Dead bodies. Crying families. Middle of the night calls. These are just a few of the things funeral directors deal with as part of life’s calling. What inspires someone to choose a career in the funeral profession? What do they love about their job? How do they really feel when handling dead bodies?

In Through the Eyes of a Funeral Director, 17 funeral directors and embalmers invite readers inside one of the most unusual jobs in the world and give honest answers to common questions. Confessing the bad with the good, the funny and the unusual, and revealing the true joys of their job as a funeral director, the collection of heartfelt stories reveals the importance of one of the oldest and most sacred caregiving professions in the world.

322 pages | Published 2017 | ISBN: 978-1-944328-43-6

Dear Embalmer:

How do you begin to say thank you to someone who allowed their loved one’s body to be procured and segmented for organ and/or tissue donation? I certainly had no clue . . . words seemed somehow insufficient now that I was the proud owner of a recovered tendon obtained from a musculoskeletal tissue donation and subsequent transplant I would receive. 

In years past I likely would have uttered something quite the opposite of gratitude, knowing I would be spending the next several hours with the  veritable mess of a human being. The truth is: there is no immaculate way to recover tissue from a human being. The cu de gras was that I would also be required to have the decedent looking absolutely fabulous for a viewing . . . the very next day.  I just could not fathom why someone would choose this.  As part of an industry that prides itself on restoring dignity despite death, this seemed so far from the mark to me.  And so, I’d unzip the body bag and begin the task of making PVC pipes function like the like long bones of the legs, giving support where there was none.  Then, taking care to make sure my sutures were tight; for there would be no trace of the things I had seen.

On February 15, 2020, I severed both my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) in my left knee, while trying to brace a fall skiing with my family (this is the injury that takes out NFL players for an entire year). I would later learn that I would need an ACL reconstruction with a donor graft.  Because I had also severed my MCL, using my own hamstring was not an option and using my own patella tendon would mean three injuries and make recovery too difficult.  While this injury is not life-threatening, it would severely limit my quality of life. I am a working mother of  three very active little girls. Together, we enjoy hiking, camping, canoeing, ice skating, biking , zip-lining and white water rafting . . . just to name a few. Without tissue donors, I would be sitting on the sideline of my life. 

While putting pen to paper in an emotionally charged expression of gratitude for my donor family, it occurred to me that there was someone else who needed to know what an integral part they play in this process . . . YOU, the Embalmer. 

While I will never know who this person was or how to reach them, this is meant as an ode to all those who have been the one stooped over a prep table for hours, putting someone back together following organ and/or tissue donation. I know first-hand these calls often come in at the end of an already long day. I know there are meals missed and time with family interrupted to perform embalming. Your sacrifice means something! 

While it may seem like it’s just a mess to clean up, it is actually a gift . . . the time and effort you spend preparing a donor’s body allows the survivors the freedom to make profound biological gifts that impact the lives of many in quantity of years as well as the quality of those years. Because of your craft, they can do so without sacrificing their ability to see their loved one, wherein they have the opportunity to find comfort with one last goodbye. 

Many times these donors have met with an untimely death, which of course makes them good candidates for donation but leaves their loved one’s trying to make sense of an often senseless situation. This ability to donate gives their survivors a sense of peace knowing their choice and subsequent gifts, gives further meaning to their loved one’s life by providing others with a new beginning. 

I am an embalmer but I am also a person who has now benefited from someone’s decision to donate.  Because of this gift, my children get an active and engaged mother, and we will have the opportunity to make important memories to sustain them, for my own life will someday come to a close. 

So, today as I have acknowledged that gift, so too do I acknowledge yours, in a way only someone who has done the job themselves can truly understand. Please know how appreciated you are as the person whose efforts are entirely unseen. In a way, you are a magician. The way you take a body, broken down into its life-giving parts, and restore it to dignity is a beautiful, magical and wonderful thing. 

For all the late nights, early mornings, the painfully long hours; for every thankless moment, the missed weekends and holidays, the many indecencies your eyes will see; for the strained relationships that you and yours must endure because someone else needed you too. 

From one embalmer to another . . . thank you, from the other side of the table.

Sincerely yours,