IAmA Mortician with time to kill... AMA!
Did you know such phrases as 'saved by the bell' and 'graveyard shift' come from funeral service?
We had a dead clown one time. This person was buried in full clown costume with makeup and all. The whole family was clowns, all the friends were clowns. And at the familys request, the funeral directors were clowns too. They supplied costume and did our makeup. Family and friends had 1 tear drop painted on near the eye. Definitely my strangest.
Bring back the "Fun" in Funeral
I put the 'fun' in funeral
I heard that the funeral procession consisted of the hearse and one little car driving erratically while making "Beep Beep" noises.
Also, teeny weeny casket with 8 corpses inside.
Every time someone bent over the casket to pay their respects the flower on his lapel squirted them in the face.
I would have been laughing my head off if I had to go through that funeral. Had a good laugh irl, good shit.
all I could hear while they lowered the casket was 'pop goes the weasel'
Have you ever seen the show Six Feet Under? If so, how realistic do you think their portrayal of funeral homes is?
I have seen every episode. I think they did a good job making it look real.
Would you say you're a fan? Or did you just feel obligated to watch it because you knew people would bring it up?
I became addicted to that show very quickly. The stories were good and their portrayal of the business is fairly accurate
That's how you get a zombie, sir.
What was the grossest job you've had to do so far?
Thank you for the AMA..this sub needs more everyday AMAs like we use to have!
We had this house call one time. The lady was dead a while. On the couch all bloated as hell. When we started moving her, the abdomen busted. I had goo and maggots all over my leg.
Omg did you throw up?!
no, but I threw my suit away.
I too am a funeral director/ embalmer. We call maggots disco rice. I hate them so much. Pro tip: Kerosine kills maggots fast. So happy you are doing this AMA!
use a real high index and watch those little fuckers put some pep in their step. they don't like the chems at all.
Ever had strange occurrences of a supernatural nature?
every so often, yes. One time I had prepped this man. I came into the prep room to do some laundry and things. As I walked passed him, I noticed a small piece of lint in his ear from the towel I used to dry him off. I took my gloved pinky and kinda swiped it out. I proceeded to fold some towels. The next thing I know I felt something touch my ear, near the ear opening. It felt just like someone stuck their finger in my ear but there was noone around. The next day I was looking through the obituaries (i read the obituaries of the cases i work on) and sure enough this man had one. It mentioned how much of a prankster and fun he was. I guess I was his last prank.
My first experience at work was when I first started my embalming career. I worked at an independent mortuary service. I had just started my shift and was using a restroom in the back. When I came out, I heard what sounded like a girl sobbing and the sound of feet shuffling around on the floor. The floor was kinda gravely and had a distinct sound if you scooted your feet on it. The sound was coming from around a corner that led into a small room where we would store embalmed bodies ready to be delivered to their respective funeral home. I figured someone was upset and crying. So I kinda snuck in, still hearing the sobbing. When I peaked around the corner, the room was empty. No living person in there. I noticed that there was only one body in there as well. A young girl. She shot herself in the side of the head. I wasn't scared per say, but I'm pretty sure you could audibly hear my heart beat.
When it comes to these supernatural experiences, do morticians like telling these stories to each other or do they not say anything out of fear of being thought of as crazy?
I have shared stories with mortician friends, But I wouldn't have a serious supernatural conversation with the owner or anything. I can't even say that it is supernatural or ghosts or anything like that but the fact remains that weird shit does happen, sometimes with no logical explanation.
Did you ever bring in a hot plate and cut off a slice because you had the hunger?
No, but one time I was working on an autopsy. It was getting close to lunch and I was deciding what to have. I had bbq ribs that day.
I just did my first head autopsy today! But in the future, what are some things us ME people can do to better prepare the bodies for the mortuary?
ninja edit: morgue -> mortuary
Wow! You mean one of you actually care about the mortician? The most frustrating thing for an embalmer with a posted case is that when you guys remove the throat, tongue sometimes the carotids are cut or nicked so high up it becomes a very difficult challenge to get the head injected. And the head is the most important part. Whenever this happens we say, "must've been training day". I would say try your best to preserve the arteries, especially the carotids. Veins don't matter in a posted case.
When you're slow, business wise, is it pretty dead in the shop?
in the busiest of times, the body shop is always dead.
