This could also be considered the last in my Facial Laceration Repair posts…for this case, anyway.

I came back one more day before the funeral and re-sutured, re-waxed and re-cosmetized everything again, and she ended up looking…good. Good as in, like someone who had not been in a car accident. On the day of the funeral, as 500 guests walked past two open caskets, many commented that she looked “not like herself” and others remarked that she looked “beautiful.” I think her immediate family was also of the opinion that she looked good enough to be viewed, but again, not exactly like herself.

Sometimes, the hard part isn’t repairing the trauma, but in re-creating everything the person’s family remembered about her. Sure, I can make someone look like they don’t have a bullet wound in their forehead, but when I put the face together, can I create the mole they always joked about? If a lady has no eyebrows, will I draw them on exactly the way she did?

Of course I try and work from a photo, but often, I have only one photo that is ten years old, or taken from a distance. Some 80-year-olds have even provided me with wedding or graduation photos of their spouse, which really doesn’t help me at all.

Then I have to remember that what I think would make a person look better may not necessarily be what the family always remembered about that person. For example, if I get a case with Down Syndrome, I have to resist the urge to make their face look more “normal.” The person had Downs and its associated facial characteristics, and it’s my job to create a look for their family’s last memory. If I “correct” anything about the eyes or mouth, I may end up displaying someone the family doesn’t recognize.

I try to see the body before I meet with the family, but sometimes I can’t, and I have to know about facial hair preferences before I start embalming. After a person is embalmed, their skin is non-pliable, and if you shave them, they will get horrible razor burn. In the industry we call it “rat bites” because that’s what it looks like; rather than what you remember razor burn on your legs or face to be, it literally looks like a small animal took several bites out of the person’s face.

Facial hair on women and children is another matter. Most old women just have facial hair, and if a child is taking drugs to treat cancer, many of these drugs have facial hair growth as a side effect. I once picked up a six-year-old girl with a mustache as thick as that of a grown man. Most families don’t want to see their Mom with a mustache, but again, always ask. Many cultures and religions frown upon removal of facial hair, and there are some families who just plain want to see Mom as she always was. Maybe Mom didn’t believe in makeup or shaving. So if it’s a woman I haven’t seen, I say something like “This might sound like a strange question, but many women have light facial hair, so if I see any, would you like me to remove it?” Most people say yes, but it’s still easier to take the hair off than to put it back on. (Yes, it can be put back on.)

Honestly, I’m really not the best at makeup. I’m good at reconstruction, but after that, I often don’t know what to do. And I can’t do hair AT ALL. I’ve worn extensions for years, and it costs me about $800 to go to a salon. If I do them myself, I’ll pay maybe $300, but the finished look will be remarkably not as good. My real hair costs about $2 in hair gel to fix, so if I want to save money I just have to forego glamour for a bit.

Like most women, I love makeup and would never leave the house without it, and am aware of just how many products it takes to create that “natural” look. Men who say they like a woman to look “natural” usually have not seen a woman who is truly natural. I’ve had people compliment me on some “natural looking” photos…photos of someone who has had cosmetic surgery; spent $800 on her hair; and has a fake tan and about ten products on her face. (And THEN the photo was airbrushed!) I think my former husband saw me without makeup twice…while giving birth.

When a family tells me “Mom never wore makeup” and that they want a “natural” look, whether the body is embalmed or not, they will end up viewing a body with makeup on. A day or so after death, the face can turn gray, the lips can turn white, and the corners of the eyes can start to dry out and turn brown. That is “natural.” But with a little bit of wax and some liquid tint, I can hide all of that and she will look like she has no makeup on. Even the men all get lip color because no one wants to look at gray or white lips.

But I just never really developed great makeup skills for everyday looks. I watch a lot of makeup tutorials on YouTube; I buy the products; set them all out and pause the video after each step; and the YouTube lady looks perfect and I look like I have stuff smeared everywhere. How can someone use seven different shades of brown and gray to create “natural” eyes? It just looks like a brown mess when I do it. Or I come up with something that looks great at home, and hideous in natural light.

It should be simple, like cooking. When I want to cook, I get the ingredients, follow the instructions, and it usually turns out very nice. But makeup is different. I don’t know if I just have an unsteady hand, or haven’t found the right products, but most likely I just have no artistic flair. I’m the same with decorating; I’ve forever given up on trying to make my home look like an actual adult lives there. I have Spongebob sheets, stuffed animals and little gnomes and fairies everywhere.

I subscribe to a couple of those monthly boxes of surprise makeup samples, and a lot of that stuff ends up getting donated to the funeral home or passed along to my kids because I just can’t seem to figure it out. I’ve asked my 14-year-old daughter for help with my makeup. I’m getting better – I just started learning how to do my eyebrows – but I still have a long way to go. I can’t seem to figure out false lashes, or contouring, or winged eyeliner.

So with this case – while I’d still call it a success because I was able to repair the mutilation – many family members completely redid the actual color cosmetics I had used. They knew the ladies and how they looked on a daily basis; I did not. And their results were better than mine.