CHAPTER 2


Does This Mean You’ll See Me Naked?

Yes, it does mean precisely that. The funeral director who prepares your body for a final viewing will invariably at some point need to remove your clothing. So, yes. You will be naked.

But you’d be amazed at how many times I’ve been asked that question—and how often, when people voice their fears regarding death, the issue comes up. What is this hang-up people have about nudity? It’s as bad as their hang-up about death! Some of my closest friends have expressed reservations in letting me handle their funerals because of it; even my own sister has mentioned it!

I have repeatedly assured everyone that, as a -professional, I have no sexual interest whatsoever in dead bodies—male or female—particularly family members and friends. Any loved one reposing on my embalming table is someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, or grandparent and is reverently and respectfully cared for in a totally businesslike manner. Only a sick mind would interpret or insinuate anything else.

Furthermore, preparation room decorum has always been maintained wherever I have worked. All of my coworkers have been men, and in my opinion, men are all pretty much mama’s boys. They therefore reserve a great deal of respect for deceased women. Any little old lady reminds them of their own beloved grandmothers; a middle-aged woman might be the same age as their mothers. And in the case of a deceased little girl, all of us are instantly transformed into protective father figures, feeling intense sorrow right along with the family and sometimes even blubbering in tears as we work.

There have obviously been cases involving improprieties in funeral home settings, but such incidents are few and far between. Many years ago I worked at a home with a man who eagerly reported for work each morning and then made a mad dash to the preparation room to see whether there had been any calls overnight—he supposedly wanted to see whether he knew the recently deceased personally. If so, he was on the horn immediately to report the death to his wife and other acquaintances. But he also made a habit of lifting the sheets covering deceased women so that he could gaze at their private areas. When I questioned him one day, he responded that he was merely looking for a toe tag to determine identity. “The tag is not in her crotch,” I told him. He sheepishly left. But when the same incident occurred again the next morning, I reported him to my immediate supervisor. The man was fired on the spot, and rightfully so.

Body Art

Sometimes we funeral directors do occasionally marvel at the physical oddities we encounter. As a college student working in the county morgue, I saw several decedents whose attributes were, well, noteworthy. Some took the form of off-the-wall embellishments.

A navy man lay on the table one morning; he sported tattoos over nearly every inch of his body, save for his hands and face. A detailed battleship, complete with billowing smokestacks, festooned his chest. On his back, from neck to buttocks, was an intricately designed butterfly. Around his neck was a broken line with the words Cut Here in bold letters. The stereotypical Mom was emblazoned on each bicep, and on each forearm was a buxom lady, each one naked and well endowed. On each leg, from groin to ankle, were hissing snakes with open mouths and forked tongues. And, of course, he had the prerequisite love on his four left fingers and hate on the four right ones. (All such body art is considered a distinguishing mark and is therefore noted and photographed by morgue personnel.)

I entered the morgue another day to find the coroner holding a magnifying glass to the private parts of a naked man. As I stood next to the body, the coroner handed me the magnifying glass and told me to check out the head of the man’s penis. In full detail was a tattoo of a housefly.

A few months later, we used the magnifying glass again to observe another penis tattoo, this one reading Cherry Buster. I had to wonder just how drunk that person must have been when he decided to get that tattoo. Perhaps the finest tattoo I have seen to date, though, is a red-and-white barber pole design, no doubt meant to resemble a candy cane.

Tattoos on deceased women are usually less brazen—flowers, butterflies, and the occasional Harley-Davidson insignia. However, I’ve also encountered Jimmy’s Toys emblazoned above a woman’s ample breasts; Honey Pot, complete with an elaborate arrow directing the viewer to the vaginal area; and most incredibly, Deliveries in Rear inscribed just above a young lady’s buttocks.

