So school has been bustling along. I finished my Intro to Mortuary science class with 103%. I just loved that class. Unfortunately it will be the last mortuary science class I’m going to see for a while. I have continued on with my prerequisites. Over the summer I took Public Speaking. Since it was a summer class there were less than 10 students in the class. It was very intimate and I think we all enjoyed learning more about each other through our speeches. I walked away with an A in that class as well. My fellow students teased me, and insisted that I must study all the time. This statement is entirely untrue since I have work and of course my family. I do take time to fully prepare for tests though. This journey is incredibly important to me, and a long time coming. Giving less than my best feels like cheating somehow.
Currently I’m taking Math 1030, Quantitative Reasoning. I was most apprehensive about taking Math since it has been so long, but I’m grateful that I’ve caught on. I’ve currently got over 100% in the class, but I have two tests still to come including the final, so we’ll have to see what I end up with in the class. I haven’t been studying the last few math modules as much so I’m really going to need to buckle down over the Thanksgiving holiday and the coming weeks. My biggest problem is retention. I have likely forgotten most of what I learned at the beginning of the class. Nothing like our brain to get rid of information that we don’t use on a daily basis. It’s too efficient sometimes.
Luckily and with the help of God I was able to get the Accuplacer Test score I need to register for my class in January, College Biology! I’m a little nervous for my upcoming science courses. They not only have lecture hours, but added lab hours. With my already full schedule, I’m hoping I won’t be overwhelmed.
Since I’m only taking one class at a time sometimes I need to remind myself what I’m going to school for. Sometimes it is hard to imagine actually becoming a funeral director since it feels so far away. I still feel firm in my decision and grateful for the chance to be in school. It all just feels like a dream sometimes. My husband recently learned that more courses have been added to his degree, darn university, so I may be later starting the full time program than originally planned. I can still take support courses in the meantime, one by one. After Biology I’ll be jumping into Human Anatomy. I took the course years ago, but need to retake it because they want it to be fresh on your mind. That darn brain again. From there I’ll get to learn fun things like accounting, business law, more communications.
Sometimes it feels like a long road, but in the end I think it will go by quickly. It is hard to believe I’m almost a year into school now. Patience is the theme and nothing will derail me.
So I ran across a fascinating article today while I should have been doing homework about foreign funeral customs. A Chinese Funeral home is using 3D printers to print body parts in an attempt to repair damaged and disfigured corpses. I find this absolutely fascinating! Restoration isn’t uncommon in the funeral business, but this is the first time I’ve heard of 3D printers being used. Some may argue it takes away the “art” in restorative art, but I think it could be a great option. Perhaps I feel this way because I’m concerned how well I’m going to do in the restoration process. All that aside, I really think it could make a difference. Want to read more? Click here.
After my first week of coursework in Intro to Mortuary Science, my professor shared this great video with us, “Dumb Ways to Die”. I was familiar with the video, but it was great to see it again. My kids actually know this catchy tune thanks to the internet sensation that it has become.
The video is actually a public service announcement in Australia for Metro Trains to promote rail safety. The advertising agency that came up with this is just genius I think! They took a very gruesome and scary topic, of railway accidents, and turned into a cartoon with a great little song. This article states that accidents have decreased since the ad has come out. They even have video games and toys.
It is interesting to see our culture so openly talking about death even if it is in a catchy little cartoon.
My 6-year-old daughter loves to draw and she loves the Dumb Ways to Die video. After I watched it for my class she decided to make this picture. She is really handling my future profession well. She is very matter-of-fact when it comes to death. When we were reading a Bearenstain Bears book last night the characters were visiting a cemetery, my daughter lookd up at me and said “Mom, some day you’ll be doing that”. I just love her support. I make sure she isn’t in the room when I’m reviewing graphic slides or a video. For now the “Dumb Ways to Die” video is just about right. Of course we may have our own funerals to attend, including our recent chicken funeral, and she’ll be right there with me.
About a week before starting classes one our beloved hens died. With a flock of only six her loss was keenly felt, especially by my daughters. We had nursed her for a for a week before she took her last breath. I was the only one present when death finally came. She seized and fluid bubbled out her nostrils. It wasn’t a peaceful slip into the afterlife.
When life had slipped away I brought the girls into the office where the hen was lying. They cried and we talked about Luna, our dear hen. My middle daughter stroked her soft feathers. This one hen was so important to them we needed to do something besides just toss her in the trash or in the compost pile.
In the end we decided to have our own mini-funeral. We clipped off some of her feathers for my oldest. She wanted to make a mask from her feathers as a remembrance. We found a small box and I wrapped Luna in fabric. Her body was already becoming stiff so I worked quickly so I could gently bend her body to fit in the box. We surrounded her with colorful wood shavings. Yarn flowers were placed in the box before we covered her with the lid.
