If there were to be a survey of the top 10 most sought-after occupations for school-aged children, I guess a funeral director or an embalmer would surely not make the list. A pathologist can probably reach the ladder somewhere, albeit far enough, and becoming a funeral director might elicit jaws dropping in naivety. Many will agree that a career in postmortem care (or outright, death management) can be unsettling, to say the least. While never lacking in importance, jobs in the mortuary industry are certainly not the most sought after. After all, tending to a corpse is generally not desired.
In addition to possessing technical skills, jobs that deal with dead bodies require emotional stability, a commitment to treating the deceased with respect, and, of course, an exceptional ability to resist pungent odors. Some can add a decent level of mental or emotional toughness, especially since those who deal with corpses are literally physically separated, even psychologically excluded from the rest of “sane” and “safe” civilization. To top it all off, a lifeless body on a cold stainless steel table is the working “companion” of an undertaker in an eerily quiet basement of a hospital.
Not that we deny it, but most people (myself included) have experienced the grief of losing a loved one, either in hospital or on the street. Shortly after hearing the news of his death, the next place we usually end up is either the funeral home or the cemetery. We miss (and sometimes ignore) the fact that a complex process involving a group of professionals necessarily ensues during the period from the last breath of the deceased until his burial. On the one hand, a mortuary assistant cleans and prepares the body for post-mortem examination. And like any medical assistant in a surgery room, the assistant hands over tools, supplies, and instruments to the medical examiner (or a coroner) during the autopsy. The coroner then collects tissue or even organ samples and analyzes the data, and also prepares a death certificate, especially if the death was caused by unnatural causes. For uncertain or suspicious causes of death, the medical examiner even coordinates with law enforcement. In other countries, forensic pathologists are doctors trained in forensic medicine and pathology. Pathologists, on the other hand, are doctors who perform autopsies to confirm the cause of death, especially if the initial assessment was questionable or questioned by surviving relatives. Embalmers come on the scene whenever called upon for memorial services and burial or cremation. Embalmers should be familiar with sanitation laws and procedures. A desairologist, or cosmetologist, can style hair and apply makeup. Obviously, from that last breath to memorial services, these procedures have been performed by embalmers, undertakers, coroners, and the rest of those professionals in the “corpse management industry.”
I relate these details not only with particularity but also with the utmost respect for those engaged in the dignified management of the dead. With the onslaught of Covid-19, these professionals have worked doubly hard but may feel their jobs are thankless. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, newspapers were awash with photos of piles and piles of body bags carrying corpses of confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases. Meanwhile, those busy tending to the dead are just as overwhelmed as those busy saving lives! Those who worked in morgues were just as burdened with stress, lack of sleep, overwork and overtime as those who worked in hospitals. Adding to the challenge is the discomfort of wearing specified personal protective equipment (PPE), which included a respirator-type face mask, in conjunction with a gown, gloves and eye protection. I believe what sets the procedure apart in the age of the pandemic is that a body bag labeled with a “Covid-19 – Handle with Care” sticker is testament to the confluence of this extra and special work done by our mortuary professionals. They ensure that no unnecessary manipulation of the body can be done to expose the risks of expulsion of air from the lungs, leakage of fluids from the body and, of course, hand hygiene. Care worthy of the dead can always be followed, regardless of the infectious nature from which the deceased suffered. In short, a mortuary work is much more than a simple body bag! And these professionals deserve to be considered our modern-day heroes!
In the spiritual realm, the work done by Jesus Christ while on earth was initially flouted. He continued to do all the good things, but he was nailed to the cross, which resulted in a shameful death. Its early supporters were persecuted and ridiculed. At the time, being a disciple of Jesus was not one of the sought-after vocations. After all, all but one of Jesus’ disciples died in excruciatingly painful circumstances. To this day, some still regard Jesus as the one whose body was covered with a shroud and had been buried. Openly declaring one’s faith can be perceived as a “holier than thou” attitude, sometimes subject to ridicule. However, a more personal relationship with our Heavenly Father will cause a person to believe that His Son is more than just a clothed body! By his costly sacrifice, our God sees us pure and without sin because we have been made righteous by God in Christ. The Bible constantly reminds us that “God caused him that had no sin to be sin for us, that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) And because Christ is more than just a “body bag,” so to speak, nothing about his work is mundane as his righteousness propels us toward goodness. With the awareness, therefore, that there is grace in the enveloped body, each believer is naturally drawn to walk the right path and to abandon his old evil ways. For it is biblically said, “What shall we say then? Will we continue to sin for grace to increase? Never ! We are those who are dead to sin; how can we live there longer? (Romans 6:1-2). The “corpse” of Jesus Christ has a far greater meaning and impact, similar to the works performed by those who participate in the “management of the dead.”
Having been enlightened to the importance of the work done by mortuary professionals, we also acknowledge the contributions of cemetery workers, hospital and funeral home cleaners, and even our delivery drivers for our orders. on line. Their work may be the kind of work that is not very desired, but because they do what they are called to do, our lives have been made much easier, even safer. What they do is more than just a body bag, trash bag, or germ-infested vehicle. Their jobs should remind us that we are comfortably safe today because of their sacrifice! The least we can do is walk and work with these workers, take care of ourselves and our homes to make it easier to manage their work – just as we should maintain a posture to walk and work with Christ so that we can demonstrate in our lives the grace he has selflessly given us. This way, we can honestly say that our heroes’ sacrifice was never wasted.
A former Army infantry and intelligence officer, Siegfred Mison has showcased his leadership philosophy serving organizations such as the Integrated Law Society of the Philippines, Malcolm Law Offices, Infogix Inc., Eastern University, the Bureau of Immigration and Philippine Airlines. He is a graduate of West Point in New York, Ateneo Law School and the University of Southern California. A corporate lawyer by profession, he is an inspiring teacher and a Spirit-filled writer with a mission.
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