Monday, November 30, 2009

Maybe a little late...

So, I'm sorry I haven't updated, here are my excuses: Thanksgiving week = a day off, but not less deaths, so a five day week's worth of work has to get accomplished in 4 (actually more like 3 and a half, we all check out at about noon on the day before Thanksgiving); I've been sick, actually fairly certain it was H1N1, but am now recovering; I haven't felt like internetting much this week for some reason. Anyway, here is a list of my thankful things:

1. I'm thankful for my family. I was sitting with my sister having a beer and I was thinking about how nice it was to have Thanksgiving with a family that I don't dread being around. My mom's side of the family came to town: three aunts, three uncles, a couple of cousins and their kids, my hubby, my daughter, my sister (the one I was having the beer with, the other one was with her in-laws), my parents, and a good friend of mine. We hung around and ate and drank, and it was a blast, actually not too different from any other year, which is probably why I never really thought that Thanksgiving could be a bummer holiday were it spent with family members I don't enjoy. So, there I was, having a beer with my sister sometime on Saturday afternoon, and I was thinking how lucky I am to have a totally fun dysfunctional family, instead of a dreadful yet functional one.

2. I'm thankful for this blog. Another thing I realized while having beer with my sister is that I am so glad I have an outlet for my job. Not that my friends don't want to hear about how work is going, they kinda do, but not in the depth that I would like to share it with them. This blog has been quite the stress reliever, not to mention how it has helped me to feel less like I'm crazy for loving my job, as all of you readers make me feel like there are a handful of folks out there that understand my love for this field, and actually are interested in the goings-on of my day-to-day, instead of being grossed out. It's really pretty awesome to have you guys.

3. I'm thankful that I'm pretty. Yeah, I know it's shallow, and I also know that I might not be pretty to everyone, but I think I'm pretty. Actually, I know I'm pretty, and I'm proud of it. I love my super-short haircut (it's an 8 on the back and sides, a little longer on top, and is usually spiky, or faux-hawked). I love my green eyes. I love my faint freckles. I love my smile. I love my tattoos. I love my style.

4. I'm thankful for books.  I read a bit this Thanksgiving and the following weekend, and I can't tell you enough how much I enjoy a good book. I love to sit in my rocking chair and read, drinking some tea (or beer) and letting the cat sit on my blanketed lap and keep my legs warm.  It's peaceful and exciting at the same tome, which not many things are, and I am blessed to have enough money to spend on books, and a reading family to let me borrow theirs.

5. I'm thankful for my friends.  Really, I'm thankful right now for my friend, J, the girl I blogged about a while back.  She and I haven't been close like we were in the beginning, but she's been amazingly good to me none the less, and has really gone outside her boundaries to be there for me.  She feels like a sister to me, and I am so thankful to have found her. She feels like a soul mate, and I've never had one of those before, and even though typing that sounds asinine even to me, it's true.  I've lucked out really, and am grateful that she's here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Live blogging, Rosary style

I'm at a Catholic service right now, blogging from my phone as I sit in the coach (that's what us funeral home floks call a hearse). I am working with a part-timer, an older guy (prob 67 or so) who works services for us often, and is just the slightest bit of a dirty old man, but its always mixed with just enough southern gentleman to make him bearable. Actually, he's one of the few people at work that allows me to lift caskets without making comments about how men should be the ones doing that stuff, and that I might hurt my baby maker if I keep with all the lifting (yes, they really say baby maker). Anyway, the service is a 9 am Rosary, which is underway now, and a 10 am Mass, followed by a trip to the cemetery. The guy I'm working with suggested that I go sit in the coach once the Rosary started, as it is cold-ish (well, it never gets too cold here, even in the winter it's rare for it to get below freezing overnight), and I'm wearing a skirt, so I decided to be a baby and do just that. So, here I sit, waiting for the Rosary to finish, drinking coffee in a hearse (don't tell the boss), wishing I had a donut.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Drinks with my sister, or, In which I get hit on by the waitress

Last night my sister and daughter and I went out for some beers (not for my daughter, she had water). There’s a little town just a little ways away from the city I live in, and they have a pizza place with tons of beers on tap and even more bottled, and my sister and I like to go anytime I am husbandless. We’ve only recently started going to this place, but we love it and even though it’s a bit of a drive (but not too bad, the little town is practically part of the city I live in) I think we are quickly becoming regulars.

