A few years ago, I had the chance to have a brief stint at a dream job — being an attendant of the dead for a funeral home. Though this job wasn’t for long, it gave me so many experiences that I will never forget. This is one of them.
In these true short stories, you will hear of my experiences as a removal technician (i.e.. I got and pick up dead bodies) and how they have affected me. Read below for our first entry into this category, “My First Call.”
My First Call
Late in the summer of 2017, I talked my way into a job at a local funeral home. This was a job I didn’t see on craigslist or any job posting, but my neighbor (and friend) told me about it and I was sold. I e-mailed the director and talked myself into an interview and to my great surprise, I got the job and was told to come back on Monday. The entire weekend I was nervous and wondering if I was going to be able to do the job I so wanted to do. It didn’t help that this story came out the night before I was to work.
The day finally came and I cautiously entered the funeral hoping for a step-by-step learning process, but little did I know, I was being thrown into the fire.
Being the chipper individual that I am, I walked up to my brand new boss and asked, “Where are we going today?”
My boss, with a glint of mischief in his eye, stared me down and said,
“YOU, are going to Seattle.”
Blinking, I stared and him and squeaked an “Excuse me?”
They explained to me, in a matter-of-fact tone that they were much too busy to drive down to Seattle to pick up an individual and that I needed to do it. I surprised myself with a bit of courage and told them that I could absolutely do this and that if they could please, show me how to use the gurney again?
Nervously, I drove the minivan that we used for most pickups and filled it with gas before making the long-ish trek down to the veteran’s hospital in Seattle, Washington. Pulling up at this massively sprawling hospital campus, I kept telling myself that I could do this — breathing deep to calm my anxious nerves.
I backed up the removal van into a spot I thought was right, turns out it was for the big trucks, not a little dinky van like mine. I was able to move it to the correct spot and walk my way up the ramp to the hospital doors.
This was no ordinary hospital, and every door I went through had specific security. It took me a good 20-30 minutes to get to the right floor and building, and another 20 more to track down my contact at the hospital, who by this time was more than irritated after trying to chase me down. He calmed down once I explained that this was my first pickup and I wasn’t sure what I was doing exactly.
He took me to the morgue so I could take the Veteran home to Bellingham where his body would be prepared for viewing and a funeral within the next few days. I had never even watched someone move a body before and I had to do this myself.
I braced the cot against my body and pulled on one side of the body bag to scoot the fellow off the hospital table and onto my cot. The man wouldn’t budge and I immediately started to sweat. I didn’t think I could do it and the hospital liaison already told me he wasn’t allowed to participate in the process due to procedural policies.
So, with all the strength I had in my body, I pulled one more time and the man edged his way towards me. After a solid five minutes of pulling and feeling the eyeballs of the liaison boring through my skull, I was able to get him on my cot and zipped up.
As I followed the hospital liaison through the halls and out the back door, I realized I had no clue what I was actually doing. I was scared out of my mind and couldn’t believe that I was pushing a dead man through the maze of hallways of the veterans hospital. I thought to myself, what happened to getting a job in my field (journalism and public relations)!?!
I was determined to make this job work, so I pushed the body onward and then came up to the ramp, I could see my van at the bottom of the ramp, but the body was so heavy that I was afraid he was going to come flying off and I’d make a mess of things. I can tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever walked that slow — with or without a body.
After reaching the van, I found that the easiest part was lifting him into the back (thanks handy-dandy cot!) and strapping him in. I thanked the hospital liaison for his assistance — and slowly, carefully and methodically started the van up. I couldn’t believe that I was alone in this big box white van with an honest-to-goodness dead body sitting no more than three feet away from where I was.
As I drove away from the hospital in Seattle, I began to narrate the journey to the gentleman veteran in the back seat. I told him that we were leaving his home and that all of Seattle was wishing him a safe trip to his final resting place in Bellingham, a little under two hours away. I sang along on the radio to oldies with him and told my story of how I came to be driving him back to Bellingham.
When I arrived back at the funeral home, I carefully backed up the van into the garage, pulled the man out and went and grabbed my boss, because I didn’t even know what to do at this point. As both the owner and the manager came in, I sweating bullets that I might have done something wrong. Little did I know, I brought a lucky charm back.
“You brought me back the BEST body!”
I stared at the owner of the funeral home at a loss for words. I had never had that statement uttered, much less yelled at me. I think the queried look on my face startled him enough to explain. According to him, crossed ankles on a corpse, meant good luck for funeral homes and the directors and that they would have a prosperous year.
Throughout the rest of the process (checking the body in, fingerprinting it and documenting it) I was in a bit of a haze processing all that had just happened.
And this is how I fell in love with death. Even though the confusion and frustration of that day, I knew that my life would revolve around all corners of death — funeral homes, genealogy, and death positivity.