Back when I got started, there were not many piercings of note, unlike today. Now men have rings attached to their penises and scrota, women have rings in their clitorises, and both males and females sport nipple rings. Among the more elaborate piercings I’ve seen was that of a young woman who had both nipples and her clitoris pierced, and all three were connected. A gold chain attached to her nipples hung downward in a U shape across her chest with another chain attaching the center of the nipple chain to the ring located between her legs. When her mother asked me for any jewelry her daughter might have been wearing, I nervously explained my findings. Although upset, she graciously accepted the items following the funeral.

Face Down and Naked

In my business, prurience, or at least the suggestion of it, is an ongoing issue. I once prearranged the funeral services of a man who insisted that he be placed in his casket completely naked and face down. At first I assumed that this was his interpretation of the old cliché, “Lay me out face down and naked, so the whole world can kiss my ass.”

However, his explanation was far less dramatic. He’d always slept on his stomach and in the nude, he said, and he desired to be positioned that very way for burial. Also, his casket should be closed, for obvious reasons. I drew red asterisks all over the front of his prearrangement sheet, so that in case I was away when this gentleman passed on, others would be aware of his wishes.

When he died two years later, I informed his daughter of his request, and she readily agreed to it. I placed the man on a dressing table, covered him with a sheet, and then allowed the daughter to view her father and say good-bye before proceeding with the aforementioned arrangements.

Honoring requests of the deceased is something we pride ourselves on, and those requests take many forms. Many family members have expressed to me that their deceased loved one would have enjoyed a less-than-traditional send-off—more of a party atmosphere than the normal visitation and ceremony complete with traditional hymns and a consoling sermon from a man of the cloth. Although many mention a desire to do something different, I can think of very few who have actually carried out such a plan.

There was one memorable one, however. Twenty years ago, I arranged for a visitation and service to be held in the social room of an exclusive retirement center. The facility was ahead of its time, without peer. Separate -condominium-like housing was available for those who were still active and could drive their own cars, and there were also assisted living areas and a nursing home setting. The gentleman who had passed away was a wealthy business owner. His three grown children applauded his zest for life and preference for the finer trappings. His oldest son told me that his father always wanted to have a send-off that involved his Dixieland bandmates, with whom he had played for many years. They had marched on the field at Cincinnati Reds and Bengals games, and the group had remained quite close into their old age.

So the social room at the retirement community was bedecked not with black bunting but with bright green ribbons and noisemakers normally reserved for New Year’s Eve. The kitchen staff strolled around with serving trays, offering finger food and alcoholic beverages. I stood at the room’s rear, pleased by what I observed—folks of all ages eating, drinking, and toasting the deceased. Here was the life of the party, the one they’d all come to honor, lying in a solid bronze casket, dressed in a pair of black tuxedo trousers, a white ruffled shirt, green satin bow tie, and a red-and-white striped sports jacket. His bandmates were off to one side loudly playing “Sweet Georgia Brown” and having the time of their lives. When the band took a break, they all congregated at their late friend’s casket, each tipping a glass in his honor.

The deceased man had left behind a wife and a wealth of memories, especially from their annual trip to Hawaii. At the funeral the next day, in recognition of his love for our fiftieth state, I was asked to play the music of Don Ho. His favorite song? “Tiny Bubbles.” Everyone in attendance received a small bottle of soap bubbles and the obligatory wand. As the mourners and family members passed the casket, they administered a bubbly tribute as the song wafted in the background.

Disrespect can take many forms. A young man killed in an auto accident reposed in his casket with gospel hymns playing softly in the background. His parents were very religious and appreciated the solemnity of Christian music for a churchlike atmosphere. But the decedent’s hoodlum friends requested that I instead play the rap CDs they had brought along. I looked over the cases and discovered warnings proclaiming that the talentless ramblings contained extremely explicit, profane, and sexually degrading lyrics, obviously inappropriate for a funeral. I showed the CDs to the parents, and to my surprise, they said to go ahead and play them. Well, after about three minutes into the first selection, the father frantically begged me to go back to the hymns. He and his family had probably never heard the bittersweet recollections of a “ho” shaking “the junk in her trunk” and feverishly fondling many male appendages until they “shot their spunk.”

