Working With The Dead, Part 1

meThe first dead body I picked up was a fat man lying on the floor in his underwear in a motel room, in which he seemed to be living. A few days ago I received a phone call from a friend of a friend. “Hey, this is Fransisco, I hear you need a job.” “I do,” I said. “Well I own a mortuary and I need someone to pick up stiffs.” I had never seen a dead body before and thought, why not…it would be an interesting experience. I started later that day. Fransisco gave me the keys to a blue mini van without rear windows and a solid handshake welcoming me aboard.

“The first thing I want you to do in the morning is come into the refrigerator and mop up all the goo,” Fransisco said. He took me into the refrigerator where the dead bodies were stored until they were buried or cremated. I saw stacks of bodies under white sheets with feet sticking out. Most of the feet were black. “Overnight they ooze and the stuff is stinky, so we got to get it up first thing in the morning.” “What do they ooze?” I asked. “They are roting, so their fat slowly falls off. It is usually the ones who ate a lot of meat and drank a lot of liquor that ooze the most,” Fransisco replied. He then showed me where the boxes were kept to put the “stiffs” in after I picked them up. He showed me how to label the boxes and where to place them in the fridge. “You okay with all this?” Fransisco asked me.

When I walked into the mortuary on my first day, there was a handsome man in his mid thirties lying nude on a stretcher. He had long hair and a woven hemp bracelet around his ankle. He looked as if he was in perfect physical condition, a hippie in the prime of his youth. The only disturbing thing was that he was dead. “What did he die of?” I asked Fransisco. “AIDS,” Fransisco replied while lighting some incense which was always burning in the mortuary. I had never imagined that someone could die of AIDS yet look so healthy. While I was staring at the body I was introduced to a lady with long black hair and a face that reminded me of Aphrodite. She wore a short mini skirt, and when she bent over to collect ash from the cremation machine- I noticed she was wearing a garter belt. Fransisco told me that she was finishing Mortician’s college, working as his assistant and that he was fucking her on a regular basis. It was more information than I needed, but Fransisco was an ego maniac and a sex addict who liked to brag about his conquests.

Bruce, who was training me that day, did not know how we could get the fat man onto the gurney. I had no clue either. This was the first dead person I had ever laid hands upon and I was hesitant. “Just grab the ankles,” Bruce said as a police officer who was on the scene helped us to lift the fat man up. The lady across the hall was crying and kept repeating that “he was such a nice man.” I could not help but notice that his motel room was filled with picture of Bob Dylan and Samuel Beckett. Once Bruce and myself finally got the fat man into the mini van we drove to Summit Hospital to pick up a second body. On the way to the hospital Bruce talked about his love for cocaine and prostitutes. He was a certified Mortician who was in his mid forties and lived with his mother due to financial problems. “There is a street near here where on a break, if the van is empty, you can pick up a prostitute and have a quicky,” Bruce said with a look that showed he meant what he was saying.

On the way to the hospital we got a call from Fransisco that we had to first go pick up a body on the corner of Claremont and College Ave that had been run over by a cement roller. “A cement roller?” I said. “Just your luck man, on your first day you get to see blood,” Bruce said with a giggle. I was apprehensive. Deep down I did not know if this was going to be the job for me. Seeing death so up close instilled a fear in my bones that I knew I would never be able to set free.

The scene at the accident was not as gruesome as we expected. The woman who was run over by a cement roller was not flattened out as one would imagine. She was badly bruised and battered but otherwise- everything on her body was in its right place. We were told that she was a local Architect who was walking to get into her car when the cement roller came around a corner too quickly and ran her over as she was getting into the drivers seat. We stuck the body which was nicely dressed in a modern black suit- into a white body bag, lifted her up onto the gurney and then placed her in the mini van besides the fat man. I also took her black leather suitcase which I found beside the trunk of her car.

With two dead bodies in the back of the van, Bruce decided that we should stop and have lunch. I was not feeling hungry but I had a beer while he ate a burrito. We talked about the job and he let me know that it got easier as the days went by. He also told me that Fransisco was the craziest man I would ever come across. When we arrived back at the mortuary Fransisco was waiting for us besides the back door through which we took the dead bodies. While smoking a joint, Fransisco showed me how to stick the bodies in cardboard boxes and then load them into the refrigerator. I wrote both their names on the side of the boxes and then we stacked the Architect and the fat man together in the fridge. Fransisco then handed me a mop and said “Here kid…it’s starting to stink in here.” It was only 12:30 p.m.

30 thoughts on “Working With The Dead, Part 1

  1. very interesting i stay in oakland,ca and i really want to pick up dead bodies this article was a great insight for me i still want to pick up “stiffs” as you say is there a job description for it what do i say i’m applying for where do i go some many questions

  2. i would love to pick up dead bodys. i need a new way to make money. i havee been in the horse bizzzzzz to long time for a change. no of any jobs like that in south florida????????????let me know nick

  3. This was very well articulated. Was this a fictional entry? I’ve always wanted to work in a mortuary or a crematory. How do I go about getting a job in the field?

  4. No, it is real life. the job is a haunting one that I believe every living person should do for one week of their life. Call around various mortuaries and see if they need people do do help with pick ups.

    1. MY father worked as a lab technician at a university hospital during the late 50s, during a time of great advances in pathology and said the hardest thing to cope with was the smell.
      I think one of the most extraordinary experiences of life is to sit briefly with someone who had just died, preferably someone you knew well. I was 36 before I saw a dead person and it moved me greatly.
      I did once consider applying for a job as coroner’s assistant but chickened out..

