Most people have a routine when first coming to work in the morning. Start the coffee maker, transfer the phones, fire up the computer. My routine at this funeral home was to walk through the back entrance, enter the embalming room and look at the deceased who had come to us throughout the night. At this firm it was customary after the embalming to place them on a portable table and drape a sheet over them from head to toe. As I walked up to each table, I would pull back the sheets one by one. Look at their faces, stroke a head, pat an arm. It was comforting getting to know each of these people who in the coming days would be dressed, cosmetized, casketed and funeralized. In these moments, I learned their names, had small conversations with them and hoped things would go smoothly for their families’ sake. If there were people that I myself had gone to receive during the witching hour, it made it even more personal. It was important to me to know them and have a sense of them before the families came in.
I have said this before but funeral directors, typically, have a wicked sense of humor. Then one morning, as I made my way to the embalming room and started pulling back sheets to say my hello’s, as I pulled a particular sheet back, the body sat straight up and the person “Good morning!”
OK, breathe…a…minute…and as the adrenaline rushed through my veins, I recognized my coworker laughing hysterically at me from his sitting position on the table, mind you we kept a clean and tidy house there, but all I could think was “Gross!”
So, for those of you who are not intimately familiar with the dead, they do not sit up, they do not breathe, or blink, or yell “Good Morning”. What they do is lie on a table and wait for someone to move them. They may moan a little as the air trapped in their lungs escapes through their lips, or maybe it is a tiny sigh but short of a real zombie apocalypse, the dead do not move on their own, or yell words, or wake up. I know disappointing huh? However, that is the way it is.
So, back to silly coworkers scaring me almost to death. I myself have never lain on a table just to scare a coworker and this was the first in a string of pop up sheets until I learned to look for signs of life and play a little trick of my own, a little cold water anyone?!