So, we sit down in a booth that Clem (my daughter) picked out, and this super-adorable, butch-y server gets us some menus and says, “Back for some more torture?” She had been our waitress once before, about a month ago, and apparently remembered us (two hot chicks and a cute kid, I’d remember us too). She got us some beers that she thought we’d like (she was right) and would stop by the table every so often to flirt and let me charm her socks off, especially once she found out that I’m a mortician. Close to the beginning of the evening she pointed out the way I was dressed (skirt and matching vest; white, high-collared, button-down shirt; pantyhose and four inch heels (hot, right?)), and asked what I do for a living (I said mortician just as she started to ask if I was a paralegal or some shit, LOL). Apparently her sister always tells people that she’s a mortician just for kicks, and through the conversation we had about her sister I learned that my super-cute waitress is 24 years old (and just barely that). We continued the flirty banter throughout the evening, and I finally asked her why she works in the little (more conservative) town when she could get a job working in my (much larger and accepting of the lesbians) town instead. Here’s our convo (or what I remember the conversation going like):

Waitress: I’d get in a lot more trouble working there than I do here.
Me: What kind of trouble?
W: Well, let me just say, I like them married.
Then she WINKED and walked away.

Or something like that

So, yeah, she’s totally warm for my form, right? Maybe I’m not as old looking as I thought I was, or maybe she likes the girls that are almost thirty…

Jewish Services

So, I don't know how many of my reader friends are Jewish, or even have many Jews in their community, but this past month I've had two Jewish funerals, and let me tell you: they are not easy.

So, Jews, Orthodox Jews in particular, have rules about burial, like, not just traditions, but rules.  When one dies, the interment (burial) must be within 24 hours (as long as that's possible), not counting the Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) on which it is forbidden to do work pertaining to the funeral arrangements.  This can be a bit hectic, especially when the deceased's doctor isn't Jewish, as they don't always cooperate with the funeral home in how quickly they do the death certificate paperwork (which is necessary for burial to take place).  The evening before burial (the day of the death) the body must be bathed and shrouded, then placed in an Orthodox casket, called an Aron, which is always a wooden casket with no metal or animal-based glues, and usually has holes in the bottom (to aid in decomposition of the remains) and a Star of David on the lid.

So, the bathing ritual takes place in the embalming room, so I have to make sure it's extra clean, and I have to take down the crucifix that I always have hanging above the sink, and get out protective gowns, shoe covers, gloves, etc. for the people to wear that come in to do the bathing.  The ceremony is done by four members of the Synegauge that are of the same sex as the deceased, and I have never watched it, I feel out of place when they start chanting in Hebrew, but I do pop my head in every once in a while to make sure they don't need anything.  It takes about three hours, and when the bathing/praying/shrouding is done we all put the deceased in the Aron.  There are candles that get light when the bathing ceremony is taking place, ones that look a lot like the Catholic ones, but instead of Jesus they are decorated with a Star of David and words in Hebrew.  THe candle is to stay with the remains before they are buried, lit the whole time, and then after the burial they are taken by the surving family members and burned for another 6 days at home.

At the time of the death (if the Rabbi is there) the Rabbi tears the clothing of the family members.  The clothing is then worn for a week to remind the family to grieve.  If family members weren't present at the death their clothing is torn at the graveside.

The attendees at the burial all help shovel the earth into the plot once the Aron is lowered into the ground, and that's it.

It doesn't seem like as much work as it really was, rereading the post, but I promise, it was stressful.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Question-fest

Question from Jenn:
Also, most of us like to think of death as a nice, quiet passing; but there are those that pass quite violently (car accidents, buildings collapse, airplane crashes) how does that differ? Have you ever encountered anything so horrific that you couldn't stand it?

It's strange I suppose, but the horrifying part of dying is usually okay with me.  There have been auto accidents that have been very scary looking when the body reaches me, with the re-building of the skull alone taking a whole day, and the actual face taking a lot longer.  A few suicides have also been quite the projects, shotguns are very damaging.   The worst looking cases (and most likely that I cannot help them) are usually drowning victims that don't get removed from the water quickly.  We call them floaters, and the water makes them decompose very quickly, and they smell awful and look even worse.  But really, I haven't ever had a case that I couldn't work on because it was too gross, I actually like the gross ones, they give me something to do. 

And IT asked:
Do funeral homes charge like a corkage fee if somebody already has casket that they bought from Walmart or Costco?

LoL.  It's actually illegal to charge a casket handling fee, but funeral homes get around it by either offering package pricing when a family buys a casket from them and then itemizing their service fees if the casket is purchased elsewhere, or by raising their service fees and lowering casket prices so that they get the money anyway.  Costco has been selling caskets for a while now, and I have only encountered a family using them twice, so I'm not really sure how well they're doing with the whole thing, and just as a side note: the caskets offered now by Walmart are made by the same company as the Costco ones.

And a last one from RIC Girl:
I have a question about facial reconstruction. Can you explain how you disguise bad cuts, broken bones or areas of the face that are shattered? How about the smells involved with the whole embalming process? Is it something you get used to?