Bury Me with Buster

Honoring last requests is often a simple matter of inclusion. Over the years I have placed myriad items inside caskets—fishing rods, a bow and arrow, golf clubs (sometimes a whole set), golf balls, basketballs, autographed baseballs, baseball gloves, and other sports memorabilia, along with complete baseball, football, and basketball uniforms. Unloaded handguns, rifles, and shotguns often find their way into the casket—sometimes because the deceased was an avid hunter, but just as often because someone apparently didn’t want certain family members to take possession. I’ve included playing cards, bingo cards, lucky pennies, room keys from hotels in Las Vegas and other destinations, cigarettes, marijuana joints, pet rocks, favorite books, a tape recorder, a glass eye, sexual devices, jewelry (some expensive, some not), apples, oranges, buckeyes, walnuts, photographs, leaf collections, coin collections, Penthouse and Playboy magazines (once, an entire collection), and occasionally even a racier publication.

Then there are the dead animals—cremated remains of beloved dogs and cats or the recently euthanized dog, which is placed in a plastic bag and laid at the feet of the deceased.

One recent casket-depositing incident caused quite a furor. The late gentleman was thrice married and divorced, and all three of his ex-spouses insisted on attending the services. His current female companion abruptly requested that I remove one of those ex-wives from the funeral home as soon as possible. “Why?” I inquired. She informed me that the woman had just peeled off her panties and placed them in her late ex-husband’s hand.

The majority of gestures are loving, however. An elderly gentleman friend contacted me when his wife passed away. After the service and with the room empty of mourners, he and I approached the casket. He then handed me a $50 bill and requested that I slip it into his wife’s bra. Apparently it was a tradition of sorts—whenever she went someplace without him, he would playfully slip $50 into her bra so she would always have some money with her. This time would be no exception.

What motivated you to write Does This Mean You’ll See Me Naked?

The original premise of my book was to be a primer for consumers to understand that funeral arrangements are not to be taken lightly. Whether someone is arranging for funeral services and disposition for a loved one, or for themselves, one should be more prepared in order to make good, and not hasty, decisions. For most of us, we are all ill prepared for death; we are conditioned to be afraid of death and we deny death in our society. My objective was to inform consumers what they may expect and to provide ammunition to make good decisions, whether it concerns the type and price of caskets; how and why the funeral director charges for certain services and specific funeral etiquette.

Why did you decide to become an embalmer and funeral director?

My older brother was serving his apprenticeship at a funeral home and as fourteen-year-old I tagged along with him at night and on the weekends. My brother and the other gentleman employees were all like big brothers to me- punching each other in the arm, making fun of each other’s mothers- yet when it was time for work, these young men were all business. I was impressed and even touched by the way these men would be so compassionate and helpful to the bereaved family members and friends of the deceased in their care. It seemed to me that such a vocation was truly a gift and perhaps a calling.

What is the most annoying or ridiculous question you are asked about your business?

Ever since I became involved in the funeral business I constantly am asked if dead bodies raise up, make sounds, or do fingernails and hair grow after death. Such inquiries materialize because of the ignorance of death in our death denying society. Most folks know so very little, and probably do not wish to know much, about death and its associated processes. By applying a small bit of thought to the idea, one should realize that since death is the cessation of life, no life sustaining events can possibly occur after death.

Give an example of a humorous or odd occurrence that has been encountered lately.