  5. hiya im 16 and have always wnted 2 work with dead people but i dont no if my stomach could handle it. i dont wont 2 just pick them up and take them 2 were ever they got 2 go i wont 2 be like a csi agent open them up see how they died n find the person that killed them it pobs sound a lil sick i no but the reason i wrote 2 u is because i dont no if i wna waist my life goin through university wonting 2 get the job n then i dont get it in the end do u have any ideas for me please write back lv kiera x

  6. Definitely go to college. Get as educated as you can so that you can be well spoken, write well and get the best job possible. Then get a graduate degree at a Mortician’s college- which will take you two years after college. By the age of 25 (which is still very young) you will not only be very educated you will have several degrees under you belt and be able to pick and choose whatever job you want. Without these degrees you will have to work in some sleezy mortuary, not get paid well and have other people constantly telling you what to do. You will also have to do all the dirty work. Trust me- get educated.

    As far as your stomach- you get used to it.

  7. i was really thinking about doing this but now i am having second thoughts. it’s not the “stiffs” that bug me, it’s the coworkers. i know it’s an odd job and your bound to meat odd people, but is everyone in that kinda field so “disturbed”? i mean if you like to smoke a little weed or have a drink, that’s one thing, but hookers, coke, and bragging about banging sluts is just a little much for me. i can handle the ooze, the death, the blood, and all that jazz, but is everyone who wants to do that so disturbing???

  8. Coincidently, I found this story while googling “careers working with the dead”
    I was encouraged to read ‘Dead Men Do Tell Tales’ during my first [forensic] anthropology course and your story reminds me a of the witty mix of gruesome details 🙂

  9. i cant say why as im not sure why myself. its a thing that i have had in my thought for some time now. its what i would like to do very much. evern the dead need looking after, it matters to me that its done in the best way as we can do. im 31 with no education, so what would i have to do and is it to late to want this.

  10. I just graduated with a Psychology and Social Behaviors degree. I was looking into finding jobs and I figured if working with familys who’ve just lost someone would be good. So basically a representative of the mortuary. You mentioned mortician school, which I’ve rarely hear of. Any suggestions?

    Thanks.

  11. I have lived and worked in a funeral home since i was born, and im extremely offended that you have made people seem like this is the norm and its ok. I have never described someone who is deceased as a “stiff” I have always referred to them as there proper name. i hope that when you die you are called the “fat man on the floor” or a “stiff” so disgustingly disrespectful. To even be talking about these people in any detail is extremely wrong and illegal. For Bruce to even think its remotely OK to stop for lunch after 2 families have lost a loved one is unheard of and extremely disrespectful. Do you even know how fast the decomposing process is before embalming? that would be why funeral directors are on call 24/7, to get the body back to the cooler asap so it slows the decomposing process. it takes an extremely gifted and special person to deal with the dead. clearly no one that works at that funeral home should have a job there. cocaine, prostitutes, and sticking it in your intern learn how to be professional, dealing with the dead is not a joke or a game. the last remains of someones life are so important and so meaningful to the family. i wish i knew what funeral home this was so it could be shut down cause i would never want anyone to deceased or alive to experience this hell.

    1. I can hear your rage and upset in reading your comment. I am sorry if anything that I wrote hurt or offended you. I understand how profoundly sad/awful losing a loved one can be and it was not my intention to make a joke of it. No not at all. I agree that those who work in this funeral home are an offensive and sad bunch. As a writer I put down what I observed and experienced as honestly as possible. Maybe a story like this should remain untold- remain a blank page. But it was an expereince that hunts me to this day and I felt like it was a story that needed to be told. Why I don’t know- maybe I just needed to detox it from my system by putting it out into the world. Again I am deeply sorry that you feel so offended and hurt by the way I wrote about my expereince.

    2. i live in england in a small town but it has a few funeral palours i have been thinking about this role of work for a while now i have omnly ever seen one dead body and that was my grandad in an open casket i am a very confident person but have alot of emotions is this the right job for me to get in to and how would i take my first steps in to doing so ?

  12. I’ve been thinking of getting into school for working with the deceased, but not actually handling the bodies. Could you tell me a few other job titles, i would rather be more behind the “scenes”, meaning that i wouldnt want to be seen at funerals, but like i said i’d like to help with this without handling the bodies.

  13. Neat story. I am actually in the “industry of death” – I do crime scene cleanup. Although I’ve never actually seen or worked with a dead body, I do deal with the aftermath, usually decomps or messy suicides.
    It’s interesting to see how some people deal with death, especially someone who doesn’t have prior experience.

  14. I am trying to locate my ex-husbands family but its been many many years since I was in touch. I do not know what type of Business Listing “Dead Body Pick Up” would be under. Their cousins from the Los Angeles area have been in the business for over 40 yrs.. These Los Angeles cousins brought my ex-brother-in-law to the business and he located to the Los Vegas area family into business. They started a Business in the Los Vegas area. But, at some point his family was living near Tempe AZ.

  15. I am trying to locate a family who is very dear to me. They pick up stiffs for a living. Cousin have a company in Los Angeles area for over 40 yrs. They got the people I am trying to locate into the business near Las Vegas NV. It’s been over yrs since I was last in touch. I believe they also lived in the Tempe AZ area,

  16. I really think the job for me is picking up the deceased… I feel as if i have the stomach for it and it interests me… im not weird just think if u think u could do it then DO IT! I am not sure on how to get a job doing so….. any help?

  17. I do not know if it’s just me or if everyone else encountering issues with your site. It appears as though some of the written text within your posts are running off the screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This may be a problem with my browser because I’ve had this
    happen previously. Thanks

  18. Hey Alfonso- I have not had this problem and I read from this site almost every day or so. It may be your browser but I am reading on a Apple desktop.

  19. This part of your blog should be made into a movie. I’m not even kidding. Everyone sounds like such a character.

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