer, then started tackling the kitchen. Halfway through that I broke for lunch, which I ate on my porch while watching the rain come down. As I ate, I began thinking about my work and some things that have happened the past couple of days.

Tuesday night was my last night on call for this week. The running joke at work is we are guaranteed a call every Tuesday, because that's the usual "curse" of those on call; they can never enjoy that last night on duty without having to go on a removal. This was no exception. I got to the hospital, and the deceased was at least 350 to 4oo pounds. Fortunately, there were a couple of nurses available to help me.

Wednesday we had a lot to do; two bodies to get ready. One of those was a ship out, and he had to be at the airport by 1pm. The other we had to have ready by 3pm so we could put him in our chapel and get him ready for visitation. When I returned from the airport, the owner and my boss were talking about this visitation, and my boss said something like, "Poor Errand Guy, he's got to work visitation tonight. I screwed him on that deal." (My boss was leaving town that night for a wedding out of state, or else he would have been working). Now Errand Guy is the employee who is constantly taking extra days off or leaving early, and he hasn't worked a visitation in about a year. So the owner says, "Well, we let him and Returning Employee get off too easy, anyway." I was thrilled to hear that, because it's true! Neither one of them works visitations, except on the extremely rare occasion such as last night. Usually me or my boss are working them, and it gets kind of frustrating. Let me give you an example; Let's say I'm on call and I show up for work at 8am. We've got a visitation, which usually runs from 2-4pm and again from 6-8pm. I end up working until at least 8pm, sometimes longer if the family lingers or if there's a very large crowd. So I've been at work for 12 hours, minus breaks and meals. I go home, sit down for a late dinner, and the phone rings. I've got a removal to make. So I go out and make it, and get home about 90 minutes later, or so. So now I've been on the go about 14 hours or more. Sometimes after visitation I'll call my boss and say, "they're done, I'm going home to eat. Can you give me a couple of hours to eat and freshen up in case we get any calls?" He'll tell me he can't control when people will die. I remind him Returning Employee, who is also on call as an embalmer, is available to cover for me, yet my boss seems reluctant to send him out. As a result, I end up working about 45 hours per week, plus all the time spent on removals after hours, including all those calls that come at 2 or 3 in the morning.

Bottom line is, I feel like I'm doing my fair share of work and then some. Hopefully, though, now that the owner knows others are getting off easy, things will change for the better. Don't get me wrong. I still absolutely love my job, and I really like everybody I work with. I'm just tired of having the weight piled on my shoulders when there's enough people to share the load.

Anyhow, as I said, my boss went out of state, which means I once again am covering the phones after-hours. Last night we got a call about 7:45. I called Errand Guy, who was still at visitation. I told him we had a call, but this was a big guy (the nurse told me 450 pounds). So even though I was technically off, me and Errand Guy made the removal together, immediately after the visitation ended. He said, "It's been a long time since I had one this big." I told him it was my second in two days.