Q is for...

Well, I enjoyed having a guest blogger so much, that I decided to invite him back and ask him a few questions about working with death.  If you didn't see yesterday's post on embalming, be sure and read it.  Here's a wee bit about Jim...
Jim Wright has had an on again, off again relationship with the funeral industry since 1970 when he was hired on as an apprentice embalmer. Since that time he worked in funeral homes and embalming services in Houston, TX, Denver, CO and Birmingham, AL. After a stint in the Navy he hired on with the largest Pathology laboratory in the South, where he worked for twenty years. Now retired, he and his Companion, Zeek live in Amman, Jordan with their cat Umm Khalil where he writes and travels. 

And guess what?  I'm gonna throw a CONTEST inspired by being the 1000th commenter on Steven Chapman's blog yesterday.  All you gotta do to enter is ask either Jim or me a question on this post.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy!  If you become a follower of my blog, I'll enter your name in the hat two times.  Then, I'll get my kid to draw a name out of the hat tomorrow.  What do you win?

Issue 33 of Creative Nonfiction.  
I know.  Try and control yourself.
I'm in there.
And I'll even sign it and send it to you with a really cool bookmark.

Okay, here are my questions for Jim, but since I'm related to myself, they don't count in the contest.  DARN!

1. Did you receive any formal training?
A: I didn't go to Mortuary College, but received on the job training from some of the best (and one of the worst) embalmers and restorative artists in the business.

2. Did your relationship to death change after working with the dead?
A: I had had what some referred to as a "morbid preoccupation" with death since the death of my sister in 1959. I never viewed it with fear or revulsion, so I think working in the funeral industry enhanced my attitude toward death.

3. Any freaky stories? Corpses jolting or exhaling?
A: Nah, heard 'em all. Haven't been able to find one single person who's actually experienced such things. It was always someone's best friend's barber's second cousin (twice removed)'s next door neighbor's brother who had someone sit up suddenly, gasp, or some such thing. The closest I can come to it is a story from my early days. My mentor was teaching me the fine art of raising a vein and artery. Now, let me say that I knew we had three bodies in the preparation room. I was completely unaware of the arrival of a new guest whilst I was out of the room. I positioned myself to better see the demonstration when I felt a rather coolish hand on my backside. I have to tell you that for a second or two I thought the body population in that preparation room was about to be increased to five!

4. Ever feel like you're being watched?
A: Erm... well, I always feel I'm center stage, but I don't think it has anything to do with the job. Ego, perhaps..?

5. Have you worked on friends or family members?
A: Yes. The first time I was quite young and a long-time close friend of the family died. I wasn't sure I could go through with it. A great friend told me "You get back in there and do this for him. It's the last thing you can do for him, and he'd be proud to know it was you who took care of him." That was the best advice I ever got, and since then I've been given the honor of embalming several friends over the years, especially during the height of the AIDS crisis. I'm still grateful for the privilege of caring for the remains of my friends at the end of their way.

6. What was the most interesting aspect of your job?
A: There are a great many interesting aspects of working in Funeral Service. However, I think the best, for me at least was the opportunity to observe the seemingly endless facets of the human personality. I've seen family members and friends react to death with rage, resignation, simple joy, and hopelessness and every emotion you can think of in between. I like to think I have given a good service to the families I've served over the years, but I have to say that they have given back to me far more than I could've ever given them. They taught me more about the human condition than any classroom or textbook ever could have.

7. Cremation or burial for you?
A: For many, many years I've expressed my desire to be cremated and scattered at sea in the Mediterranean. 

Now though, I live in a predominately Muslim society where cremation is not as readily accepted. Since my Companion and our family are Muslim, I reckon I'll be buried. I don't find this as unacceptable as I used to because of the vastly different attitudes toward death and burial here. The Islamic way is same-day burial (if possible), no embalming, no casket. After the burial there is a week-long visitation at which the life of the deceased is celebrated. I think this is far, far better than the Western customs, don't you?

Okay, peeps, now it's your turn...