Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The Embalming Room : No Laughing Matter Part I
I remember my first job at a funeral home. It was a student position, as I was also attending mortuary college. It was one of the city's older funeral homes and part of a group that was once family-owned. By the time I went to work at the funeral home, it had been purchased by a corporation. However, given the small staff, it still had that "family feel" to it.
As a student, my job consisted of a number of duties that varied each day. There were always death certificates to type, flowers to set-up in the visitation rooms or deliver to churchs or grave sites, phones to answer, folders to make and bodies to help dress and place in their casket. On the embalming room door, there was a sign left over from the days of family ownership. It read, "Behind these doors rests the most important responsibility we have. Someone has entrusted us with the care of their loved one."
Many years later, I returned to that funeral home. There was a new owner, as the smaller corporation had been taken over by a much larger one. The much larger one was, by this time, my new employer. Upon entering the back hallways, I noticed that sign. It had survived the transition and caused me to stop for a moment and reflect. It was in that moment of reflection where I realized what a powerful impact the sign had made during my career. It was the constant reminder of taking care of somebody's mother, father, wife, husband, daughter, son, grandmother or other.
It was the words of that sign that brought a sickening over me the day I visited one embalming center. The corporation I now worked for had developed what they called central care centers. This refers to one building, a centralized embalming facility, containing a very large room designed with tables where all aspects of the embalming process are performed. Most families are not aware of this whenever they make arrangements at certain funeral homes. They are still under the impression that their loved one is actually at the funeral home.
I had made arrangements with a family for a gentleman who weighed 550 lbs. Because of his size, the manager of the care center suggested that I deliver the clothes to him and his staff would dress the man. The facility is equipped with specialized equipment and lifts to help in these cases. I decided to hand-deliver the clothing and stay during the dressing in case extra help was needed. What I witnessed next was appalling. The care center staff rolled the gentleman into a dressing area and he had been uncovered, meaning he had been stored completely naked on a table. The staff was laughing and making jokes the entire time they were dressing him, including the manager. As a non-manager myself, there was little that I could do except feel badly for the deceased.
It has been many years since that incident and not a day goes by that I don't remember. It makes me worry about anyone I cherish being taken to a funeral home.