November 10, 2011

Mortuary Field Trip


It just so happens that Hannah Jane's new teacher who manages her on-line classes is part of a family who is in the mortuary business and she invited the Culture Club kids to come meet her husband and learn a little about the differences between Egyptian embalming and modern embalming.  How cool is that?  So today we loaded up and made the half hour drive to Brigham City to meet the mortician.

I spoke to the kids a little bit ahead of time about behavior and respect during our visit.  I explained that people we would run into there who were not employees would likely be mourning the loss of a friend or a family member, so this wasn't going to be a time for running, laughing, or being overly exuberant.  They all seemed to get it and Haven said, as we walked in the front doors, "Don't forget.  No happiness until we leave.  K?" 

Right off the bat we went to the embalming room to look at the tools, pumps, tables and drains.  Then we were invited to cozy up on a gurney and get strapped in to see how it felt.  My friend Steff's kids both got on and got strapped in.  Mine weren't so keen on the idea.  Then we toured the casket showroom and looked at all the different choices.  Steff and I are both fans of not getting embalmed and returning to the earth in the quickest possible manner, so she peppered the guy with questions on how long it would take to break down after different combination of procedures and casket choices. 

We heard quirky stories about a dangerous city in Arizona where a mortuary has bullet proof glass, embalms people in Lazy Boy recliners, and displays them in the window for drive by viewings so that mourners don't have to get out in the dangerous streets to pay their respect.  And one of a place in California that, for a fee, will mummify you complete with 40 days in the sand. 

Finally - and this was the part I assured Joe wouldn't take place when he voiced concerns that this was a morbid and inappropriate field trip for such young kids - we went into the viewing room where a woman was waiting for her viewing this evening.  So yeah...we were there field tripping around this lovely old woman's body.  But this was probably the most interesting and surprising thing I learned about the mortuary business while we were there.  He took us in to show us how they change the lighting depending on how the person died  and the impact that has on their skin tone.  The walls are all pink in the building, which lends a rosy glow to their skin and is supposed to be calming for the mourners, and then they have both pink and blue bulbs and fixtures that they change out depending on the body that cast a more life like color on the skin.  If they take on a yellow tone, that gets one set of light bulbs, if they gray they get some other set, and so on and so forth.  They even have dimmer switches, which he adjusted as we stood there and looked at this woman and witnessed first hand all the different skin colorations she could take on as a result of thoughtful lighting.  It's quite impressive all the thought that goes into it. 

Finally, the man told us about studies about grief and grieving and how they are lengthened or shortened by viewings, funerals, and open or closed caskets.  The number he quoted to us is that it takes 8-10 years of counseling to equal the amount of closure gained by a viewing.  That makes sense, although it kind of blows the whole no embalming, just send us back to the earth all blue and ugly plan that Steff and I were plotting.  We want our kids to get closure, right?  It appears I'll have to put a little more thought into this before the time comes.

While we were discussing lighting and grieving over this woman's body, her son arrived several hours early to see her.  I drug the kids out and around the corner so they could have their time alone with her and suddenly, while I was feeling sullen about the family that was there, the mortician broke out cookies and we had a little snack break before a photo op and departure. 

I thought it was interesting.  The kids seemed to love it and learn a lot.  Overall, I'm giving it a 10 on the field trip rating scale.  Joe, however, is very displeased with the fact that the kids saw a dead person.  I felt like having the opportunity to be there and talk about things in a very unemotional way was actually quite pleasant and reassuring, making death something not so scary.  But everyone has their own different perspectives on such delicate things.  Had I known that they would be seeing an actual dead person, Joe would certainly have not permitted the field trip, but he's being very kind and not making a fuss about it now that it's done.  He's a trooper!

I can't help but wonder what random filed trip we'll find ourselves on next!

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