It was a normal day at work. I arrived at my customary time of 7:30 a.m. to find the prep room bustling with energy as the others on my team were busily preparing for the day’s work. Located just inside the prep room door was a large dry-erase board with columns. The information written on the board included the name of the deceased, the type of casket they were to be placed in, and the funeral home location where the service was to be held. The most important piece of information was the time when the body had to be delivered and ready for show-time. On this particular day, there were three cases that all fell within 20 minutes of one another on the time schedule. This meant that we would all have to hustle to get the bodies prepped and delivered in time.
I was assigned Mrs. Bates (name changed to protect privacy). Mrs. Bates was a 82 year old woman who had passed away in a nursing home only 2 days before. I had actually been the one to pick her up form the nursing home where she had died in her sleep. Still laying in bed, her mouth was agape, and her eyes glazed over. She looked as though she had been in mid-snore when she took her last breath. Using the bed sheet she was laying upon, I fashioned her body into a “cocoon” and gently slid her into the gurney. I placed another sheet on top of her, and finished up by placing a large blue cloth on top of that. I quickly rolled her out to the van and loaded her up. She did not have many personal effects, and the nursing home staff had told me she had very little family.
2 Days later, after she had been in a cooler then been embalmed for burial she lay ready to be dressed and prepared for the service. It turns out she did have a distant relative who wanted to see she got a proper burial and had managed to locate a teal 1970’s style dress for her. As was often the case, she looked better in death than she had in life due to her declining heath in the nursing home.
I was working with Todd (name changed to protect privacy) the day we got her ready for burial. We had several other tasks that day, so getting her prepped was to be done as quickly as possible. We started by putting on her bra, panties, and a slip that accompanies the outfit. We used a “roll” technique to put on a bra. One of us would take one arm, and pull her toward us, rolling her on her side as the other would tuck the bra underneath. Then we would trade and roll her on her other side and fasten the bra from behind. Mrs. Bates was fairly light-weight so this was no problem. Often large people were difficult to roll, sometimes taking several tries. Next we buttoned her white dress shirt in the front and cut the back down the middle. We put the shirt n (like a Kindergarten teacher would a child’s smock). Next we pulled on her skirt. The skirt, underwear, and slip were slid up her legs and under her bottom. One of us would take her legs and pull them up toward her torso just slightly lifting her buttocks up off the table. This made it easier to get the skirt on. We found that skirts, etc stayed on better if we actually put them on and did not cut them. Next, we buttoned the leisure suit style jacket in the front and cut the back up the middle. We placed it on top if the dress shirt. Next, a lady named Becky (name changed) came in and fixed her hair and did her make-up. Becky was a hired beautician who came in each day and fixed hair for the women. Once she was finished, we lifted her into her casket. Her family member ad chosen a white and pink casket called the Primrose (pictured above). Todd and I lifted her gently and placed her into the casket. Since she was light-weight we were able to lift her. Had she been larger we could have used a lift. I’ll tell you about that another time. Once she was in her casket, we tucked the clothes tightly around her back and positioned her hands folded on her stomach. We closed the casket and rolled it out to our van. We loaded the van and drove her about 15 miles to the funeral chapel where her services were to be held. We unloaded the casket, rolled it into the chapel and parked it up front. Our job from her was to make sure everything was perfect for the viewing and funeral. The next ones to see her would be the family, So we would straighten her outfit, adjust her hair if needed, and place flowers around the casket. We would also check for “leaks” or “purging” which simply meant any fluids escaping from the body. This very seldom happened because our embalmers were very good at their jobs. Our work with Mrs. Bates was now finished. I had been with her since the nursing home and was now leaving her for the family. This was one of many, many days I worked in the funeral home.