Every mortuary has different procedures for shipping and receiving deceased bodies. I was relatively new to this particular mortuary and was working with, what we call in the industry, a “ship in” (Where a person dies in one state and then needs to be transported to another state for funeral services and/or burial). In this instance a woman had died in one state, she was to have a funeral service there, then she would be shipped to my state where she would have another funeral service and ultimately be buried. Because I was still new to the procedures of this mortuary, which had multiple locations, I just operated in the manner I was used to at the firm I was at previously and had the woman transported directly to the location where her services were to take place. The way it was supposed to work with this firm was that all of the bodies were to be sent to a central location. There they would be checked and prepared and then transported to whichever location their services were going to be at. Now, I am licensed and skilled enough to prepare any deceased in any manner and was confident that I could ensure this woman was ready for public viewing. At least that was what I thought.
I took the shipping crate into the room she was to be viewed in and untied the straps that held it together. My first shock was that this casket was almost certainly custom made. It was a bright, cherry red and glossy like a brand-new mustang. I reveled at how striking it was compared to the pastel metals that I was used to. Carefully, a staff member and I transferred the casket onto a bier (a wheeled decorative stand). Then, I opened the casket. To my horror, the woman had deteriorated badly. It had been many days since her death that, coupled with the pressure of flight, had heightened the natural decomposition process and fluid had leaked everywhere! I was told by her husband and son previously that she would be wearing her wedding gown from when she was married 30 years before! I was faced with a white micro velvet wedding gown and a cream casket interior stained in pink. No reason to panic though, I had been faced with similar situations before and I knew how to handle it. So, I set out to look for supplies. I was unfamiliar with this mortuary and searched everywhere for provisions, only to realized that this location did not have what was necessary to handle what I was faced with at this moment. To top it off, this all happened on a Sunday which meant that the mortuary was closed and that meant that the only staff available was our first call team (they pick up the deceased when a death occurs) and the person answering the phones (and they could not help at all). The family was scheduled to arrive in about 3 hours to see this wife, mother and grandmother and then begin a viewing for her friends and family in the area.
I stared in disbelief at the drenched cloth of the casket and the treasured wedding gown, realizing I was sadly unequipped to fix this problem. I took a moment to gather myself because somehow, I had to find a solution. I had thankfully taken my day off to go to the mortuary and make sure everything was ready, otherwise this could have been an even bigger disaster. Realizing the dilemma I was in, I quickly called the first call team and, luckily, they happened to be at our central location and were just now getting back from transporting another decedent to the central location. I gave them a list of the supplies that I needed to handle my predicament with and then, as I waited for them to arrive, I started the cleanup procedure. I took off the gown of micro velvet (ugh) and used a chemical called dry wash (a solution used in dry cleaning) to clean the stains, I then scrubbed the interior of the casket with the supplies I had at hand. About 40 minutes later my savior arrived, only to find out that he had mistakenly left the bag of requested supplies at the other location! It was a simple, unintentional mistake yet, the family of this woman was now scheduled to arrive in about an hour and a half! So, in a flurry of chemicals and a blow dryer I was able to sufficiently get the wedding gown washed and mostly dried and the casket interior cleaned. I then applied fresh makeup, added some curl to her hair and, only just in time, this woman was ready and I thought she looked beautiful. As I walked the family in to see her, I strained to see any hint of the disaster that had originally come to me in a shipping box. In the end the family was thrilled, which meant that I was thrilled, tragedy averted, and the world turned once again. The next day we laid this woman to rest. Beautiful, pristine, in a glossy red casket dressed in her treasured white wedding gown. May she now rest in peace.Picture provided by Pixabay