Tuesday, November 08, 2005

My Funeral Home Field Trip Summary

Visit to Mercer-Adams Funeral Home
November 7, 2005

I was very impressed with our tour of the Mercer-Adams Funeral Home. The atmosphere there was warm and soothing. Funeral Director Amy Brown was extremely knowledgeable and easy to talk to. I appreciated her ability to give details, such as how a body is handled if the medical examiner finds something suspicious and what legalities are involved when transporting a body over state lines.

It was very interesting to hear how the funeral home accommodated different types of funeral services. Especially the Taiwanese funerals that take about three days to do. I found her observation of how the Taiwanese are more attached to the body interesting, since I did not expect that from the Westerner interpretation of Buddism I have been exposed to. I was always given the impression that the body was merely an impediment to spiritual perfection. However, this is probably an example of how traditions and ideas do not always translate fully into other cultures. It also is probably more of a reflection of how many Eastern cultures are more death-accepting than Western ones.

Ms. Brown also explained how the industry is regulated for quality. The state commission does surprised inspections and not only checks the facilities, but also how the paperwork is handled. She did not mention anything about needing to have their procedures written down, but if so, then the industry is practically ISO compliant. The funeral home also was careful when choosing a crematorium to work with, selecting one that kept track of the remains through a fire-proof tagging system. Mercer-Adams dedication to their deceased clients is obvious in the fact that they still hold on to unclaimed ashes even after several years, just in case someone of the family decides to retrieve them.

Funeral directors must interact with the family while the grief is still numbing. As Ms. Brown said, the shock is a bit of the blessing, since it helps the family to deal with the many arrangements that must be taken care of right after the death. Within two and a half hours, Ms. Brown leads the family through a whole lists of decisions and helps them by not only taking care of things like contacting the cemetery and florist, but also giving them a list of things the family had to take care of, like deciding on pall bearers and the type of funeral.

It is interesting that many features of caskets are more reflective of the fears of the living than the needs of the dead. For instance, unless someone is sending a body to another country, which must be hermetically sealed, there really is not a reason to have a sealed casket except for the fear of being eaten by insects and mold. Because of their beliefs, Orthodox Jews are buried in special wooden caskets that do not have any metal in their construction. After seeing the elaborate adult caskets, it was a bit disturbing to find that child caskets are often consist of a plastic shell and closed with a sealant. I can only assume it is because parents of young children often do not have the money for more elaborate caskets.

I found the embalming room very clean and strongly smelled of bleach. It was interesting to know just how non-intrusive most embalmings are. Just one cut into the skin and then opening a vein and injecting the fluid into a major artery. The fluid is custom mixed for each body and the pump does all the work. When there is problems with circulation, other small incisions are made, but since it is the circulatory system that does the delivery, it is to the embalmer's benefit to keep it as intact as possible. It is after the blood has been replace and the body has set a while that the abdominal fluid is replaced with a thicker solution to kill off the internal bacteria.

It was good to know that Ms. Brown took the time and effort to keep herself from burning out. From exercise to missionary trips to Honduras, it is obvious that she does her best to balance her life. I suspect that the care she takes for her own well-being helps a great deal when she is working with grieving families.


Mexigogue said...

When I was 21 I met a girl in a club. She said she was a student. I asked what she was studying. She said she was studying to be a mortician. She wasn't kidding. I went away. I don't know why, I guess that was a little irrational of me.

Cosmic Siren said...

It's a common reaction. Needless to say that the funeral director we talked to was single. Kind of a shame, she was a very nice person and not bad looking.