What do morticians really do?
I will not say names, numbers, dates, locations, and all that good stuff for privacy.
I do not want to get into trouble for writing about others privacy. All I can say is how it feels, what I am learning and what I am experiencing. Everything that goes down behind the scenes because not a lot of people know what happens behind the scenes.
Also, I am writing about a California Funeral Home. Laws are different in each state. Remember that.
This day and age, no one really talks about death unless they are dying, a death in the family, morbid lifestyles, or just stumbling upon it.
There is a lot people do not normally see
When you think of funerals, what do you think of?
A nice service? A family member’s funeral? Dead bodies and caskets? Cemeteries? Flowers? Picture videos? Coffins?
I thought of those things when I thought about it before.
Now I think of removals, death certificates, permits, preneeds, arrangements, headstone/casket companies, churches, embalming, cremation permits, etc.
Lots and lots of paperwork and phone calls to get it all going.
I came in the Funeral Industry a virgin. I knew just the very tip of the iceberg about anything. I have always wanted to work in the industry and researched as much as I could and watched videos but let me say, all that research did nothing for me. There was way more to do than what I initially thought. There was way more than what meets the eye.
People get the wrong impression when I say I work at a funeral home. They ask all the negative questions like:
“Do you touch dead bodies?” “Do you ever get scared?” “How can you work at a funeral home?” “Do you see ghosts?” “Do the bodies really twitch when you move them?” “How much do you get paid?” etc.
That is NOT what the funeral business is all about. Especially for the one I work for.
And if you were expecting to only work in the prep room and not talk to anyone because you “hate people”…you are in for a huge surprise!
It is about serving families
What does that mean?
It means we want to ease your burdens. We want to walk with you through this difficult time because you are mourning over the ones you love. We want to be their to answer your questions and to help guide you through your difficult time. We want to support you, and make sure everything goes smoothly so you do not stress so much.
Think of us as a “wedding planner” but for funerals.
We do NOT come up with the prices for the products, we simply sell them in the funeral home so you don’t have to go hunting around for things. (Disclaimer, I am talking about the funeral home I work for, not those funeral homes who are in the industry for money.)
So, using the wedding planner analogy, it is like having flowers, dresses on display with pictures of venues, and other things that the couple decide to buy if they want to, or to spark ideas. If they need flowers, they can ask for the business number. They need a garter? They might have one there for sale. They want to purchase a wedding dress? They can look through catalogs and the selection they have on file to go ahead and order for them. Things like that.
The Funeral Home works the same way.
From Start to finish, this is how it typically goes
For a regular, traditional funeral:
Someone passes away.
We get a call from either the hospital, coroner’s office, family, Hospice, etc about the person that passed away. Normally, by the time they call us, the person is ready to be picked up.
If I was on call, no matter the time, I would get ready, put on my suit and head out to the chapel to get the van and gurney ready. If it was a veteran, we make sure to have the american flag gurney.
We go over on the scene/home/hospital/ wherever the decedent is and find the person in charge, normally would be the next of kin or the nurse/security/police etc. ready to release the body to us. We let the family know where to contact us and ask when they are available to make arrangements. We ask if they would like their loved one embalmed and if they have any other requests. We go over and place the decedent onto our gurney and pay our respects to the family. We sign a few documents giving us responsibility for the decedent and we head off back to the chapel. We unload the gurney into the prep room where we re-tag and prep the body to be put in the cooler until we know what to do with him or her next.
The next thing we do is wait for the family to contact us. They can either call and make an appointment, walk in, and or let us know when they will be available. It is important for families to know what to bring in. Normally, they will need the decedents information: DOB, where they were born, SSN, parents names on the birth certificate, (if military) DD214, address, the informant’s information, if they were married, etc. There is a lot of things here in California that we have to put onto the death certificate.
We welcome the family and have a sit down with them and have a run down on how things typically go.
Cremation or burial?
We start to talk about what the family wants or if their loved one had a PreNeed (Pre Arrangements that were paid before hand, or just a Pre Arrangements plan that was written). We then go off step by step on the list, explaining the services we can provide for them. We talk about how they would like their loved one to be dressed/look like and ask the family for a picture so we can make a copy for the embalmer to have something to work off of.
And a little side note for those who don’t know:
Do NOT pay a funeral home before hand, that is ILLEGAL. You can pay off life insurance policies and talk to people at the funeral home about it and have a LICENSED person that can sell insurance to you. You would be surprised how many people do not know that.
