I probably should start off with the how, what, where & why in my decision to follow the path that I have chosen.
For as long as I could remember, I had an extremely high interest in the sciences, especially forensic science, virology/microbiology & anatomy. In high school I took the ASVAB test because I had considered joining the Army just so that I could work at USAMRIID (The United States Army Medical Research Institute for infectious diseases) which would allow me access to the highest level biohazard cases (level 4). Now, I'm just glad that I didn't join the Army. Unfortunately, I never did extremely well academically. But, I also discovered that I had a knack for doing makeup.
My first clients were friends who needed their makeup done for high school dances or special ocassions. After high school, I did what everyone else did and went to college. I also partied waaaaaaaaaay toooooooo much. Screwed up a scholarship (arrrgh. i dunt wanna talk bout it, mmmkay?). At the time, as many do, I wasn't thinking about my future and vulnerabilities. I was young and having lots of fun. I continued to do makeup during this time until I finally just decided to give Cosmetology school a try, without realizing that Cosmo school was strictly for hairdressers (cue the trumpet - wah, waaaah, waaaaaaaah). Oh well. I transferred from a run down laundry mat excuse for a school and then graduated from Paul Mitchell The School after completing the requisite 1600 hours. After chopping through a lot of red tape (needing paperwork from the old school and them putting it off as long as possible due to my recruiting 4 students and a teacher to go with me to PMTS; they were pissed that I took a few sources of their income and they wanted me a little revenge), I passed my state boards (practical & written) and received a license. Afterward, I did a year long stint at a salon; didn't really like it.
During the red tape phase I could not work at a salon so I got a job at Diedrich Coffee at what was then Crystal Court. Now that I think of it, because of DC, we've met more than likely due to the condition of one of the following: you were either a regular customer, a coworker, a trainee for new store, my boss/direct supervisor/shift lead, or as a 6th degree association via D's. Good times at D's. So much so that I didn't want to work in a salon setting and instead I climbed up the hierarchy of corporatelandia until I had my own store.
Being the boss had its perks: because I was still doing makeup, I could make the schedule to reflect that schedule for my work on weddings, quinceaneras, films(for students at OCC & then CSULB) and other special ocassions such as Halloween. My favorite by far was being on set of many CSULB films, especially anything that required fancy work. A favorite of mine of course is replicating the side effects of being an undead creature, especially Zombies. Some might say an obsesssion. I say an overt fondness of :)
Anyhow, you get the jist. It was always (and continues to be) a privilege of mine to either bring out your best face forward, enhancing ones beauty OR deliberately flawing your mug and transforming you into a ghoul. Fun, Fun, Fun.
Now, we're getting closer to the good stuff.
You've probably been to a funeral. In my case, I've been to several.
Have you ever wondered why the deceased looks the way they do, either when they look like they are asleep or especially when they look terrible? Okay, I know that they are dead, but was how they came to pass the reason why they looked they way they did? Who is the one who actually has a hand in the way they look? Is it a makeup artist? The Funeral Director? And why did the families decide to have an open casket when they look especially bad?
I do. Every single funeral I've been to. Whether it was of a natural cause or self inflicted/induced or a progressively fatal disease. Drug addictions. Suicides. The cancer stricken. Heart attack. Diabetes. Car accidents. Old age.
Funerals are a way to fascilitate our human condition & need for closure, a way to close a chapter in our book so to speak. We have a chance to feel an immediate variety of emotions upon hearing when a loved one has just passed - anger, grief, relief, happiness, or sometimes nothing at all. When there is a viewing, it will literally be the final time you will see this person and many times, this is the way you instantly & will always remember them as, especially if there is a gap in time from the last time you saw them alive & breathing. Yes, you have your memories of the deceased; that is not what I am referring to.
I've participated in at least two conversations per funeral that I have attended in regards to how the person looked. Having a positive or favorable viewing experience is easy to forget. If they looked "as if they were sleeping" or "natural", then this I would catagorize as a favorable experience. Because they look this way, its easier for you to mourn and in time, to heal. But, if you can go on and on and on and on about how awful or terrible someone looks, then this I most certainly will catagorize this as a unfavorable experience. This may and can certainly make the experience harder to deal with.
I like to believe that I have a particularly healthy association with death. Our death is eventual; we can all agree that in this natural world, we will all die sooner or later. I am a hypocrite however, in the respect that I can see the death of others, and not my beloved friends & family, in a more clinical, diagnostic & scientific way. When it comes to my family & friends, of course this association kinda goes out the window. I will grieve and it all depends on my relationship & degree of closeness to the deceased.
About 5 years ago, it hit me: I thought that since I'm a makeup artist and with my experience, how much different could it be from working on a live model? Maybe it would be better since they can't talk back. 3 years ago I found myself close to unemployment and thought that this was my chance to figure out what to really do with myself. I decided to go back to school, went and saw the health science counselor for paperwork on the prereq's and such. And this is how my curiosity is now turning into a career.
I want to be able to help you and the community during your time of need. I think everyone should have a better acceptance of death in general. I'm hoping this blog will serve as a forum for you as well, if you have any questions in regards to the profession, please feel free to ask and of course if I don't know the answer I will find out and let you know.
Those working in this profession are not restricted to just working with the dead. Who is it that comes in to a funeral home to make arrangements. I'm hoping its not a zombie and in fact a live person. Embalmers receive an education that include not only embalming, restorative art, public health, anatomy&physiology, microbio & chemistry but also:
business management, mortuary law, business law, ethics, grief psychology, the history of funeral service, trends of the past and future, counseling skills, interpersonal communications.
Once you learn how, embalming is the easy part. Dealing with the living is much harder. If you have ever worked customer service or retail, you know exactly what I'm talking about.