Is the same true for when business is good? Pretty dead in the shop?
it will always be a dead end job
I work in eye tissue donation. I've had people refuse because "They need them to see their loved ones when they get to heaven." What exactly happens to the eyes during an embalming?
The eyes usually start to flatten after death. Think of an old grape. They do, however, remain with the decedent. We don't remove them. You can use what is called an eye cap to put over the flattened eyeball to recreate the natural curvature of the eye. You can also inject tissue builder directly into the eyeball and fill it up. And sometimes, the embalming fluid will fill the eye to normal size.
Have you ever had to deal with children? What was it like?
Yes, I have embalmed many children from babies to toddlers and up. It never really bothered me. Probably because I didn't have kids at the time. I've seen people get in this business with kids and absolutely cannot embalm or even attempt a child. I now have a 3 year old, but it hasn't changed my ability to effectively prep a child.
IF your child, by any given circumstance would die, would you prefer to prepare the body or someone else to do it?
I would not allow anyone else to touch her.
I work in an ER and anyone who functions in a patient care capacity there for any amount of time seems to learn to cope with having bodies lying around for a bit, removing intubation/IVs for family viewing, etc. Maybe not all in the same way, but effectively enough that the cadaver might as well be an object. Do you find this is a necessity for your job too? And if you had to work on a family member, do you think your emotional attachment would impair your performance either during that time, or thereafter? It seems to me a little empathy for the family is good, but too much could be mentally toxic to someone in your line of work. Thanks for answering.
Yeah, I view the bodies as my work. You have to detach a little. I don't try and think about what kind of person they were, what they did. It is irrelevant to me at the time of the embalming. I have a job to do. I have been entrusted with this families loved one and they deserve my very best ability to make this person look natural and dignified.
People deserve the opportunity to view their loved one in a dignified manner, no matter what happened to them. No matter if it takes 8hrs to complete and after all my work if I brought the family just a little comfort, if I've made this experience just a little bit easier for them then I can sleep well that night.
I have embalmed an uncle. I wasn't real close to him though. I suspect I would embalm my loved ones when the time comes. we'll see. I think I could detach enough to get it done.
- Have you ever been physically attracted to one of the bodies?
- Have you ever killed anyone in order to increase your own business?
- Have you ever had to handle a body that was so disfigured/decomposed/etc that it made you sick?
-I've never been attracted to a dead body.
-Never killed anyone but some funeral homes joke when it's slow. "better take my pillow to the nursing home"
-the odors associated with decomposition will irritate your system. if you are around it long enough you can feel sick to your stomach and vomit. I have felt sick around it, but never vomited. I have a pretty strong stomach
how is saved by the bell related to the funeral service?
back in the early days it was a huge fear to be buried alive. This has to do with the fact that medical science was shit at the time. Some people were just comotose, they couldn't tell if you were dead or not. That's why there was a 'wake' service where they would lay you out in state to see if you would 'wake' up. So these caskets were developed with a hole through the top, a string was placed in the deceased's hands and ran up out of the hole, through a tube to the top of the ground. The string was attached to a bell. So if you weren't actually dead, you could ring the bell. You would in fact be, 'saved by the bell'.
they would also have guards working over nights in the cemeteries to ward off grave robbers and listen for these bells. 'the graveyard shift'
Guessing here... Was this from when people would be buried with a string attached to a bell that was above ground, so they could ring the bell if they woke up to find they had been buried alive?
When you cremate someone, how often do the ashes from previous customers make it into the current customer's mix?
there is some co-mingling involved, although very minimal. It is unavoidable, you can't get every single grain out. As long as you sweep it properly after each person, it is very minimal.
Not really. Good, caring people usually gravitate to this career and excel at it. I'm glad you had a positive experience.
I am an ICU nurse. Do you guys really appreciate when we leave the central lines in? I was told it saves you a step, but I always wondered if was true.
I appreciate it due to the fact that dead blood doesn't coagulate and leaving the lines in saves a lot of leakage on my stretcher and in the vehicle. I can see where it would save an embalmer a step in that they just leave it in. But such an embalmer would be lazy. All medical tubes, IV lines, etc should be removed during embalming and the holes left behind are sutured and glued.
Do they teach you in school how to pull various lines? I've sent people to the funeral home with urinary catheters in for various reasons (mostly I forget about them). Am I making a mortician somewhere swear at me?
no, it's all very easy for us to remove.
