A day in the life of an embalmer
“As soon as I got the job, I knew this was it for me!”
Lorna Brierley-Davies tells us what life is like being an embalmer, why she won an award for her work, and how music can be a great distraction from the serious nature of the job at hand.
Lorna Brierley-Davies, 32, Embalmer, Dignity Service Centre, West London
Why did you become an embalmer?
I have been an embalmer for going on six years now and I only got into it by chance. At the time, I was a mortuary assistant at Ealing hospital. Upon signing a deceased out of my care to two Dignity employees, one asked if I had ever thought about embalming.
I asked for their manager's details and sent my CV, supporting letter, two written references and a letter explaining who I was and to be considered for a position if one became available. As soon as I got the job, I knew this was it for me! I love that it is my own skill and interpretations that give a family a positive experience, at an extremely sad time in their lives.
Why did you win an award for your work?
When a person completes the embalming course, the highest grades get put forward to the Trustees of embalmers around the world. I received a mark of 100% and the examiner stated, “In the 25 years I've been doing this job, I’ve never given anyone 100%.”
I was chuffed to bits! I got an International award and a cheque from the Trustees. I was so grateful.
What does your typical day at work look like?
Firstly, I collect all my case reports. Then, I print out 3-4 days of transfer sheets which help prioritise my work load. I perform a fridge check, to see which of the deceased are in our care. I then undergo the embalming procedures; I wash, shave, apply make up, clean and prepare bodies. At the end of each day, I clean the embalming suite and my instruments.
Are there any questions that families ask you?
Though I am not client facing, I do still get a few requests. I have been asked to make a loved one’s hair or make up similar to a photo and have also been asked to provide locks of hair for the family to keep.
There was an instance when I was asked to take fingerprints and create a three dimensional hand model of the deceased. I’ve also been asked to take DNA samples, for later testing.
Are there any misconceptions or myths about embalming?
I have been asked whether the deceased twitch or sit up due to muscle spasm, though I've found neither of these to be true.
I’ve also found that a lot of people are unaware that you don't need any type of medical background or a degree to be an embalmer. If there is enough drive and interest, anyone can do the job.
How do you distract yourself during the embalming process?
I have a radio on low in the background. It keeps my mind distracted from the serious nature of the job at hand.
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