A Mortician Tells What It’s Like To Work With Dead Bodies Every Day

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A man who works in a mortuary led a Reddit thread to give a glimpse into what it’s like to deal with issues of mortality on a daily basis.

From the strangest requests he’s ever had to what happens during cremation and embalming practices where the body is temporarily preserved for viewing purposes, here’s the closest most of us will ever get to knowing what it’s like to work in a morgue.

NOTE: Reddit uses anonymous sources, which we can’t verify. We’ve slightly edited questions and answers for clarity.

Q: What is the strangest request that you’ve ever received for a funeral service?

A: We had a dead clown one time. This person was buried in full clown costume with makeup and all. The whole family was clowns. All the friends were clowns. And at the family’s request, the funeral directors were clowns too. They supplied costumes and did our makeup. Family and friends had one tear drop painted on near the eye. Definitely my strangest.

They were all sad clowns with a tear.

Q: Any other funerals that stand out in your memory?

A: One time we had a person who did some acting and modeling in California. A hand model. The family came in early to set up pictures and things.

I showed them in, helped them get started then left them. I came back about 10 minutes later to check on them and just about every picture they put up was this person’s hands from the various ads they did. There were some family photos, but most were a pair of hands.

Q: What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve done to a cadaver?

A: I had this guy to prep one time. He had an intubater … this tube down his throat and was taped on his face. One piece of the tape was across his mustache. When I took the tape off, most of his mustache came with it. So I shaved it. The wife was super pissed. She threatened to sue unless we fixed it.

So what am I to do? I went to a costume shop and bought a pack of fake mustaches. We had a picture of him, but none of these mustaches worked. I picked the best possible match and put it on him. We then called her to come look. We were nervous. It was bad. So she comes in and absolutely loves it! I couldn’t believe it. She then turned super sweet and hugged me.

Q: When you cremate someone, how often do the ashes from previous customers make it into the current customer’s mix?

A: There is some co-mingling involved, although very minimal. It is unavoidable since you can’t get every single grain out. As long as you sweep it properly after each person, it is very minimal.

Q: What exactly happens to the eyes during an embalming? Do you glue the lips of the dead person together?

A: The eyes usually start to flatten after death. Think of an old grape. They do, however, remain with the decedent. We don’t remove them. You can use what is called an eye cap to put over the flattened eyeball to recreate the natural curvature of the eye. You can also inject tissue builder directly into the eyeball and fill it up. And sometimes, the embalming fluid will fill the eye to normal size.

Yes, the eyes and lips are glued together.

Q: Will there ever be a job you refuse to do?

A: I’ve seen pictures and have heard about people being embalmed and placed on a motorcycle, stood up in the corner, in a recliner … This all seems ridiculous and disrespectful to me. Especially if the deceased did not request it. I say I would refuse to do this to someone, but who knows? I mean, if the family really wants it.

Q: Did you go into the business by your own choice?

A: Yes, I did. I was fascinated by the industry as a kid. When I was 12, there was a bad head on collision near my house and a man in a truck didn’t make it. My family and I were standing around with all the other neighbors when the coroner arrived. He pronounced him deceased, then they took him out and put him on a stretcher and his head turned to the side looking straight at me. I remember being curious as to what happens to people when they die, as far as the physical body.

Q: Are women creeped out by your career choice?

A: Some are. I like to date other morticians or nurses. They seem to understand and are over the whole novelty of it.

Q: Would you be embalmed yourself? Or would you want to be cremated?

A: I’m ok with being embalmed and buried. I’m also ok with being cremated. I will let my family choose the method which best suits them at the time.

Q: What kind of person would make a good mortician?

A: It’s funny. I was a waiter for many years in my younger days. I always say, if you can be a successful waiter, you can be a successful funeral director. They are similar in many ways. They both wait on families and provide what should be excellent customer service. The only difference is that one puts a pizza in the oven and the other puts a body in the oven.

Mortician Schools in Virginia

Virginia is a state that offers it all. From stunning mountains to relaxing beaches, this state has something to please every interest. If you are considering becoming a mortician in Virginia, this state also offers plenty of opportunity for those with the proper education. Before you begin, however, it is important to become familiar with the state rules and regulations regarding the mortician career field. In Virginia, the governing body is the Virginia Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers. According to the Board, those wishing to become morticians in Virginia must have a minimum of a high school diploma, mortuary college, and 18 months of apprenticeship experience before or after attending school. Once licensed, morticians must complete 5 hours of continuing education each year. When choosing an educational program for this career, look for one that is accredited through the American Board of Funeral Service Education. There are currently two such programs in the state, as well as several quality online options.

