Almost everyone who has spent time working in a small funeral home has an older mortician that has imparted some wisdom on them (albeit occasionally unsolicited).
Mine was Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones was in his late 70s, and by default, had no filter. He knew his stuff, and when he gave you advice about something, you’d better listen.
I was on a first call removal. A “first call” refers to when a funeral home is initially notified of a death and is asked to then go and pick up the body, or perform a “removal” or “transfer”. I had never been down to the local coroner’s office to do a removal. Mr. Jones knew this.
“I’ve got the keys, we can leave in 10.” He said
“Uh, we?” I replied.
“Yes girl, you ain’t ever been down there and you don’t know what to do.”
He wanted to come with me, and I was desperately trying to avoid it.
“I’m good, really. I’ve got it covered.”
“Do I look like I graduated from Turkey High School to you?”
“Alright then, let’s go.”
‘Turkey High’ was Mr. Jones’ version of “Do I look stupid?” He was coming with me, and there was no way around it.
The next 15 minutes were spent arguing who would drive, which more accurately translates to me trying to figure out where Mr. Jones had hidden the keys. I finally conceded to let him drive, and we were off. About 5 minutes in, he pulls into a convenience store.
“Mr. Jones, why are we stopping?”
“Girl, you ask too many questions. This is a necessary supply run. You’ll see. Hang tight.”
I sat in the van impatiently scrolling through social media sites, and after a few minutes he returned carrying a large bag. He handed it to me and I started to unpack its contents: an ashtray, a cigar, whole coffee beans, and a pack of spearmint gum.
“Ummm, why did we need these?” I asked.
“What part of ‘hang tight’ wasn’t clear?”
He was annoyed, and I decided that this was just one of those things that older people did that didn’t always make sense.
The deceased was Jasmine, a young woman, who passed away in a car crash. Due to an ongoing investigation, her body had remained at the coroner’s office for 2 months.
After presenting the coroner with the proper paperwork and before Jasmine could be released into our care, we had to identify her body.
Which meant we had to open the bag.
The smell was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I wish I had the words to describe it, but there are none.
After what felt like hours, we were finally able to reseal the body bag and place Jasmine into the mortuary van. As we drove, Mr. Jones pops a piece of gum into his mouth and offers me one. I take it, thankful to have something to distract me. He pulls out the ashtray and pours a layer of coffee beans into it. He then proceeds to take the cigar out of the bag, light it, and places it right in the center of the ashtray. Almost immediately, the sickeningly sweet smell of decay that had been following me since opening the bag that held Jasmine, dissipated. I was amazed.
“How did you know that would fix the smell?”
“Oh no baby, she still stinks. It doesn’t fix the problem, it just makes it easier for you to buckle down and deal with it. Kinda like life, right?”
Kinda like life.