Mortuary Life for the Living

“He’s not dead! Get those, chest shocker things in here immediately!” I said with my eyes wide open and my face ghostly white.

“Marley was dead… dead as a doornail,” penned Charles Dickens in his classic, A Christmas Carol. But as we learn, Scrooge in fact saw Marley later that night as he came back as a spirit to warn his dear friend of an endless torment that awaited him if he didn’t change his ways.

Dicken’s composition tugs at the untamed nerves of many, as they imagine the possibility of encountering a scary spirit. It’s not possible, is it? No, of course not. Well…at least we’re mostly sure it’s not possible. But what if? The possibility, even if small, places one on alert.

As a young 24-year-old, newly married, husband…still struggling to finish school and wanting to support my young wife, finances were sparse. Between the two of us, we worked the equivalent of one full-time job, making roughly minimum wage, while both attending school full time. Looking at our budget, there wasn’t enough to cover all our expenses. So, I went the unconventional route.

If my sweetheart would agree, we could live at a Mortuary for free. Well, there is really no such thing as free. In return for the one-bedroom, cinderblock-walls apartment, I would pick up the deceased from 6 p.m. in the evening until 6 a.m. the next morning. Removing the rent expense from our budget, we would barely make it.

. . .

He was dead! Why else would I have been called to the home to pick him up and take him to the mortuary?  When the call came in, I was nervous. My experience with the deceased was extremely limited. A couple grandparents had passed, but aside from that, I had hardly ever even been to a funeral.

“Steve, this is Rob, one of the funeral directors,” I heard on the other end of the phone. “We just got a call and I need you down here in 15 minutes.”

I rushed to get my suit on, grateful that the funeral director would assist me for my virgin voyage in this uncharted water. My wife kissed me as I left and gave me encouragement. “You’ll be fine. Good luck!” she said as I shut the door.

The funeral director spent the entire 15-minute car ride giving me instruction. Talk about a seemingly steep learning curve. To this day, I don’t remember a word he said. My mind wandered to all sorts of scenarios, not knowing what to expect, except the worst.

When we arrived, we found a very distraught family, huddled together, crying, and wiping their eyes. Rob addressed the family and I willingly said nothing.

“When you are ready, we can get go him, but there is no hurry,” said Rob.

“We are ready,” the family member said hesitantly.

Walking behind the woman, we slowly made our way down the hallway, pushing the shrouded gurney. She quietly opened the door and we walked in. Rob described to the woman how we would gently remove her loved one from the bed and place him on the gurney, and then excused her from the room.

My heart was racing. The man had died while in bed and the blankets and covers were pulled up to his chin, exposing only his green-color-tinted face. Cancer. Chemotherapy often times distorts the color of a person’s skin.

I could feel my hands start to sweat and my mouth got sticky. Rob moved to one side of the bed and I removed a flat sheet from our gurney. Rob pulled the covers back and I placed the sheet over the body from head to toe.

Rob explained to me that I would roll the body toward me, up on its side and he would tuck the sheet under the body. He would then roll the body back toward him up on its side, and I would tuck the sheet from the other side, wrapping the body in the sheet fully. We would then lift the torso to the gurney, followed by the legs and feet.

“Are you okay?” Rob asked as he saw the look on my face.

I remember nodding my head as my eyes remained fixed on the unknown man’s covered, motionless body.

“Okay, let’s do this,” Rob announced.

I reached across the other side of the bed and took a good hold on the man’s far shoulder.

Almost instantly, the man made a loud groan and moan as I pulled him toward me. I let go and jumped back. I nearly fainted.

“He’s not dead!” I exclaimed loud enough to alarm the funeral director.

“Shhhhhhhhhh!” Rob said emphatically with a look of anger on his face.

“He’s not dead! Get those, chest shocker things in here immediately!” I said with my eyes wide open and my face ghostly white.

“Will you please shut up!” Rob demanded. “The family is going to hear you!”

I looked back down at the dead body and realized he wasn’t moving. What was going on? I was so confused. Saying I was shocked was about as big an understatement as anyone could make.

“There was air in his lungs and when you moved him, it forced the air out,” Rob explained. “It is fairly common. Calm down.”

Calm down? I almost calmed all the way down with my heart nearly stopping.

. . .

As I got back to our apartment, I sat down softly on our second-hand couch, and my wife came happily into the front from, eager to know how it went.

“So?” she asked. “How was it?”

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said softly. “How would you feel about living under a viaduct?”

It got easier but it never got easy. After 2.5 years, desensitization should have kicked in, but it never fully did. Most were elderly and it was a blessing for them to go. Suicides were very hard. Children were almost unbearable.

Many times, I’d return from a pick up, late at night and tip toe into our bedroom. Seeing my sweet wife lying there, I’d start panicking.

“Is she breathing?” I would think in my mind. I’d worry and lean down closely to her face listening for her to exhale.

Death is a natural part of life. After all, we all live and will all one day die. We can do everything to prevent it from happening, but death is ultimately a tax we all must pay.

In those few years working at the mortuary, I had many unapparelled experiences. Some sad; some happy. Some eerie experiences, and some very special. I experienced emotions from every part of the spectrum from complete and utter devastation—the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth—to true happiness and joy as a loved one could finally slip from the troubled circumstances of life to a more glorified and peaceful state.

It was an honor to help families in those most fragile and susceptible circumstances. Helping the deceased in a time when they could not help themselves. The dignity and celebration of life was special. Caring for a loved one by helping lift a burden too heavy for many of them to bear.








Author: savagestrong

Husband. Father. Entrepreneur. Business owner. Communicator. Leader.

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