What's the most difficult job you've had to do? As in, have there been any bodies that have been especially difficult for you to handle, either because of size (obese, dwarf, etc.) or condition (mangled, gruesome death, etc.)?
Do you think you will or (have you already) worked on a close family member?
Any stories of unsatisfied (living) or belligerent customers you can share? As someone who worked in customer service for many years, I imagine a mortician has to do at least a little customer service from time to time.....and we all know how great dealing with the public can be.
Do you personally sleep like the dead at night?
-decomps, obese, autopsied skin & bone donors, major trauma from car accidents.. these can be some of the most difficult to work with.
-I've embalmed an uncle and I suspect I will embalm my own mother when the time comes.
-people are people, you know. Funeral service is all about customer service. The families are very hypersensitive and can be set off over the smallest of details. Some are very easy to deal with, others are just angry over the death (which is normal) but these are the ones that give you trouble.
and yes, I sleep very well at night.
Have you ever laid down in a coffin?
yes, they are not comfortable.
What happens when the certification expires?!
Have to renew every 2 years.
Was waiting for you.
well, here I am.
Did you go into the business by choice?
Yes I did. I was fascinated by the industry as a kid. When I was 12, there was a bad head on collision near my house. A man in a truck didn't make it. My family and I were standing around with all the other neighbors when the coroner arrived. He pronounced, then they took him out and put him on a stretcher, his head turned to the side looking straight at me. I remember being curious as to what happens to people when they die, as far as the physical body.
Are women creeped out by your career choice?
Some are. I like to date other morticians or nurses. They seem to understand and are over the whole novelty of it all.
You seem way 2 calm about a head turning and looking at you when you are 12 lol
it was exciting for me, lol
Other than the Clown Funeral, any other "funny" funerals that stand out in your memory? By funny I mean something memorable or humorous happened, or the attendees did something that you recall as being unusual in the context of normal funeral behavior.
One time we had a person who did some acting and modeling in California. A hand model. The family came in early for the visitation to set up pictures and things. I show them in, help them get started then leave them so they can do their thing. I come back in about 10 min to check on them and just about every picture they put up was this persons hands from the various ads they did. There were some family photos, but most were a pair of hands. It was funny to me because most people will put up whole pictures.
When you say farewell to somebody in public and shake their hand do you say "I'll be seeing you"?
If so, what is their reaction?
I've said it to elderly family members. "see ya soon!" I usually get a chuckle. Another fun thing is to carry a tailoring tape measure. If someone ever tries some stupid stunt or something, bust it out and start taking their measurements. Gets a laugh every time.
As someone who works closely with the recently deceased, how has it affected your own belief/disbelief in any kind of afterlife?
I have heard enough stories from families and have had enough experiences around the funeral home to feel that there is something else afterwards.
Hey Mortician. I've worked with the dead for a few years in my life. One time I picked up a woman who OD'd and I believe had been ruled dead for over a day. When I put her in the body bag, I started talking to the coroner. While my attention was distracted, the bag started rubbing against my leg. I could feel the blood flush out of me like a tidal wave and literally turned bone white. I was told this was caused by the gases escaping the body. Do you see this phenomenon often or at all?
so the bag filled with gas and pressed against your leg? I've never seen that. Sometimes when you move them, air escapes the throat and they make noises. Sounds like a snore.
Were you, at any point, disgusted with/by your job? If so, how did you get over it?
When you are new in this business, there will be a time when you step back and say, "what the fuck am I doing". Mine was at mortuary school during embalming lab. The county would have their cases embalmed at the school for practice. The deceased was an autopsy and had no legs. I was just looking at her, autopsy incisions open, the empty cavity inside. Her hands looked as if to be gripping the edge of the table. Her mouth wide open because we haden't closed it yet. She looked like she was screaming silently in pain. That was my wtf moment, you get over it.
Id like to get into this business myself. Is there any sort of internship involved? Id love to know.
My state requires attendance at a mortuary school to obtain a provisional license. You can then move into a 'student' or 'intern' position at a funeral home.
What's an average day on the job like?
it depends on what's going on. an average day you might have a funeral service, meet with a family for arrangements, run death certificates to the doctors that are not online, pick up a body from a hospital
So a mortician is the person who prepares bodies for funerals then?
