There comes a time in every young embalmer’s life when they get to reconstruct part of a person in real life, not just on plastic skulls in college. To explain, in what is called “Restorative Art” class you are to reconstruct an entire face out of clay on a plastic skull. Start with the nose and move out from there. You are not judged on how good your clay face looks aesthetically but how accurate the dimensions are. There are staunch rules regarding the placement of facial features, for example, your face is made up of three equal parts; the top of your forehead to the line of your eyebrows is the same distance as the top of your eyebrows to the bottom of your nose and then subsequently, the bottom of your nose to the bottom of your chin is the same distance as the other two measurements. There are tons of these rules of proportions and we must know them all. In reconstruction if you know the proportions of one part of the face you can reasonably determine the proportions of the structure you are trying to recreate.
I remember my first restoration like it was yesterday. We got a man who had shot himself in the head, resulting in a mangled ear. It was beyond repair and it was the ear on the “the viewing side” (industry jargon for the right side of the face, which is the side that faces the side of the casket that family and friends view) My boss at the time was distressed, we had a lot of other work to do and this reconstruction would take a lot of time. I was of course ecstatic, not that the man had shot himself of course but that I now had the opportunity to build an ear from scratch and put my training to the test. I pled my case about needing the experience and that I would have to do these things for real at some point. Finally I was given the go ahead to fix the ear on my own. So, like any artist I got my supplies spread out next to me and organized, pulled up a chair next to my patient and turned on some tunes (probably classic rock, you can’t go wrong with Pink Floyd) for inspiration. Using clay, a chemical cauterizing agent, ligature, and cosmetics, I tried and failed and tried another way more than once. I do not remember how long it took me. I know I was careful and precise and referenced the other ear until I had created an ear that was suitable for viewing. I was then given the honor of walking the family in to see the man for the first time since he had died. They were nervous to walk in and see him, knowing he had exstensive damage from the gunshot. I will never forget the relief on the family members’ faces when they saw their loved one with two perfectly formed and placed ears. These moments are precious, to know that the work I do is paramount to the experience of a family having their final moments with someone they love.
* While you are here, look at the new page of my blog from the main menu called “Recommendations.” I am proud of this new addition, these are all books that are in my personal library. I have read them all (some more than once!) and love each one. You can purchase any of these by clicking on the picture and please keep coming back as I add more to the list!