March 10, 2014

Josephus Spooks- My Life as an Undertaker

written by Rosa Morgan

I live a lonely life as an undertaker, ostracized in my town by folks who consider me strange or unclean for my profession. But it does not stop them from calling upon me when their loved ones are dead. 
I cannot make my living solely as an undertaker, but it is that occupation which brings me the most gratification. I have always been fascinated by death; watching as life seeps out of the body with the last breath. The heart may continue beating for several minutes, but eventually that too stops. Their face transforms, the mouth gapes, the eyes glaze, the tongue darkens. The once vibrant and unique person transforms into a carcass with blood pooling in its limbs. 
There are few families who still prepare the body to lay in their front parlor. Most are all too relieved for me to appear at their threshold though it is still terribly hard for the bereaved to let go of the body. Death is staring them in the face and yet their is a disbelief that their loved one will never come home again.

To transport the corpse, I have built an ice refrigeration casket based on Ebenezer Holmes of Saratogo's design, who embalmed our President Grant.

Keeping the body cool to delay deterioration is vital, so at my mortuary, the body is placed on a cooling table with blocks of ice beneath. I disinfect the body with careful attention to eyes, nose and mouth. A light coating of petroleum jelly keeps the lids shut. 

Closing the mouth requires sewing a ligature through the gums, nostrils, septum and chin, while maintaining a natural look to the lips. I have never been asked to place a Charon's obol in the mouth like the ancient Greeks did to pay the ferryman over the River Styx, but I have concealed the Eucharist in the mouth to protect a soul heavenward. 

Shaving the corpse is generally required and with the use of post-mortem shaving powder, this process has been simplified with less discoloration to the skin.

The embalming is next wherein lies the technical astuteness of a physician. Using a gravity jar and cannula, bodily fluids are removed and replaced with arsenic and lead
through the jugular vein and carotid artery.  

Starting at the feet, I massage the fluids through the body moving toward the heart. I stuff sawdust in the incision to soak up excess moisture before sewing it up.

The adroit touch of an artist is required next with a wide variety of tinted powders and liquids to bring back the blush of life. At all times the same respect given to a living individual is offered to the dead.  

An oak coffin is often chosen though a more expensive mahogany or cypress box will withstand the ravages of time far better. Plentiful sprays of flowers are a nice touch and will help mask any unpleasant odors.

I always encourage family members to take photos of their loved one's as a way of remembrance.

I instruct the pall-bearers, usually male members of the family to carry the casket by the handles at waist height, though in England it is carried on the shoulders.

It is in that final hour when the body is laid in its final resting place that I can give a sigh of relief. My job has been done to the best of my abilities for the living and the dead. 
It has been a privilege and I undertake it humbly.