Anyway, I thought she would be the PERFECT person to take council with regarding my recently devirginized death awareness.
This brief exchange summarizes my week's mental state after working too too many 24 hours shifts with dead bodies in various morgues around the Bay Area.
Keep in mind that I wrote to her when I was half delirious from sleep deprivation and emotional fatigue (aka, please excuse my grammer and woe.)
Have you ever wanted to give up on your work with death?
I am looking for council from people I am aquatinted with, regarding their work with death.
I began working for an eye bank four weeks ago - I remember briefly mentioning this to you when we first met, though it was prior to beginning the actual work.
My entier rational awareness has changed, for the better. On the other hand, I am beginning to experience dread when my shifts approach, making me contemplate if the work is really for me. There is an extreme amount of pressure around harvesting transplant-grade tissues, and I am still not perfect at it. I am sure this is mostly due to the fact that I've only performed 12 recoveries. Regardless, the job is creating A LOT of anxiety. Its my first time working with dead people's bodies.
My issue is, I feel like I want to give up. Mostly, when I am sleep deprived, I am haunted with a feeling that this path is not actually for me.
But then, I feel like I cant give up - at least, not yet. I have a mission. A project. A project to socially engage others by exposing them to the various realities of death. To show them how awareness for death can help them live a beautiful life. This eye recovery work has been an avenue that has completely altered my mindset and pushed this project forward. It has helped me write and to connect with others more than I have before. Its changed me. For the extreme better. But I am also REALLY exhausted already from it.
So, I want to ask you: being the mortician that you are, if you have ever experienced similar feelings. From working with dead bodies, to death related work in general. This is tough shit man. It completely validates life.
Utterly. But - I really want to be LIVING my life. I don't know if I can spend so much time in morgues and hospitals with nurses and doctors that are sort-of like minded, but then talk about taking their breaks to go find "accessories" in K-Mart while the Nursing Supervisor offers me Taco Bell tacos while I print deceased people's medical charts. Sure, it makes for good stories. But there is so much pressure dealing with the fragility of recovering organs. And dead bodies. And realization that my and other's lives end. It all makes me a bit nauseous.
I don't want to give up on my death related projects and The Body Appropriate gallery. But I don't know if I can work with human dead bodies on a daily basis. Monthly, sure. But, I'm on-call 24 hours a day, 3 days a week. As I'm sure you know, people don't die durring the normal 9-5 work day.
Maybe the last thing you can deal with right now is a sort of "Dear Abbey" inquiry. But, if you do find time and interest - here we go.
Honestly, no pressure to write back, as I know you are a busy lady. I take simple comfort knowing that others are out there doing similar work.
This is Caitlin (above) and her kind response (below).
This is, obviously, a complicated question.
My suggestion (more of a command, really) for every human: "goddammit do something with a corpse at least once in your life so it shifts your sense of the world and makes death a reality." And, well, it sounds like you've done that. You jumped in head first and have done the work.
I found the bodies oh my god what the hell insane for the first few months, and then I became comfortable with them. You're never ENTIRELY comfortable with them, though. There is always a sense of magic and horror, sacred and profane, push and pull, yin and yang around every single corpse.
However, there was never a time I questioned my decision to be around dead bodies. I always loved being around them. They always were teaching me things about myself (even really, really bad things). But that's my specific experience. Running is good advice, but not everyone is a marathon runner. Eating vegetables is good advice, but not everyone has a multi-level hydroponic garden. Sometimes a reasonable amount is enough to do the trick. And you have had a reasonable amount of corpse.
This doesn't mean that you can't have a hand in the movement [ She's referring to this death-acceptance movement ]. As big a hand as you want and are willing to work for. Working with corpses everyday is not the only way to do it. It's not the only way to contribute to societal awareness.
I would recommend sticking it out a little longer. You'll either get to the "fuck yeah Taco Bell, I'm starving" place... or you won't. It doesn't matter if you give up down the road, because a lot of what we learn about ourselves is through things we don't want to do.
We're not meant to love the corpse. It reminds us of everything that is terrifying (our own deaths, the deaths of those we love, our ultimate fragility). The goal isn't to love it, the goal is to overcome our fear, face our demons, and emerge better humans. Which you have done nobly.
She responded, "I ate so much Jack in the Box my first crematory job in Oakland. Jack in the Box, man. Jack in the Box. "
And that folks, is the life of death workers.
Questions? Comments? Curious about some little detail? Of course you should get in contact! Why not? You're going to die anyway. Either say hello in the comment section below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org