My dear husband trudged out in the snow and dug a deep hole behind our garden boxes. I knelt down in the mud next to the hole so I could place the chicken coffin deep into the ground. Each person in the family took a turn throwing a handful of dirt onto the box. Rocks were found and placed at the head of the grave.
In the sunlight, snowflakes began to fall. A rare sight. It was beautiful, simple, and important to my family. I never would have thought that we would have had a funeral for a chicken, but in the end it was just what we needed.
One of my very first assignments for my Intro to Mortuary Science Class was to write my own obituary. If you’ve never given thought to your own mortality before, you should really think of writing your own obituary. It really brings death to your front door. My mind reeled. What could I possibly say about myself. Should I be serious? Should I make a joke of it? In the end I went more serious. It is impossible to know what others will say about me when I actually die, but I did my best to sum up some of my life. In the end I got 48/50 on the assignment. I used semi-colons instead of commas in some spots and I didn’t properly capitalize my own religion. It is critical when writing an obituary that you get everything right. If you don’t your funeral home may have to submit the obituary to be republished at your own expense. It was a fun assignment in the end. I’ve removed some information for this public blog.
Elizabeth “Liz” Oates
19xx – 2016
Liz Oates passed away January 13, 2016 in Big Town, Utah, after she was tragically gunned down during a mass shooting at her work. She and her co-workers fought valiantly and many were able to run to safety, but she was unable to escape. Liz was born in Utah to (her parents). She was raised in small town, Utah and spent many happy days as a young girl playing outdoors in the tall grasses of her wild backyard. She was a unique child and was fascinated by insects, snakes and other living creatures. Liz attended high school at Generic High and loved performing on stage especially as Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. She was elected Senior Class President, but never realized the lifelong job it would be. She loved her classmates but didn’t enjoy the responsibility of planning reunions.
Liz attended a year of college at Big College before marrying her first husband, John Smith. They were married for five years and had a daughter, Lilly, before they divorced. She later married her high school friend and soul mate Mr. Oates. They loved each other deeply. They had two daughters together, Persephone and Alice. Liz adored all three of her daughters and loved being a mother. She was often silly with her girls, spontaneously breaking into song or threatening to lick their noses. Her family was her greatest joy.
She was passionate about life and had recently decided to go back to school to be a funeral director. Sadly, death found her before she could complete her dream. In her free time, Liz enjoyed growing her vegetable garden and raising hens. Her favorite food in the world was eggs, and she loved being able to go out every morning to gather fresh ones from her feathered flock.
Liz was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. She enjoyed doing family history work and felt a strong connection to her ancestors that had passed on before her. She had great faith in her religion which helped her overcome many difficult trials in her life.
Liz worked at Insurance Company for 13 years as a high dollar claims auditor. She was very knowledgeable in her job and others often looked to her for advice. She loved her team and enjoyed interacting with them every day.
The family would like to thank all those that impacted Liz in her life, especially the members of her church, her Jazzercise girls, and her co-workers.
The biggest question I get when I mention that I’m going back to school to become a funeral director is “Why”.
“Really, a funeral director? Like embalming bodies? What made you want to do that?”
The most common comment I get is “Well someone has to do it.”
Most of us don’t encounter death on a regular basis. Some folks have never been to a funeral and have never seen a dead body. If they have it usually has been embalmed and prepared for viewing. As a culture we are so far removed from death that it can seem very scary, and people can’t imagine why in the world I would want to enter the world of death voluntarily. Now, I’m not saying I have been overly exposed to death myself, but I have had some very close family members die.
My mother died in 2013 when I was just 24. I had one daughter and was coming up to my first anniversary with my second husband. I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter the day we buried my mother’s ashes. My mother died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest. I wasn’t living with my mother at the time so I didn’t discover her body. I was told how gruesome she looked though, and my imagination has had more than enough time to picture her horrified face.
When I finally did come face to face with my mother though she looked amazingly peaceful. The female funeral director in charge of her body and services had done an amazing job. She invited my sister and I to come early the day of the viewing to help with my mother’s hair and makeup. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but when we entered the room my mother was already dressed and laid out in her casket. Her base makeup had already been done. My sister took out my mother’s curling iron that we had brought along and began to curl her hair. I took out my mother’s brown eye liner and began to apply it to her eyelid. To my surprise though her skin was very hard and very cold. I hadn’t realized what an embalmed body would feel like. In reality I wasn’t really wonderful at doing my own eye liner and this new texture of skin was so foreign that I gave this job back to the funeral director. She was very kind and quickly set to work. In the end I think my mother looked incredibly beautiful. Before we closed the casket my sister and I each cut a lock of blonde hair. I have this keepsake in a mini-urn, which once held my mother’s ashes. Some of my mother was sprinkled off the cliffs of Moab, but that is a different story for another time.