If a funeral home accepts a payment for a service upfront before the person has passed, walk away. That is illegal in California.
We then go into Dates and Times
It is very important that we have dates and times in mind when we are planning the service. We need to coordinate with the church/cemetery/florist/musicians etc. Depending on how much is going on in the service, we are going to talk about schedules and who and who will help with the service (I am talking about officiants/musicians etc.)
And one thing that people find surprising is that WE DO NOT WORK DIRECTLY WITH THE CEMETERY. We are separate and if you have questions about plots,vaults,and costs, you will have to go and talk to the cemetery personally. We only communicate on times and records, but we do not handle money or know prices.
We supply lots of resources or so, casket selection, urns, rosaries, cemation jewlery etc, it all depends on what you want.
Once we have all your vital information, we start talking about family names and write that information under the file. My funeral home does this for ancestry uses and to make some information easier on both ends if you will ever sadly return to us for another service.
After we are done talking is when we start getting to business.
We start working on that Death Certificate right away. We start to call the doctor’s office of the doctor that could provide us causes of death. If they passed away in an accident, that goes to the coroner’s office. We get the information and place it in the system and see if it gets approved by the Health Department in California. They can either deny or accept it and it is very VITAL that EVERYTHING on that document is spelled right and has the correct information. Once we have the okay from the Health Department, we have the doctor look over the certificate one last time and have him/her sign it and send it back to the Health Department for viewing. We double, triple check everything. Once we have that signature in, we have permits. These permits are necessary for burial or cremation. We cannot place anyone in the ground, or cremate unless we have those permits. If they do not have the permits before any of that takes place….that’s a big no no!
We then start making phone calls like mad people making sure the church is ready to go, officiant is available, dove release people know where to be, musicians know when they can start playing, etc. And on top of that, we are adding personal touches to the folders we hand out, books that the family signs, making sure we got the right casket/urn. We are making sure the informant is in the know about everything that is happening so they can do whatever they need with that information. If the person was a veteran, we make sure they have military honors, a flag, and any other personal touches they need. We scan pictures, blow them up and display them for the service. We make videos and make sure the pictures are spiffy by photo shopping the distorted looking ones. We are perfecting all the things the family wants and needs. It is their loved one’s special day.
Side note! If a funeral home seems like they are pressuring you to buy the more expensive casket/item etc. I say walk out. Why should you walk out?
Personally, I have met these people and they are the WORST to work with. They don’t care about their job, they just want the money. Sadly, some funeral homes pay by commission and I find that so wrong, personally. Because that takes away the whole purpose why we are there, we are there to help, not sell.
Once those people start talking like a sales person, walk away.
I promise you, you are doing the right thing.
Now Here Comes the Personal Part
When I help prep the deceadent….I speak to them.
As silly and weird as it sounds, they are still people to me. I think of them as if they are sleeping or that their spirit still lingers and treat them as though they were still alive.
So, if you ever had me for a service, you best believe I talked to your grandma ❤
I wash them, dress them, apply makeup and make sure that they look special on their last day. I brush their hair and talk stories with them. I am cracking jokes and and singing and humming tunes that they like. Call me weird, but I see it as the biggest honor of them all.
There are times I exaggerate how creepy things are in the morgue, but it is all jokes and for fun. We do respect the dead. There is no doubt about it. All the silly things I say aside, when I am in work mode, I take my job seriously. And I honestly thank families for letting me be a part of their day. I find it to be a great honor to be the one to help them and to guide them in their time of grief and pain. To be the one they call when they need help. I truly care.
When the day comes
I will be right there for you.
A respectable mortician will make sure they did the best they could to serve your family. A great mortician cares.
We place your loved one on the hearse and we are off to be there on standby.
I can go on and on and on about the different services
So I am not going to, every service is unique and some are very traditional, but all in all, it was the way they would have wanted it hopefully
(because sadly we sometimes get a family who does not give a hoot about their loved one).
It is a crazy industry to work for.
You have no idea what to expect. Some days it is so slow, no one is passing away, and the next, we have a morgue filled up and we are running around trying to keep from freaking out.
I will post more about it here and there
I will keep it short and sweet and write more about it later. I hope I can answer some of your questions. And if you have anymore, shoot me up a message on my email, Ill gladly answer it for you.
Until Next Time!