An Interview with a Mortician
To look at Jake, one would never guess what it is he does for an after-school job. He looks like any other 19 year old college freshman. Today he is dressed in baggy denim jeans and a plaid button-down shirt. As I get in his car, he smiles nervously.
“You know Katie, I'm not sure I really like you doing this paper on me. I mean, you'll probably make me out to sound like some morbid freak.”
I smile. “Impossible.”
Jake catches on to my sarcasm and frowns. “It's not like that, Katie. You know I love my job. It's just like how you love your job, ya know?”
I nod. Sure, I think to myself. Working in a children's clothing store is so similar to working in a morgue.
Yes, this average, lively young man has already decided that he will spend the rest of his life surrounded by the…well…not-so-lively. Truth is, Jake usually ends up spending the better part of his day with a dead body. He works as an assistant to a local mortician. Today, Jake is taking me to visit with his boss, the owner of a local funeral home.
So what exactly is there to love about a job like this?
“There are nights where at three o'clock in the morning, I get a call, and there's a body somewhere, and I got to get up and go. There's no saying, Oh, I'm too tired or hung-over. You just got to go.”
I nod. Okay, so the job has no specific hours. But what about working with the dead?
“Katie, I can't explain it. Sure, the first couple of times when I walked into the room and saw the person there, it was a little freaky. But, it's not a scary thing, really. Just a couple of hours ago, they were living, breathing humans like us. And they have families, Kate. Someone needs to make sure the get taken care of properly.”
I can respect that. “So what exactly inspires someone to be a mortician?” I ask, as we drive through the city of Wilkes-Barre .
“You know how some people just know that they're meant to be a doctor, or an actress, or anything? It's like I always knew. I just knew. I was always fascinated with death, rather than scared of it. I was surrounded by it my whole life. I can't even begin to name all the people I knew who have passed away, and I'm only nineteen years old!”
“But, instead of seeing death as horrible or repelling, I wanted to learn more about it, so I wasn't frightened anymore. Plus, I want to help those in their most vulnerable times. And really, when is someone weaker than when a loved one dies? I want to be the one to be there and help make their goodbye beautiful.”
Sounds very nice when you put it that way. But there's some nitty- gritty work involved.
“I am present and assist when the embalming is being done. But Katie, the way I look at it is it's a surgical procedure, a final surgical procedure. Then I'm usually in charge of fixing the hair, bathing, and getting the body positioned.”
I shudder. Oh yeah, this is why I would never be a mortician.
“I saw that.”
“Sorry.” I quickly change the subject. We are getting nearer and nearer to our destination.
“Hey Jake! I remember the first time I ever came over your house, in eighth grade, you were holding a wake for your goldfish that just died. Remember? Then you buried it in the backyard.”
“Yeah, I remember. I was a pretty weird kid, huh?”
We pull up in front of the small white house. The front has a large sign with the name of the owner. I walk up the sidewalk nervously.
“Are you sure we won't be bothering her?” I'm not quite sure what to expect.
Jake smiles. “Don't be nervous. She's a really nice woman.”
After a knock on the large front door, I hear some shuffling noises inside.
“Be right there!” yells what sounds to be an elderly woman. The images I had of Mary being a tall, rough, intimidating woman in a suit begin to fade.
“Why, hello dear!” A small, old woman opens the door and greets me. She has gray hair, thick glasses, and a kind smile.
She runs a funeral home?
“Come in! Sit down! Can I get you anything? Tea? Lemonade? Oh, I just made a batch of brownies, they're wonderful, you must try one.”
I smile and begin to relax.
Yes, this grandmotherly type has run a successful local funeral home for almost fifty years. During the next hour, Mary explains to me about her job, and tells me the same thing Jake has told me so many times. The reason they do this job is to help people at their time of need. By the end of the afternoon I spent with both Jake and Mary, my thoughts on this business have changed drastically.
So maybe it's not always a creepy old man that holds the job of a mortician. It's ordinary, everyday people who simply wish to help those who truly need it. The business isn't easy, but necessary, and very much deserving of our respect.
I think Mary said it best.
“It's hard work, but someone's got to do it.”