The female funeral director in charge of my mother’s funeral was able to really bring calm to an incredibly emotional and stressful situation. My mother’s death was very unexpected. The funeral director was compassionate and sensitive. She didn’t take away my grief, but step by step she helped me through the funeral process, made me feel valued and important, and made a terrible situation better. I really valued what she did for me and my family.
In 2010 I received unexpected news that my father had suddenly died from a heart attack. He had been rushed to the hospital, but due to heart damage from a prior heart attack they were unable to save him. Even though he had died my sister and I made the decision to go to the hospital. I had given birth to my third daughter just two weeks prior, and I hadn’t been separated from her yet, so along she came with me. In fact the last time I’d seen my father was at the very same hospital, after I had given birth. He was so proud of his newest granddaughter and snapped photos with his phone. He brought me a mini Christmas tree since it was only 3 days before Christmas and we discussed the importance of life.
It was surreal seeing his lifeless body in the emergency room bed. The heart monitors of other patients echoed through the halls, but my father’s heart was silent. I touched his cold hand and tried to take in everything I was feeling. The next few days where a whirlwind of funeral preparations. My step-mother, sister and I met together with a male funeral director who walked us through each of the decisions that needed to be made, everything from caskets, to the program, to the obituary. The funeral director again was kind and compassionate and the process went smoothly.
Through each of these funerals I learned something about myself. I was able to put grief aside to get what needed to be done. At both of my parent’s funerals I sang and gave talks. I comforted loved ones. I made sure things were running smoothly. I still felt sad, but the grief in that moment didn’t overwhelm me. I of course had many moments to cry and fully feel my sorrow, but when it came to the funerals I was able to do what needed to be done.
I remember at one funeral I attended, it may have been my stepsister’s funeral, that I took some time to ask the funeral director what his job was like. He said he really liked it. As I watched each funeral director at work I was fascinated. I wondered what it would be like to work with the dead and to comfort families. I was very intrigued and began looking up options for schooling. At the time though there were zero mortuary science schools in the state of Utah. I couldn’t imagine leaving my family to attend school in another state. It wasn’t practical, especially with 3 children, so I set the idea aside.
Fast forward to 2015; one day I was watching “Bernie” and suddenly I remembered my idea about being a funeral director. If you haven’t seen “Bernie” before I highly recommend it. It is a great movie. I began doing research and to my surprise I found that just a few years earlier a Mortuary School had in fact been opened near to my home. I got excited and starting really seriously thinking of becoming a funeral director.
I knew it wouldn’t make sense to many people for me to go back to school. I have a great job at a health insurance company. I work from home most days of the week and make good money. I support my family since my husband is a full-time student, yet here I was with this idea that wouldn’t leave my brain. I’d grown tired of doing a lot of the same things day in and day out, sitting down at a computer for hours without interacting with the customer that I was helping. I’ve always wanted to work in a career that makes a difference and has an impact in the lives of others. Also, there is just something fascinating in working with death. It is so veiled in our culture, so foreign. Why did it have to be?
Before making any big decisions I placed a call to a funeral home and arranged to meet with a funeral director. I wanted to know what it was really like to do the job. I met with someone who has been in the business for a long time. We’ll call this man Jim. Right away I liked Jim. He was very honest about what he did. What brought him into the field was witnessing an accident when he was a young man. When he saw the body he wondered how the person would be put back together for a funeral. He could imagine himself doing that. He had numerous stories of restoration. He talked about how it can be hard sometimes to see the emotions of others, or to prepare the body of a child, or the long hours. He also spoke of how gratifying it is to restore someone to a viewable state and how grateful a family can be. I walked away from the interview with an excitement I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
I found myself on my knees, praying to my Heavenly Father, asking for confirmation of my desire to go back to school to become a funeral director. A peace flooded me as a prayed and I knew it was the perfect thing for me.
I began the process of enrolling in school and registering for my first class in 13 years, Intro to Mortuary Science. I can only take one class at a time with my full-time work schedule, but I am hoping to enter the Mortuary Science program full time in 2019. It sounds a long way out, but as I get older I’ve learned that time can go quickly. For now I’ll work on the prerequisites and supporting classes.
So why the blog, especially since I’m not even in the actual program yet? Well I am already learning so much through my course, and also through my own personal research. I need a place to share it all. My family has grown tired of this information. One day my middle daughter said “Can’t we just go one day without talking about death?”. She isn’t particularly fond of the dead, blood or anything related for that matter. My husband is exactly the same way. So that’s where the blog comes in. I’m excited to share as I go through this journey!