At the funeral home where I landed a job, I was called “removal staff.” I was one of about 8 people who working in what was called the “prep-room.” This was about a 1200 square foot room with cinderblock walls, industrial tile flooring. It was a fairly sterile room. It contained a small, enclosed office space, used by the prep room supervisor. It also had an adjoining room called the “embalming room” which housed two very large walk-in refrigerated rooms where the deceased bodies were stored before their scheduled funeral. I truly wish I had taken some photos of these spaces so you could have a reference to what I am speaking of, but hopefully you have an active imagination that can fill in th blanks. I will try to post “stock photos” of images from time-to-time to reference my stories.
The prep room was a space where all of the action took place. Here is how it worked: A removal staff person would retrieve the deceased from their home, the Medical Examiner’s office, hospital morgues and ER’s, and nursing homes and promptly bring the body back to the outside double doors of the prep room. The bodies were transported in unmarked vans equipped for such things. Upon arrival to the prep room, I would remove all personal items such as jewelry, wallets, etc. These items would be tagged and logged and stored in a safe box. The deceased would then receive a yellow plastic ankle tag with their name. The tag had a pre-printed ID number, which would be used to identify the body from here on out. The tags were not possible to remove with scissors, and would remain with the body, even in burial.
I would then take the body into the embalming room and either transfer them to the refrigerated storage space, or place them on the embalming table. We had a system for moving bodies that it possible for one person to move them. I will discuss this un future postings since it will come up frequently as a body removal procedure. Sometimes the body had to be transferred into a body-size cardboard box to be taken across the hall to the cremation room. We would store the bodies to be cremated in a separate refrigerated room next to the cremation “ovens.” I call them ovens because that’s exactly what they reminded me of, on they were much larger and could fit a human body lying down. I will tell stories of cremation in other postings.
Other responsibilities I had a s a removal staff person was inventory of caskets for upcoming funerals, preparing bodies for the funeral including dressing the body, placing them in the correct casket, and applying make-up and fixing their hair from time to time. Also, it was my job to load the casket containing the prepared body into my unmarked van to transport them to the funeral home chapel where I would unload the casket, roll it into place inside the chapel, set up the appropriate candles and flowers, open the casket and make sure the body was presentable with the correct lighting for viewing. Sometimes when a body was transferred, the make-up might smudge or glasses might get askew and need readjusting. It is very common for the upper body clothing to be re-situated before a viewing since it sometimes gets sloppy during travel.
The funeral home where I worked was a large “corporation” in a large city. They owned 13 funeral home sin the metro city area but all of the bodies were prepared at the downtown location, which is where the prep room was located and where I worked. So if someone died in the far north part of town, their body would still be driven to the downtown area for preparation, and then driven back to the local funeral home chapel that would be located in their community, in this case north. So depending on where you one lived, their body could be driven many miles to and fro before actually resting in the spot where mourners would view them and attend services, I’m sure the families of the dead never knew this, and probably assumed that their loved one had remained at the funeral home where the services took place.
I hope that this descriptions paint a picture of my job and of the activities I participated in each day. Should you need any clarification, do not hesitate to ask.
Above: A prep room photo (not the one where I worked)
Above: This is like our vans, we had white and navy blue. I liked the blue van because it was newer.
Above: This is the type of “rack that we had in our refrigerated rooms to store bodies. The bodies would be transfered from the gurney to the rack after I brought them in from the van. We had several of these racks and cold store up to 20-25 bodies at a time.