Friday, November 17, 2006

Cremated Remains, aka ASH

Ok, so now I know more than I ever wanted to know about cremation. I probably could have asked Steve, cuz when we went on a field trip to the crematory, he asked all these kinds of questions. It was still too new a job and too much reality for me to listen to the answers.

Here's what happens, it's not gross, I don't think, so no worries. The body goes into the retort (oven) on a plywood/ pressboard tray. The gas comes on, the flame is lit and the temperature reaches (at some point) around 1800 degrees F. It takes a few hours, depending on size and fat content. I do remember the crematory guy saying he can estimate a person's fat content on site, it did make me feel a little chunky. Once the process is finished and you open the door, there lies the skeletal bones, similar to how it is when a fire in your fireplace goes out and the shape of the log is still there. Like that burned out log, if you touch it with the fireplace poker, it kind of collapses, well the bones do the same. So first the bones are swept into a tray, then a magnetic wand is run over the tray to remove screws, hips, teeth, etc, then the bones are placed into a big pulverizer and processed. So, technically there's no "ash", just pulverized cremated bones.

Our manager tells me that maybe if I'm lucky I can get promoted to retort operator once our retorts are installed. I laughed, politely refused (HA!) and hung up the phone.

Now I really do have to make those dang folders.

Friday again

Why do so many people die between midnight and one am? It makes no sense to me, but alot do. The guy who owns the transportation company was just here and he said it's really common. Do they try to hold on for "one more day" or do they die in their sleep? Why can't they die during the day when it's more convenient for everyone? And why can't more of them come here when they die? I'm starting to get bored again.

Yesterday I saw my first set of dead, fake breasts. She was in her early fifties and died of cancer, so had lost alot of weight, not that she was probably ever a big woman to start with. She was skinny and tiny except for those breasts standing straight up. Her doctor would have been so proud!

Someone this week bought a ceramic urn. It's another thing I don't get. Ceramic breaks. What are they thinking? It won't be like Meet the Parents, though, cuz the ashes go in a sealed plastic bag and then into the urn, so if it breaks they won't go flying to the ground for the cat to pee in. People have been bringing in weird things for urns. One family just brought me a metal Christmas tin. Another woman went to somewhere like Target and bought three bathroom accessories for urns. You know those matching sets or glass/toothbrush holder/ garbage can/ etc? Well, these are the little containers that you'd put cotton balls or something like that in. They have lids, but they don't screw on and I put silicon to seal them, but then I worry that it won't hold. What if they put them on the bathroom counter? Someone will try to get a qtip, think the lid is stuck, yank hard, and puff a face full of ash. Ah, but if you were reading closely above, you'd know that there'd be no puff, only a plastic bag filled with ash. One of the preneed counselors was trying to tell me that there is no such thing as ash, that it chemically cannot be called ash. What??? You burn something up, what's left? ASH! Right now I'm taking a survey of FDs to see if they think it's ash. What the heck else would it be. Yesterday I was trying to put some cremated remains into a necklace. I'd like to see the inventor of those things be turned in ash! Bone fragments kept clogging up the funnel. I needed to sift it first, but of course we don't have a sifter. Maybe I'll put that on the supply list. May I have an ash sifter please?

A couple days ago as I sat here bored the thought went through my head, "I work in a funeral home". It didn't last but a second, but it was the kind of thought like what in the world? Dead people go here. It was the response I get from other people when I tell them where I work, but it was my response. And I don't tell people right away what I do, if i meet someone new. I just don't. It changes conversations, so I'm much more quiet about it than I thought I would be.

I'm still in a weird place in my head. I'm rambling though so I'll go back to work now. I've got some memorial folders to make and I've been putting it off all day.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

nothing of interest to report

Funeral life is boring this week. Only three cremations. One I did entirely over the phone and thru fax, so won't even see the family till they come in to pick up the urn. A little out of the ordinary. He died almost three weeks ago but wasn't found for awhile. in the middle of a divorce, but the wife signed the cremation authorization and paid the bill anyway. It worked out well, when it could have been very ugly. The adult sons on both sides made sure it went smoothly, each protecting their own parent. It was nice to see that they could work together and take care of things.
One urn burial today at a national cemetery. He was 91 and he and his wife are the only ones left in this area. She had no one to talk to the day he died, but me. She told me several times about how he died, it was quick and she believes he had no pain. She heard the death rattle. I've heard other people describe it and then another lady this week used the term "death rattle". I guess it's rather unsettling. It's not a choking but an inability to catch one's breath. Sort of. Similar to wheezing only there's a really weird sound. The wife told me she won't ever forget the sound. She said he couldn't speak with words when she asked if he was alright, but he met her eyes and she knew he understood what was happening. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. She said she was the sick one, not him, so she really didn't expect it at all. 91 and death is unexpected. Maybe we never expect it, even when someone is sick and the loved ones know they are dying, usually the death is still a shock. I talk about this as if I know. I've not lost anyone since I was in my early 20s and I'm (well) past that now. :)
I feel quiet today and somewhat unhinged. Now there's a weird word. I told Steve recently that sometimes, lots of times, and anywhere, not just at work, I hear quiet voices in the background and I see movement out of the corner of my eye. He didn't know what to say and just nodded. What could he possibly say to a confession of that sort. It's probably all in my head, although Schewan says that it's energy which I'm more susceptible to now. I don't know how that fits into any kind of theology. I know some people are very specific in that they are not to be cremated for 24-72 hours after death (whatever their own magical time limit is) so that their spirits have time to leave the body and the area before the burning commences. It's not as if they'd be burned alive, so I don't get the need for a time frame. Mostly I guess I think the soul leaves the body immediately upon physical death, and I believe in an afterlife...yes, heaven or hell. I think you probably get to go right to heaven if that's your destiny, but i'm not entirely sure about the hell-bound souls. Do they wander? And why do I think their time frame may be different than heaven-bound souls? Wouldn't the final disposition happen equitably? I don't have any answers. Only questions. The biggest of which is where in the world is Schewan. My head is pounding (a cold last week has left me with a five day headache).