It was an interesting day today as I got to enter the Embalmer’s Room and do my first ever “First Offices”.
What was good was that I first watched the Embalmer do it, while she explained what and why she was doing things and then I got to do it for myself with her watching my every move.
For anyone not working with the dead ” First Offices” will probably mean nothing and as this blog is not only a journal of my learning but hopefully an insight into the industry for any prospective funeral industry workers, I shall do my best to explain.
Now I work for one particular company and obviously all Funeral Homes have their own way of working so there are bound to be differences. In fact I know of a couple of Funeral Directors who don’t perform the following procedure at all if the deceased is not going to be viewed, however we do the First Offices on all our deceased unless religion, family wishes or being physically unable to do it prevents us.
The first thing that happens once the deceased is placed on the table is to check their identity and the paperwork. This happens every time we do anything with a deceased to ensure we have the right person and they are getting everything done the way they or their loved ones want. Some mistakes can be rectified however others can’t so its best to check every time.
Next we remove their clothes and either save them or dispose of them as per the instructions, however throughout the process the deceased always has a covering to protect their modesty. Obviously no one other than the embalmer or person doing the Fist Offices see them but even so, you wouldn’t want your bits on display would you?
Regardless of how they arrive all the deceased are washed from head to toe. I’ve never washed anyone before, other then myself, and I have to say I found it quite odd, almost uncomfortable. Its not just a rinse off with a hose but full soap and water scrub, and yes even down there! Then its shampooing the hair and finally finding off all the soap suds.
Once washed, dried and dressed in a nappy it was time to move on to the stuff that I found very unnatural. Now when I say that I found it unnatural I mean the actual process that is required to make the deceased look more natural. I find it bizarre that you have to perform something with the deceased which you would never do to the living just to make them appear less dead.
The first thing that is required is to fit eye caps. These little plastic things look just like oversized contact lenses and are simply slipped over the eyeball. To be fair, even as a novice I found this easy to do in a practical sense however sticking your fingers into someone’s eyes does feel somewhat odd.
The reason for the eye caps is to give the eyes the shape and appearance people expect to see, for after death the eyeballs themselves start to collapse in as they dry out which give the closed eyelids that literal “sunken appearance”.
When it came to this next part I found it physically difficult. The throat and nasal cavities need filling with a cotton wool like material to stop any leakages. Now this sounds fairly easy however simply putting a little wadding up each nostril and in the mouth isn’t good enough to do the job.
What has to happen is the wadding needs pushing down the back of the throat. Similarly a length of wadding is feed up each nostril and pushed so that it fully blocks the nasal cavity. I once caught my nose on a coffee cup and that brought tears to my eyes so this really goes through me!
The last task is to close the mouth. This is done using a needle that is almost U shaped and what for all intents and purposes looks like string. Firstly the needle is passed down through the mouth, just in behind the front teeth and out just under the chin. Then the needle goes back through the same hole in the chin but out in front of the teeth this time. This makes sure there isn’t a dimple in the chin that wasn’t there before.
The needle is then pushed up into the roof of the mouth, behind the top teeth, and through into the nose before passing through into the other side of the nose and back down. Then its just a case of closing the mouth and tying the ends of the suture together to give the most natural appearance as possible.
Quite a straightforward process and one which I will hopefully get better at with practice. As I said earlier, there is quite a lot of things to do simply to make someone appear natural and in that “just sleeping” pose but without seeing a person before and after, it is difficult to appreciate what a difference doing all this makes.
A bit of a long winded entry but hopefully someone may find it interesting.