It is inevitable that when people find out what I do for a living the subject of “gross” comes up. I can honestly say that I have always found the workings of living things to be incredibly interesting. As a child I played with insects, well not so much played with them as dissected them. I had a hot plate and a board and a knife and I would cut them open, cook them, boil them and anything else I could think of to discover what the inner parts did and looked like. No matter what I tried I always got mush, the parts were too small to see anything clearly in my backyard butcher shop. Please don’t worry about all of those poor insects that I experimented on, I didn’t mean any harm. In fact, I took to breeding these insects in jars to replace the ones that I destroyed. I could not in good conscience take from the world an insect life without finding a way to give it back. This was, of course, a child’s way of thinking how the world worked and no, I never experimented on anything more than insects, that was unconscionable.
That being said. The fascination of being a mortician included the interest of the human body and all of its parts, especially since there isn’t much that can “gross” me out, most of the time. Not long after I started college I decided a good way to see the parts that I was learning about in anatomy class was to head to the medical examiner’s office (ME’s office for short) where they do autopsies. I decided that at the ME’s office was where I was sure to convince someone to let me see the insides of a human body in a place where they had to take them apart anyway. After some negotiating, I was able to set up a tour for my class to go and watch from behind a glass wall a real live autopsy! Interestingly enough, it was only a handful of my fellow students who would accompany me once a week for this incredible experience. After a few weeks of religiously showing up to see the inner parts of bodies, we were invited to come into the room and watch up close and personal the things that make us breathe and walk and talk and move about. Muscles, tendons, organs, tissue, and the smells! It was all there. There were so many moments that I still remember, yet two momentous occasions stand out above them all. One was holding a human brain, the whole brain, sitting in my hands! In awe I held this solid mass of gray matter in the palms of my hands (gloved, of course) and reveled in this thing that is responsible for our thoughts and movement of muscle and experience emotions. How incredible to imagine this bulk of tissue that I held in my hands was the same thing that gave me awe that I actually held it! The second occasion was holding a heart, a human heart, there in front of my eyes, touching with my fingers the very organ that is responsible for the circulation of oxygen and nutrients to all the parts and tissue of my body! In these moments there was nothing cooler in the world than experiencing this. In all of these times at the ME’s office I saw the aftermath of car accidents, fires, stabbings, gunshots, bodies left in the elements for days, all of this and more. And it was cool!
I am going to take a minute and bring my funeral director side out to explain that the horrific things that happened to these very real people is so tragic, sad and even disheartening. I do not revel in the casualties of death in any way. I understand and feel the pain and grief of those who have experienced these losses. These things are real and I am sorry for their families. My captivation is seeing the lumps and forms and strings of ourselves that make up ourselves. It is enthralling to me to see and touch the fibers of muscles, globs of fats and all the layers of the skin that make us these complicated creatures called humans. So, to get to my point, with all the manners of death there can be, that give me and all the other curious people out there like me the ability to see inside our incredible bags of bones and tissue, is it really that gross?
“Chelsea’s pick of the month is Thomas Lynch’s “The Undertaking”. Lynch is one of my favorite writers. He writes about his life as a funeral director in a small town in a way that makes you laugh and cry. He is a comedic and dark but is respectful to my professions always. Click the link below to purchase and lets talk about it”.