For obvious reasons, we always retain any clothing items or other belongings of a deceased loved one in our care. Keeping and bagging someone’s clothing came to light recently after we removed an elderly lady from her home after her death. After we brought her body back to the funeral home, we removed all clothing and placed the items in bag to retain for her family. The next day her daughters came in to make the funeral arrangements and at the point of discussing the financial obligations, one of the daughters mentioned that I already had her mother’s funeral money. I wondered if her mother had pre-arranged and paid for her funeral expenses, and the daughter said, “didn’t you take Mom’s clothes off last night?” I told her that I did, and she said, “Well, her funeral money is in her bra.” I excused myself and went to the preparation room and opened the lady’s bag of clothing, fished out the bra, and lo and behold, three thousand dollars cash was inserted in each cup of the bra. The late lady had sewn a small pocket inside each cup of her bra and stashed her funeral money there. Needless to say, that was a great example of why we never dispose of a decedent’s clothing right away.

What would you like to accomplish with your book?

I would like the reader and or consumer to be educated about the funeral business. Hopefully, the reader will come away with knowledge of certain funeral etiquette, such as refraining from using the word “coffin”, an outdated term. A coffin was narrow at the hips and wide at the shoulders–the box that Dracula slept in. A casket is the box that the deceased reposes in today. Ceremonial terms, such as “funeral service”, which is a liturgical rite conducted with the deceased human body present. A “memorial service” is a funeral ceremony in which the body is not present. “Interment” in the burial of the body in the grave–not “internment”. Japanese Americans were placed into internment camps during World War II. And, of course, I would especially desire that the reader would pay attention to the descriptions in my book detailing costs, be it the funeral home’s service charge or the prices of funeral merchandise. By merely digesting the cost information the reader could acquire some needed “ammunition” that would come in very handy should funeral arrangements be on their mind.


Sometime before I left the comfort of my parents’ home, the safety of my childhood church, and the sanity of an era before piercings, I believed that old people were good. There was nothing a person could say to convince me otherwise. They were pure, holy. I believed, among other things, that the old person should be protected, much like a child. To offer anything other than a smile and a hand was negligent. To cuss in front of an old person was a reprehensible act. Playing rock music within earshot was downright disrespectful. It was as if the very existence of white down upon that wrinkly crown gave them wings.

At some point in my 20s, I began to realize, of course, that old people aren’t necessarily so pure or fragile. Most of my dealings with the older set had been through my church, so once I started to get out into the world a bit, I was sort of jolted into reality. Literally.

It all started when I came back from Hong Kong. While living on a small backpacker island for a couple of years while I finished my grad work, I had become a student of wing chun kung fu. Wanting to continue my practice, I joined up with the closest thing I could find in Denver at the time – a school that called itself “Progressive Martial Arts”. It wasn’t pure wing chun, but the school did boast that it taught jeet kune do, Bruce Lee’s contribution to the martial arts world. Since Bruce Lee got his start with wing chun and since my teacher in Hong Kong was Bruce Lee’s teacher’s son’s student, I reasoned that jeet kune do was a natural progression for me.

For the uninitiated, jeet kune do basically comes down to one thing: street fighting. Sure, we practiced all manner of arts ranging from jiu jitsu to eskrima to kenpo, but the thing our school taught best was a little thing they liked to call “Two-Rule Fighting”.

Two-Rule Fighting: The first rule was that there were no rules. The second rule was that you could not change the first rule.

And in case you’re still not catching on, yes. I belonged to a fight club.

In this class, we were groomed as fighters. We ran endless laps. We were made to lie on our backs with our hands pinned under our butts so that we could have medicine balls thrown at our stomachs. We would line up against a wall to be punched repeatedly in the face until we learned to tuck under our chins instinctively. Sometimes, we would lie down on the floor in a circle while the children’s class played stepping stones on us, jumping from stomach to stomach as fast and as recklessly as they could.

It was awesome.

When it was time to begin our Two-Rule Fighting part of the class, we were already drenched in sweat. First blood had usually already been drawn. We sucked on our mouthguards – the only gear we were allowed – and waited to be called out into the center.

