I don’t really remember the first time I saw a dead person. Growing up with a funeral home in the family, it just seems like they were always there. Of course, they were always there in their nicely polished casket dressed in their Sunday best. That whole final memory picture of them laying in state really does matter. They look so non-threatening. Just kind of sleeping.
You know, I really kind of always wanted to be a funeral director. Well, ever since I was twelve or so and that’s basically classified as ‘always’ if you ask me. But I specifically remember getting really serious about it in my Junior year of high school. By this time my parents started to take the whole “I want to be a funeral director” thing serious. Or at least as serious as they could. I can still picture my mother’s nervous expression whenever a friend/co-worker/family member asked her what little Lauren wanted to be when she grew up. Her pupils kind of dilated in that ‘fight or flight’ fashion. I assume that she contemplated telling them what I aspired to be, but she always let the truth slip out in the end. I understand her reserves when it came to telling the general public my goals. What normal seventeen year old wants to work with dead people? The answer is simple. Me. My absolute favorite part of this conversation would always come at the end. My mom would tell her friends that I wanted to be a funeral director. They would act shocked/surprised/disgusted with her response. She would promptly close with, “Yea, but you know, we’ll see.”
I know that she would add in that “we’ll see” as protection. My aspirations were just crazy enough to get some people excited to the extent of curiosity and intrigue. She didn’t want to let them down if I decided after all that the dead weren’t my cup of tea. But it also kind of upset me. Not in a sad way, more in a I-couldn’t-believe-that-she-didn’t-believe-me kind of way. I guess she believes me now.
When you go to school to become a funeral director or embalmer, you don’t really get the best cases to work on in the embalming room. Most of the bodies were homeless people who had been dead for weeks. Needless to say, those first few times in school when I saw a dead body in its most pure state, well, that took some getting used to. Have you ever heard of people leaving ‘pretty corpses’? Yeah, well, these bodies were anything but pretty. It’s one thing to see a body in a casket all fancied up. But I thought to myself, why is that? Why is a body is a box normal for me but not a body on a table? It’s because that’s what society has shown us. It’s tradition to go to a funeral home and see a body laying in state. That’s actually pretty normal. People ask me all the time how I do what I do. It’s really simple. How do you do anything? You get used to it, or maybe it just becomes habit. Well, dead people kind of become normal when you work around them all day. Why should I be afraid of them? They can’t hurt me. I can’t hurt them. All I can do is take this dead body and turn them back into a person’s father. Because this dead body isn’t just a ‘dead body’. They are loved by people. They are someone’s family. And sometimes, I still get nervous. One specific example would be if I have to unzip a body bag. It’s just that one minute before the bag is opened when your imagination runs wild. That moment before you know exactly what you have in front of you on your table. But I blame scary movies for these moments. Or maybe I should blame my wild imagination.
But don’t get me wrong, I do have my fears. They’re mostly associated with the millions of spiders that decided to make the old Victorian house which is now the funeral home where I’m employed at their home. I don’t know who gives them any rights, but I do know that I hate getting the mail from the mailbox because along with envelopes I’ll pull out at least three spiders. And I hate during the summer months how they all make their webs by the door handles so I have to scream to get into work. But hey, I never claimed to be superwoman. I’m just your average twenty-two year old woman who works with dead people. And who is ridiculously afraid of spiders. But I work with men who wear big shoes. And you know what they say about men who wear big shoes, right? They have large feet perfect for squashing spiders with.