I remember sitting in the back of the room in third-grade health class, at the little school in the Inuit village, and feeling progressively sicker as the teacher was explaining things about blood and cells and organs and how when you stand up straight, the blood flows to parts of the body…I felt sicker and sicker and finally muttered, “This is grossssss….”
But I wasn’t as quiet as I thought I’d been, and the teacher stopped her lecture to address me. “You think this is GROSS? You think learning about your body is GROSS? Perhaps if you paid attention, this would not seem so gross to you.”
And now, people have been warned not to get into a gross-out contest with me; I’ll surely win.
Not that I would ever partake, but really, I would not do so well in a contest to see who was the least squeamish. I actually did not pursue this job for many years because I assumed I would never be able to handle human remains without having nightmares. How I got my first internship, before ever seeing a dead body, was the old-fashioned way: I put on a nice suit and went to all the funeral homes in town and introduced myself.
However, I had also done the very same thing six years previously…and chickened out when a place actually wanted to hire me. I had no work experience at all, let alone in a funeral home, and they said I could start with office work and then see if I wanted to go into the field.
I actually remember saying on the phone, “I don’t think I can do this after all.” Sure, it was just a reception job…but what if I SAW ONE??? I’d never sleep again. Never mind that I was already working in an office, in a homeless shelter, and seeing the perfectly gross things the living are capable of doing. If I saw a made-up, embalmed body in a nice casket, I would surely never sleep again.
Clearly, I got over this, but I am still very squeamish in many other areas of my life. Touching garbage, dead animals, or things that are just plain dirty or sticky or soggy is disgusting to me and I’ll avoid it if I can. If I have a dead animal I pick it up with tongs or a towel, which I then throw away. I put about a bottle of Drano down the kitchen and bathroom sinks every month so I don’t have to stick my hands in the drains. Even that snake thing is too gross for me to use, unless I plan on throwing it away afterwards.
I still own – and wear – clothes I’ve taken off bodies. (Yes, it’s allowed if the family does not want them back.) To be fair, they’ve worn a few of my clothes too, like if the family just wanted a quick viewing and didn’t bring clothes. When I was living at the funeral home I’d just run upstairs and find something if the deceased was a woman my size.
I can’t watch surgical videos either. There’s blood and machines and sharp things and it’s just all so gross.
I’m not as bad as the guys who call themselves “old school” and embalm without gloves, but I have no problem handling an intact body, embalmed or not, with bare hands. It would be far more hazardous to touch embalming fluid than it would be to touch blood.
One thing that completely disappeared from my life was horror movies, not that I was a big fan in the first place. Who wants to be scared? I can be scared all I want at work – not scared of what I’m looking at, but scared because most likely, the person who did this is still walking around. Why would I want to go home from that and sit in front of the couch and be scared again? I’d rather laugh. The worse the carnage and misery at work; the more asinine my choice of entertainment. I have, as an adult whose children were not over that weekend, actually rented Teletubbies, back when video stores were a thing. I had to walk in and select it and rent it while other people could see what I wanted to watch. I wanted an escape. I wanted to look at a place where no one ever had to worry about getting murdered or how they’re going to afford anything now that Dad’s gone. The Teletubbies (Tinky Winky, Dipsy, La La, and Po) have funny shuffling walks and they spend their days rolling down hills and giggling.
Watching a person get stabbed, shot, tortured or mutilated is no longer a form of entertainment. It feels disrespectful and wrong somehow. Why is this something anyone would want to watch? Why are Americans simultaneously fascinated with and revolted by death? Why is it perfectly normal to watch someone on TV get stabbed in the throat, but also normal to forego attendance at funerals so you don’t have to see the dead people?
If I want to see blood and gore and tragedy, I just have to go to work. And I can’t watch someone being strangled and tortured in a movie without thinking of my last strangle/torture case and how her mom fought against the autopsy but it happened anyway and then she was buried on the mom’s birthday. Bunch of news articles, no leads, no arrests. I still have a copy of the receipt that mother signed; I’m not even affiliated with that funeral home any more but I just had to have a piece of the file because I can’t stop thinking about it. She probably doesn’t remember a thing about me. I remember everything about her, her daughter, the service, the cemetery, the house, the dove release…
That’s where my mind drifts, while yours is probably occupied with thoughts of how stupid everyone in the movie is and how you totally would have survived. It can’t ever be just a movie to me.
I don’t have a problem with violence in movies, if it is somehow related to the plot. In horror, much of the violence and gore is the plot. It’s like profanity: I am not some Puritan who cringes at certain words, but when profanities tend to make up the bulk of the sentence, or the conversation is clearly an excuse to use profanities, it becomes extremely unappealing to listen to.
I’ve been considering the unpleasant task of eye enucleation. I don’t like working on a body whose eyes have been removed. No embalmer does. Families are told that eye donation will not affect viewing and this is mostly false, depending on the skill of the one who removes the eyes. Like pathologists, there are eye enucleators who care about the appearance of the deceased and those who don’t. There is a marked difference in the appearance of the eye area when the enucleator happened to be a licensed embalmer as well. Typically, eye removal done without an embalmer’s skill results in bruised, swollen, leaking eyes that never end up looking right. So, can I get over the absolute grossness of cutting someone’s eyes out in order to ensure that more cases will be presented with perfect, natural-looking eye closure?
I witnessed an enucleation procedure my second day on the job, eleven years ago, and never watched another one. My stomach turned, the room went black, and I had to leave. I tried not watching but it wasn’t enough; I could still hear the scissors. Just little snipping sounds, what you might hear at a salon, but I knew it was the sound of someone getting her eyes cut out. Then the guy actually had to hold up the eyeball with his little forceps.
(Please do not be an eye donor.)
Fact is, I would be a better embalmer if I knew how to remove eyes. This would mean better service provided to families. I have to decide if being better at my job is worth doing something that may literally make me vomit.
I lost count of how many shootings have taken place since I started writing this a few days ago. Suffice to say, I’ve been watching a lot of Beavis and Butt-Head.