The first time I did it, I was thoroughly and intentionally humiliated. My opponent was a teacher who had heard whom I had studied under and took it upon himself to put me in my place. He had at least six inches and close to 50 pounds on me and didn’t give a crap that I was new to jeet kune do or to the school. I held my own for a while, able to parry most of his advances. I believed I was playing a game of tag, so I did not hit him full force when I was able to get through to his face or neck. Not long into the fight, however, he found my weakness: I hadn’t learned how to fight with my legs yet. Twice, he dropped me to the floor gasping for air with a knee to the solar plexus. When I got back up the third time, he finished me off neatly with a hit to the mouth and ended by slamming me to the ground landing full force on top of me with his arms around my neck. I barely had the strength to tap out before I lost consciousness from his strangle hold.

I went back.

After almost a year and a half of studying there, I was nearly at the top of my game. I wasn’t the best fighter in the class, but I wasn’t the worst. I could hold my own in the ring or on the ground with men or women of assorted size. Until one day, she walked in.

She was a tall, solid structured woman with cheekbones like a pair of loosely veiled Nike swooshes. Her short hair was curled into gentle waves the color of modeling clay. Having recently undergone open-heart surgery, she wore protective chest armor, a black square-shaped athletic breastplate. She was 74.

I didn’t want to hit her. I never ever wanted to hit her. She had that gray old lady hair and armor over her chest where they had tinkered under the hood and she even had an old lady smell: talcum powder mixed with lilacs or lavender, I’m not sure which. Feeble she was not, but there were enough sensory cues to turn me into an upright citizen. I wanted to help her across the street, not practice my elbow strikes and roundhouse kicks on her.

When we were working out, the gym often played some loud kind of driving bloodlust music along the lines of Rob Zombie. I wanted to make them shut it off. Surely it was giving her a headache. I cringed for her every time they made us run laps. What if she was incontinent? Or worse – what if somebody jostled her too hard and her chest split back open? What if her heart popped out like in the game Operation? It was too much to bear.

I was hopelessly distracted. I would be on the floor in the middle of practicing a jiu jitsu side sweep when I would accidentally look over and see some young man she was practicing with on top of her and ready to choke her out and all I could think was that I wanted to grab her purse and beat the living crap out of him with it.

On the day they paired us up for two-rule fighting, I wanted to cry. I already decided that I would let her win. She was bigger than me anyway, so it would look legitimate. I just couldn’t do it – actually fight her. It’s wrong to hit old ladies, isn’t it? There’s some kind of special circle of hell for that. I’m sure of it. It is kept even warmer than the rest of hell and smells like ammonia and mothballs. They serve liver and onions there. Every night.

We bowed to each other, and began a slow circling. I didn’t want to look like I was throwing the fight, but where was I supposed to hit her? Her face? Her arm? Her Milton Bradley chest? From the corner of my eye, I could see my teacher watching me with his arms crossed over his chest. I loved my teacher. I wanted to make him proud. He was the US kickboxing champion in 1976 and I had a great deal of respect for him. Sensing his disapproval, I knew I had to make a move. I flicked her. She threw a punch. I parried.

“Come on, Erika, you’re not afraid of an old woman,” he taunted from the sidelines over Cradle of Filth playing in the background.

She smiled—an undeniable evil glint to it. Suddenly, without warning, she charged me with a jab-left-right combo. Only she didn’t stop there. She followed with another, which was in turn followed by some full on chain punches. Taken off guard and without the safety of a breastplate, I was getting pummeled. Something inside of me clicked and I began to defend myself. And then it all fell into place. I crossed over from “I’m beating up an old woman” to “I’m being beaten up by an old woman” and when that happened, well.

I’m not proud of what happened next, but it was an important transition for how I would feel about the elderly for the rest of my life. Once I worked out that I couldn’t aim for her center line, I went for her legs, her arms, her old lady waddle. I had been forced to confront my bias. And that’s when it hit me. Old people aren’t children who need protecting. Old people are just young people with loose skin…that jiggles when hit.