SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - "An Embalmer's Nightmare"

By Bob Weaver 2022

I've been asked many times over the years about what it takes to be an embalmer. I usually respond by saying to survive the death and embalming of a human being, it requires a degree of detachment.

Telling one's self that this is what I professionally do, a procedure and a process, sometimes saying it requires putting the procedure and process in a "box," preventing emotional collapse.

Much like a surgeon who operates on people, going in the room and giving it their best shot, emotionally detached that life and death is in their hands.

It has now been 43 years since I embalmed a body, and when death comes to a family member or friend, I sometimes fall apart, just like regular people.

However, during my 17 years in the funeral business, I have had some troubling experiences, keeping in mind funeral directors mostly prepare and bury people with whom they are acquainted, sometimes friends. The most difficult was dealing with children.

In the 1960s we got an ambulance call late at night that a good friend who was our plumber and electrician was having a heart attack. Taking him to Roane General Hospital, he coded after going into the emergency room, while we returned to the funeral home.

About an hour later we received a call from the family that he had died, then returning to the hospital for the removal to the embalming room.

My assistant helped me prepare for the procedure. About the time I was ready to make an incision in the neck and raise the carotid artery to inject embalming fluid, his fingers started to erratically twitch.

The twitching extended to twitching in the facial area, and the momentum of finger twitching increased.

Not finding a pulse, my assistant who helped with hundreds of embalmings, flew out the room, and I wasn't that far behind him. This was a time when CPR training had not been introduced.

I called the Emergency Room doctor and told him what was happening. He advised me he had given my friend several doses of adrenaline, assuring me the man was deceased.

Returning to the embalming room, still finding no pulse, the twitching quit and we continued with the procedure.

A Charleston funeral home took a man to the hospital who was declared deceased, and the ambulance returned to the funeral home with the body, the family being notified.

When the embalmer was starting the procedure, the man's eyes opened and he spoke a few words. They quickly returned him to the ER, where he was pronounced deceased again, a few hours later.