As for facial abrasions, it depends a lot on the type of wound.  No matter what the hole is stitched up, I usually use dental floss (white, mint).  It's very strong, and thick enough not to rip through and tear the skin when pulled tightly enough to close a gaping facial wound, but not heavy like the string I ues to stitch up the embalming incision(s), and it smells nice.  Anyway, if part of the skin is missing i bring the two (or more) sides together as much as possible when I stitch it up without pulling too hard so that the skin looks too tight.  That way there is floss going across the hole, giving the stuff I use to fill the hole up with something to hold on to.  once its all stitched I dry the tissue really well with a chemical, and I can then start rebuilding.  The product I like to use the most for that sort of thing is called "Easy Way" (I know, totally lame name) and is made by a chemical company called Dodge (I think they're out of Massachusetts (wow, I don't think I would have EVER been able to spell that state n my own)).  The Easy Way is a powder and a liquid that I mix together when I'm ready to use it, and I can make it any consistency I need.  I usually make it a little more pliable than modeling wax, and stick it where I need it.  If I'm using it to fill a hole I just sculpt it to fit the surrounding tissue, and smooth it over using a paint brush and a chemical called "Dry Wash II" something a lot like nail polish remover, that allows the brush to glide over the Easy Way and not stick to it.  When the Easy Way looks the way I want it to I cover it with some of the powder in the mixture and let it sit for a bit.  I can add layer after layer to build up features (like a nose or lip, or something like the brow bone or cheekbone if it wasn't able to be rebuilt from the underside) after the underneath layers dry and become hard if I need to.  When Easy Way first came out it was hard to work with, but I kept at it, and now I like it much more than the wax clays we used for eons before the Easy Way came along.  I've been trying to teach Jane to use it as well, but she's old and set in her ways (and she usually hires me to do reconstructions anyway).  Once the features are the way I want them I use make-up over them, and then apply any hair that might need to be there (eyebrows/eyelashes are common things that need to be replaced in accident victims).

As for the smells, yeah, they're gross, and I'll admit, I have gagged a time or two, but they really don't bother me too often.  Don't get me wrong, I dont adore the smell of decomposing flesh, or the smell of viscera on an autopsied case (imagine what rotting feces would smell like), but it's just part of the job.  Same thing for the smells of the chemicals, I just kinda have to bear them, so I do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Children and Babies

So, I've been really thinking about the questions regarding children, and I have a few different answers.  People usually want to know how I work on children and babies, like how I don't just cry and cry when I work on them, but they never really ask about the process and how it differs from that of adults, and I'd like to cover all of that here.

Children and babies have higher fat content in their bodies than normal adults, which makes it harder for the bodies of children to embalm as well as an adult since embalming relies on fixing proteins (muscle).  Fat people are a lot the same, the tissue just doesn't "fix" (get firm) as well as in bodies of someone with less fat.  In order to compensate for the higher fat content we usually use stronger formaldehyde content, but that can lead to tissue becoming dehydrated more quickly than in a "normal" case.  with children I try to use the stronger fluid mixed with humectant chemicals, which, if I try to explain, is like injecting them with lotion so as to moisturize the tissue from the inside.

With babies, especially with fetal deaths that were premature, sometimes it isn't possible to embalm them using the arterial system, as it is not developed enough to do much good, and their skin is so underdeveloped that it tears easily and is hard to stitch up any injection site.  In cases like that we normally "pack" them, which means we wrap the baby in cotton and saturate the cotton with embalming fluid, and let the body sit for a day or two.

So that's the technical aspect.

As to the emotional side of things, that's a lot harder to answer.  It wasn't until recently, in dealing with the homicide of a young child, that I had any emotional issues with the death of children.  I don't mean to sound like I am cold, or unfeeling, but I am fairly good at understanding that people, even children and babies, die.  I don't feel like it's fair, and I don't think that I feel like it has to be fair, and I know that me doing a good job, whether it be meeting with the family of a dead child, or embalming them, that it will help a grieving family, and that helps me tremendously.  Usually when a child dies it is because of an accident, or maybe a long-standing illness, and while families have questions about why their child had to be the one to die, I don't tend toward those thoughts.  But then, with the homicide case a little while ago, I was shaken.  I cried when the case got to the funeral home.  I sobbed, I was uncontrollable.  I didn't understand.  I still don't.  I cried when I met with the family.  I cried at the service.  I cried as I attemped to make the little body look like it hadn't suffered.  I cried to my mom, and my friends, and was just not myself.  I still don't sleep well, waking to thoughts and images of the little body.

So, that's what took me so long to post.