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A mortician's job - homogenising death

"They view the worst cases of the worst and decide when it’s better that we don’t see"

There are not many people, other than a handful of neurosurgeons, who could say they’ve looked at a human spinal cord. Much less looked at it, from above, staring straight down into the channel of spine in which it so delicately sits. Yet it’s something Tracy has done many times, when cleaning up after a head post mortem. The odd situations you find yourself in, come daily in a busy mortuary. As an embalmer, cleaning the viscera before treatment means physically squeezing the contents of the intestines into a bucket, holding someone’s heart in your hands as you let the water run through the valves, removing the birth control device from a uterus while it sits in the palm of your hand. It’s no wonder then, that morticians in general are tarred with a slightly kooky brush. The things they see and do each day are things others don’t even want to know about, let alone see, touch or smell. For the most part they do their work behind closed doors. Homogenising the gore and grief and guts so that death appears clean, calm, orderly. They do their work so the rest of us can cope. So we don’t see the drips, the drains, the purge or the agony of shock on someone’s face that occurred at the moment of their death. They view the worst cases of the worst and decide when it’s better that we don’t see - they see it all. The dismemberment, the smashed in skulls, the gunshot wounds, the decomposition. Vomit and blood and faces and urine. The stink. The indignity. And then, at the end of the day, they do their paperwork, hop in their car and drive home, often to a partner, who may have spent the day in an office or a shopping centre and a family who may have been at school or swimming or gymnastics. They integrate back into normal life. They go to the gym, stop at the supermarket. Do normal things. They switch off. They stick all the awful sights and sounds in a box in their head and close it off until the next day. This kind of work can take its toll. But it’s different to the stresses on ambos, emergency workers and ER staff. They see the blood and gore, but more importantly, they see the panic, the fear, the families and the heartache. It’s not often a mortician sees this human side of death - occasionally they’ll answer some questions for a grieving family or help out with a cultural family dressing. And this is where the switching off becomes harder. They see they human side. Deal with the grief. Because without the family. Without the deceased’s personality apparent, the person on the table is just a poor lost soul who’s life came to an end with a name and a set of instructions: place her in her wedding dress; please remove his body piercings; bury my baby with his teddy please. The mortician cares and honours that body, and although there’s a stigma attached to the funeral industry of shonky dealings and disrespectful goings on, those awful things are truly very rare. To be a mortician, you need to be a caring, compassionate, meticulous person with a strong stomach and the ability to switch off when you walk out the door. Tracy deals with it in several ways. She talks to her husband, her colleagues and her friends and family. And she exercises her demons away, running several times a week clears the mind and releases the happy endorphins it takes to manage the things she sees and does at work. And she cares. She knows in her heart that the people on her table are treated with respect and love. She chats to them, sometimes she sings to them. And no matter what state they come to her in - regardless of what’s missing, what’s broken, how they look or smell - she cares for them all as if they were her own relative or friend with compassion and love. And that’s what gets her through. Knowing that she has done the best for each and every person she has seen that day let’s her sleep well at night. And although she’d reluctantly admit it - it’s why she believes there is no ill feeling around her mortuary. No spooky stuff, no feelings of being watched, no spirits following her home in her nightmares. Treat them well, and they will Rest In Peace and you’ll have nothing to fear.


It’s all in a day’s work for Tracy the mortician.

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