Yes. Mortician is a term that applies to a person who is both funeral director and embalmer. In my state, not every funeral director is an embalmer, but every embalmer is a funeral director. The embalmers will prepare a body for burial.
Have you seen the Linklater film Bernie? If so what did you think? If not then you really need to.
I have not seen it yet but I plan to.
What the most 'interesting' death that occurred to a person you mortified?
Lot's of interesting deaths. I embalmed a man that was found dead, leaning over a balcony in the front of his house. It was October and with all his decorations, neighbors thought he also was a decoration. He was there for days.
another time there was an old couple walking down a main road. A truck drove by carrying sheet metal. One flew off near them and decapitated both of them.
How do you think the hospice movement has affected the funeral business?
We actually work very closely with hospice organizations. They can't refer business to you but they're good to have on your side.
I think this occupation helps you accept your own mortality. I have no fear of death.
Have/Will there ever be a job you refuse to do? ..like under any circumstances of the body/family/whatever
I've seen pictures and have heard about people being embalmed and placed on a motorcycle, stood up in the corner, in a recliner.. This all seems ridiculous and disrespectful to me. Especially if the deceased did not request it. I say I would refuse to do this to someone but who knows. I mean if the family really wants it.
awhile back, a firefighter posted a photo of the..erm...cork used to hold internal organs in. Do those giant cork things really exist, and do you really have to insert them?.....
i'd have to see a picture. They do make anal plugs that 'screw' in to prevent leakage. The anus and vagina are usually packed with surface embalming chems and cotton to help prevent leakage. Not everyone will leak from these areas though.
Would you be embalmed yourself? Or would you want to be cremated?
Do you do cremations? Which is more common, cremations or embalming?
I'm ok with being embalmed and buried. I'm also ok with being cremated. I will let my family choose the method which best suits them at the time. We do cremations also, yes. The cremation rate is on the rise, big time. Our firm is 60% cremation.
Have you ever completed a job, and then realize a few weeks later that you forgot to do some important thing? Like... crap! I forgot to retrieve my cellphone out of the coffin.
Sometimes things are forgotton or left behind. Usually our equipment. One time I was on an out of town service/graveside. 2hrs away. I ended up forgetting the pew markers in the church. It happens.
Hey! Thanks so much for this. I think this is my first time actually asking a question on r/IAmA, actually.
Anyway, I live in New Orleans. And if you've ever been there, you'd know that we pretty much put our dead on display. Because of that, and the inordinate amount of funerals that I've attended in my 19 years on earth, I've found that I have a fascination with death. More specifically, the traditions that are synonymous. I've put serious thought into becoming a Mortician, but as of now, I don't think that it's the right choice for me. I thank you for your service.
I have to know, can you give me one singular moment when you sat back, perhaps after a funeral, and thought: wow. I did a good thing today?
When a family member hugs and thanks me for whatever. It makes it so worth it. It can be a thankless career path. You gotta pat yourself on the back and say attaboy because noone else is gonna tell you. But when it comes from the family you served, it is very rewarding.
Love the title.
I heard somewhere that morticians hang bodies on a hook via a cut in the back of their neck. Is this true?
Thanks for the AMA!
No! But that would be awesome! j/k. It's funny to me about exactly how little the general public knows about this industry. It's a myth. People are embalmed on their backs. Another myth is that we cut off the legs of tall people so they fit in the casket. Our secret: put something uner the legs so that the knees are bent.
This might have already been asked, but what is the most common thing that the public thinks about the industry that isn't true?
Thanks for the reply! :D
the misconception that every funeral director is filthy rich. you might make a decent living, but only the owners get rich.
Who would you recommend this job to? Like what kind of person would make a good mortician?
It's funny. I was a waiter for many years in my younger days. I always say, If you can be a successful waiter, you can be a successful funeral director. They are similar in ways. They both wait on families, both provide what should be excellent customer service. Just that one puts a pizza in the oven, the other puts a body in the oven. But really anyone who is good with people and customer service should do well.
Have any corpses phones somehow made it into the mortuary and gone off while you were performing an embalming?
We usually turn them off if we come across them. The family can turn it back on if they want to.
Do funeral directors always slice the back of an outfit in half so it's easier to slip on in two pieces?
