Friday, December 23, 2011

Amateur Morticians

Conrad's most recent post about his relative's dealings with a mortician brought back a memory to me. I thought I had written about this, but couldn't find it in a search. So forgive me if I am repeating myself.

Some years ago I was the Relief Society president at church (the same position I currently hold), and as such was responsible for seeing that women who died were dressed in special temple clothing before they were buried. A woman in our Ward died, and so I asked a group of women to come help me dress her. We drove to San Francisco to a mortuary that was featured in a television show called "Mortician school". (I hope I remembered that name correctly.) I had never before touched a dead body, but I had mentally prepared myself for the task.

There were many things that surprised me about the experience. First of all, I was surprised at the heaviness of the body. There's a reason we use the term "dead weight". Even a simple limb like an arm is much heavier when there is no life in the person. Another thing that surprised me was the coldness of the body. They keep the body refrigerated to preserve it, and without a beating heart, things cool off very quickly. I also was surprised to see that the body was swollen from the embalming fluids. We had difficult getting the clothes on because this very skinny woman was no longer skinny! The last thing that was surprising was the condition of the body. The skin was already starting to break down, and there was some seepage of embalming fluid. We just kept a box of tissues handy, and wore rubber gloves. The mortician told us that it was a marginal situation, and that if we were even a day later he wouldn't have allowed us to dress her. It's a good thing we went when we did, and that we had great fortitude. lol

At some point in our task, one of the women with me noticed that this dead woman's hair and makeup hadn't been done. We asked the mortician about it, and he said he hadn't received any orders to do hair and makeup. Being naive, we assumed that no one was planning to do it. We didn't know that the mortuary in our home town had already planned to do it! Oops. The woman who asked, volunteered to do it herself. The mortician brought out a curling iron and makeup, and we went to work. I curled her hair while the other woman did her makeup. It seemed such a natural thing to do. As that woman was doing the makeup, she was so comfortable with the job, and did such a good job that the mortician asked her if she would like a permanent position! Her reply was no, that she was the "glue" that holds her family together, and couldn't give up the time. When we finished with the task, she looked very nice. In fact, she looked nicer than she ever did in life.

What we didn't know is that we had created two problems. First of all, morticians usually look at a picture of the person when doing the makeup. They want to recreate the look that the person had while they were alive. This woman always wore tacky blue eye makeup that did not do her justice. My friend had given her more suitable colors. When her family saw her in the viewing, some of them sadly commented, "It doesn't look anything like her." Oops....

The other problem we created was that in the dark mortuary, my friend had applied just a tad too much blush. When we saw her in our church, I could see that it was really too much blush, but at that point there is nothing you can do about it. If you try to wipe it off, you risk tearing the already fragile skin. Suddenly I had an idea. In that particular room there are rows of lights on the ceiling. I simply turned off the lights that were directly above her. It was still light enough to see her, but the heavy blush no longer showed. hee hee...

Even though I was comfortable with the experience, and wasn't troubled by touching a dead body, I still hope that I don't have to do it again. But being the current Relief Society president, it is always a possibility that a woman in our congregation will die. I think I need to redouble my efforts in praying for their good health! :)

6 comments:

Conrad said...

Delores, you are the best kind of Christian, one that puts the tire of caring on the pavement!

Seriously, if I had needed to do that, I think I would have really gotten the willies! Wouldn't have stopped me doing my duty, but still ... :-O

Nene said...

I'm hoping they gave you gloves (like surgical gloves) to use when you dressed her. If you ever do that again, ask for these. I helped dress a lady at a crematoreum and we were not given gloves. Then I helped dress another lady at a funeral home and they did give us gloves.

padmum said...

Interesting....in our custom we bathe the body, dress it up in a new sari or dhothi--that's it. If the lady has preceded her husband then she gets a huge red dot of kumkum on her forehead. The man has the ash stripes or the white 'u' applied on his forehead with a special chalk--to signify his religious pteferences.

Rummuser said...

Following on what Padmum says, when Urmeela passed away, knowing that our home had no women, some wonderful friends landed up and dressed her up like a sumangali and made her look like a bride. Kindness of that kind is what makes for relationships.

Inklings said...

I can never move out of Utah. We have LDS morticians here who dress them. :0)

blackwatertown said...

I have a lot of respect for the people - usually women when it's done informally - who do that job. Makes such a difference to the bereaved.