Virginia’s Mortician Employment Environment

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia ranks in the upper-mid range for employment of morticians. BLS data reports that there are currently between 360 and 710 morticians working in Virginia, which is average for the region. The BLS also reports that Virginia morticians earn salaries that fall in the upper-mid range for the country. At this time, the average salary of a mortician in Virginia is between $50,380 and $56,740 a year. In order to earn at the high end of the range, it is important to get the highest possible level of education and to complete a quality internship as well as other experience that will create a more impressive resume.

The Future of the Mortician Career in Virginia

The mortician career field is expected to grow faster than the average for all careers over the next 10 years. This will lead to the availability of many new positions across the state. In addition, as the demand for qualified morticians increases, employers are likely to become more competitive when hiring. This may result in higher salaries, increased benefits, and other incentives. In order to stand out from the competition and to have a good shot at the best job opportunities, it is well worth the time and expense of creating a professional quality resume and to participate in professional organizations that will help you to build networking contacts.

John Tyler Community College

  • Program Link: Associate of Applied Science in Funeral Services
  • Description: John Tyler Community College is located in Chester and Midlothian as well as satellite campuses in multiple areas. Students at Tyler can complete an Associate of Applied Science in Funeral Services in only five semesters and will be qualified to sit for the national board licensing examination. Those who choose to earn their degrees through Tyler enjoy a full range of student services as well as modern facilities and access to convenient online student services.
  • Accreditation: American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE)
  • Program: Associate’s degree
  • Average Program Length: 5 semesters
  • Tuition: $136/credit hour (in state); $330.60/credit hour (out of state)
  • Fun Fact: John Tyler Community College is the fifth largest community college in the state.

Tidewater Community College

  • Program Link: Associate of Applied Science in Funeral Service
  • Description: Tidewater Community College has campuses in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach for student convenience. Students who choose this school can earn an Associate of Applied Science in Funeral Service that is fully accredited. This means that student who graduate from this program are eligible to take the national board examination that is required of morticians in many states. In addition to a quality education, Tidewater Community College offers students the opportunity to enroll online in addition to a full range of student support services and activities for student involvement.
  • Accreditation: American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE)
  • Program: Associate’s degree
  • Average Program Length: two years
  • Tuition: $128.50/credit hour (in state); $305.10/credit hour (out of state)
  • Fun Fact: Tidewater Community College was founded in 1968.

Des Moines Area Community College

  • Program Link: Advanced Standing Diploma in Funeral Service Education
  • Description: Des Moines Area Community College offers students an online, funeral home-based funeral service program. This program is designed for students who are working in a funeral home and it is the student’s responsibility to find and secure employment before signing up for the program. During this program, students will be expected to complete between 8 and 16 hours each week of funeral home experience as well as to meet via online video chat with professors during designated office hours. Students will also be required to complete on-campus residency requirements of 2-5 days each in Ankeny, Iowa. The program is fully accredited by the ABFSE. Students who complete this program have a first-time national board pass rate of 83% in arts and 93% in science.
  • Accreditation: American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE)
  • Program: diploma
  • Average Program Length: 12 months
  • Tuition: $272/credit hour (out of state)
  • Fun Fact: DMACC offers students online academic advising and other services to help with student progress.

Mortician Schools in Illinois

Illinois is one of the most vibrant states in the country. It is home to several cultures and offers everything from big city life to quite rural areas. Another great thing Illinois offers is an excellent career field for morticians. If you are thinking of entering the funeral service industry, there are many reasons why Illinois is a great destination for you. The state offers a wealth of job opportunities, an excellent mortician salary, and a variety of accredited schools from which to choose. To work as a mortician in Illinois, you must have two years of college education plus mortuary school, totaling at least 60 credit hours of training. In addition, you must meet continuing education requirements yearly and complete an apprenticeship. For details on state requirements regarding morticians, visit the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licensing.

Illinois’s Mortician Employment Environment

Illinois is truly one of the best states in which to work as a mortician. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics lists Illinois as being in the top tier for employment of morticians and for mortician salaries. According the BLS, there are currently around 790 to 1860 morticians working in Illinois and they earn an average salary of around $74,980 each year, well above the national average. If you are considering becoming a mortician in the state and want to achieve the highest possible earnings, it is vital that you get the best education possible. For instance, a bachelor’s degree is preferable to an associate’s degree, and an associate’s degree is better than a certificate or diploma. When it comes to earnings, you truly get out what you put in.

The Future of the Mortician Career in Illinois

As good as the mortician career field already is in Illinois, it is sure to only get better. With a predicted growth rate of 18% over the next ten years in the industry, more positions will become available and the demand for skilled professionals will increase. As employers become more competitive, the already lucrative salary will likely rise even more. If you are ready to take your place as a mortician in Illinois, there has never been a better time to start your training program.

Carl Sandburg College

Malcolm X College

Southern Illinois University

Worsham College of Mortuary Science