It's funeral director preference. I always slice the back of tshirts, shirts, and jackets. It just makes it easier to dress. I don't like jostling around with the body incase they purge some fluids. You can get the pants on without cutting unless they are too small. I work with a guy that cuts nothing, I chuckle as he struggles with a body.
Mouth closure: what do you prefer? Dental tie? Mandible suture? Or the needle injector?
first choice for people with teeth is the needle injector. Mandibular suture for no teeth. I have perfected my technique. I never have a visible divet under the chin.
Do you ever get weird requests about the body from family members? I went to a funeral where they had the (open) coffin propped up so the dude was standing up, it was bizarre. The mortician said they used a brace up his legs/back to make him sit still >_<
I've never had a request like that, but you do what you do to please the family. I often get requests to put a little smile on their face.
Hi. First of all: Thanks for your service.
- What does a dead body smell like?
- What exactly, as a mortician, do you do?
depends on what happend to it. Burned bodies smell like burned meat, no different than if you burnt a steak. Electrocuted bodies have a sweet scent to them, reminds me of roasted marshmallow. Decomps can be really horrible to be around and if you're around the long enough it will make you sick. -I am a licensed funeral director and embalmer. I make arrangements with families, I work on funeral services, I embalm all our bodies at the funeral home. I run errands, I take clergymen, hospice people out to lunch sometimes. There's a lot to do.
How many religions can you accommodate? There are funeral homes that specialize, say in orthodox Jewish funerals, but are you supposed to be able to handle anyone who calls you?
The majority of our church services are Catholic. But we have experience with LDS, protestant, lutheran, methodist, etc
What's your salary? Enough to lend me tree fiddy?
I make a good living. Although, I'll never be rich on my current salary.
Have you ever an Orthodox Jewish funeral service? If so, can you explain some of the nuances to me?
It's been a while. There are Jewish funeral homes here. They typically bury the next day. No embalming, if they do embalm you have to save the blood in jars to bury with them. Orthodox Jewish believe that part of your soul resides in the blood. That's why the body is usually intact. Typically in a wood casket, all wood, no metal parts. That's about all I recall without looking it up.
Are you familiar with the Ask A Mortician video series? That's a buddy of mine.
I haven't heard of that, sounds interesting.
How old are you?
just turned 35
How long did it take for you to come up with the title?
right away when I decided to do the AMA
I've read some articles claiming morticians get looked down upon by every day people. Have you ever had this experience when telling someone about your profession?
Some people do get all weird when I tell them what I do. In my everyday life, I don't want anyone to know for this reason. Others find it fascinating and want to know all about it.
How did you like Bernie?
haven't seen it, but I want to.
What's the weirdest thing you have found on a body?
Also we need proof.
I added proof. One time we made a house call. The deceased lady was over 500 pounds. We just wrapped her up in the sheets and blankets she was on and dragged her out. When we eventually got her on the prep table and started taking the sheets off, all this debris started coming out. Potato chip bags, candy wrappings, 2-liter coke bottles. Then I hear a clang on the ground, the lady had a locked & loaded glock.
How often do you receive a body that is already partially or heavily decomposed? Are these harder to work with? Seems as though it would be a very uncomfortable experience.
we get a decomp every so often. they are typically for cremation so I don't have to mess with them that much. You will never forget your decomp cases though. The bad thing is the odors. These odors associated with decomposition are an irritant to your system. After a while, it can and will make you feel queesy and some will even vomit.
I'm honestly kind of intrigued. How would one begin the path toward that career?
I was always interested in it as a kid. My favorite movie genre has and always will be horror. I think my young mind was warped and desensitized enough for this career to be a reality for me.
Do you ever do anything silly or leave anything hidden in the bodies? like leaving your name or initials hidden cleverly?
I never mess with the bodies like that. I take my career very seriously. We never talk bad or make fun of the deceased or mess with them in any way. but the living, well you're all fair game.
How do you like working with a bunch of stiffs?
The general public sometimes thinks we just sit around embalming dead bodies all day. Unless you are strictly an embalmer for a mortuary service, this is not the case. The actual embalming is a very small part of the big picture. Most of my time is spent with living, breathing, hurting people. And believe you me, the living is much more frightful than the dead.
it always goes back to necrophilia
What is the strangest request that the deceased had wanted done for their service?
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