Thursday, May 3, 2012

Interview With a Mortician

At a funeral I attended recently, I discovered that one of my high school classmates is a mortician.  Our paths have crosses several times over the last couple of years, and it was an unexpected pleasure to see her during the memorial service, where we took the opportunity to chat for a couple of minutes.  After catching up, I realized that she would be a great person to interview for my blog, and she graciously agreed. 

I guess I'll start out at with the easy question... You've had one career -- one employer -- for over 20 years, so your chosen profession must bring a lot of satisfaction. How did you become a mortician?
In 8th grade during my confirmation class there was a tour of the funeral home in [a nearby town]. I don’t remember now what was said or what was done that would have triggered the thought of me being a mortician, but ever since then I have wanted to be a mortician. My classmates can back me up –When I run into some of my class mates now – one of the first things they say is “I remember you saying you wanted to be a mortician.” So through high school and community college, my goal was to take classes that I would need to complete my schooling. I received my Bachelor of Science degree with a Major in Mortuary Science from the University of Minnesota. One month after graduation I moved … and began working with [my current employer]. I have been with the same company for over 20 years now. It is hard explain the satisfaction part of my job. When a family that I have helped after their loved one died tells me “Thank you so much for everything you did…” I provide a service to the family so that the family may honor their loved one. That is the satisfaction that keeps me going everyday. Knowing that I have helped someone during the one of most difficult part of [life] (burying a loved one.) Death is something that every single one of us will experience at some point in our lives, and if I can help to make that experience a little easier, less stressful and meaningful – then that is all the satisfaction that I need.

What's your favorite part of the job? The part you like least?
My favorite part of the job is meeting the families that have chosen us to care for their deceased loved one. The amazing lives and stories that people have lived [are] truly amazing. Everyone has a story, if you listen. Talking with the family and getting to know the deceased through their words and stories. Helping the survivors create a meaningful service to celebrate or remember the life their loved one lived. The worst part… is the sadness/grieving that we all experience when a loved dies. Also if for some reason (cause of death) a family is not able to view/see their loved one to have a chance to say that final goodbye.

Have you, to some extent, become numb to the grief over the years?
You would think so – but the answer is no. I hope that never happens. My heart aches for every family that I work with. There are times when I have shared tears with a family, shared laughs, and given and received lots of hugs. But I know that I need to be there for them – to help them and guide them through the hundreds of decisions and details that need to be taken care of after someone dies. They are looking at me for support and I need to sure everything is handled correctly.

Wow! There must be times when you’re absolutely exhausted!
Oh most definitely – Mentally and physically. My work week varies from a minimum of 40 hours to sometimes around 60 hours a week; we have a four week rotation schedule with every other weekend off. My usual day is 8-5pm. I work a lot and enjoy the time off that I have.

Have you ever had to bury someone you know?
Yes – I have… my great-grandfather and my grandparents. I assisted with the funeral arrangements for my grandparents and attended as a family member. Fortunately I have not had to do the preparation of their bodies (embalming). Local funeral homes in their hometowns were kind enough to do that for me as well as conduct the services. I did dress and get my great-grandfather ready for his service. I wanted to do that for him – since I had been taking care of him before he died. That was one of the last things that I could do for him. It is hard to be on the side of the mourner and hard to let someone else take charge of the funeral, but I usually know the funeral director and have total confidence and trust in them.

To what extent did you take care of your great-grandfather before he died?
My grandfather was 97 when he died, and for about two years prior to his death he needed help cooking, cleaning, taking medications, paying bills, managing the house/yard work – your everyday needs. He was still in his own home and I lived the closest to him and volunteered to be his “assistant” so he could stay in his home. I really enjoyed the time we spent together, talking, laughing, and hearing stories. I was never really close to him and this gave us the opportunity and time to really bond. So many stories now that I can share with my other family members.

How does a mortician handle a funeral? Do you divide and conquer, with different people handling different aspects of each funeral? Does one person handle each client? (Is that even the correct term??)
Maybe a combination of both. I can only answer to what I do where I work. When a death occurs, the funeral home is chosen by the family. Once the funeral home is notified of the death, the mortician sets up an appointment to meet the family of the deceased. (The morticians decided between themselves who is going to talk to which families – it’s all based on who is available.) This appointment is a time where I gather information from the family and start planning for the type of services that the family has chosen to have. If I am available I try to stay with the family from the beginning to the end (burial). If I have a scheduling conflict I introduce one of the other funeral directors to the family and then they can run the services. Our funeral home does have specific people that do certain things, our administrators perform some of the printed materials needed for a service (Guest book and Thank you cards) we have a graphic designer who works on the funeral folders (handouts, programs) that are given to the people attending the services. Our funeral home has four morticians that just work with the deceased (cremation, embalming, dressing, cosmetics, placing in casket, and removal from place of death), and the other seven morticians work directly with the family –planning and preparing for the funeral. I try to do as much as I can for the family so that they can make phone calls and spend time with other family and friends. 

 It sounds to me like you focus on the family. Does this mean that you don’t do embalming, cosmetics, and so forth?
Correct. In Iowa – there is one license “a Mortician” who is licensed to do embalming and funeral directing. The first 7 years that I worked I did both – planning services and preparing the deceased. Then we (my co-workers) decided that we would like to split up the duties. It has worked very well. I get to sleep through the night. – Really there are some morticians that are very good at the Preparation of the deceased and others are better with families. So it works out well for us. I am still technically a mortician and if I went to work somewhere else I could do the preparation of the deceased as well.

When you say “removal from the place of death,” isn’t that usually a medical examiner or something? Can you clarify that?
It depends on where the death occurs. If the death occurs at a hospital, nursing home or a place of residence – a medical examiner is not always involved. So the removal is done by the funeral homes. A medical examiner is only involved in a death under certain circumstances (Suspicious death, murder, suicide, homicide or if the deceased was not under any medical care at the time of death.) 

How do people generally react when you tell them what you do for a living?
Usually they are in shock for a few moments – then it sets in and they are like really?! What is that like? They usually have lots of questions for me (which I don’t mind answering), sometimes it is a ‘momentum killer’ they’re like “Oh, ok.” and not sure what to say next. So I just smile and continue on with the conversation.

How does your job impact your faith?
I have a deep faith and my career as a mortician makes me aware of our mortality every day. My faith brings comfort to know that my loved ones are in Heaven and I will see them again someday. I also believe that if people do have Jesus and their church in their lives that it helps them in their grief – understanding that their loved one is with Jesus and is in perfect health – with no sickness, no sadness and just having the support from your church family helps so much. Knowing people will be there for you if and when you need them.

How does that relate to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Atheists?
I have to be able to serve all who come to our funeral home, doesn’t matter what religion or no religion, I am here to help them take care of their deceased loved one. I don’t push what I believe on anyone and families don’t push what they believe in on me. I just do what I can – without compromising my beliefs. My profession is probably the only one where I can be participating in protestant, Catholic, Jewish and other religion funerals in one day. One day I had three services in one day. (One was Lutheran, one was Catholic and one was a Jewish graveside service) :) It is very interesting to learn how different religions take care of their deceased loved ones.

What would you like to do in life that you haven't yet done?
My husband and I were just talking about this. There are a couple of items that are on my “bucket list.” One is to travel – Australia or Africa would be my top picks. The other is to go on a Disney Cruise. :) Retire (in 20 more years) and spend the rest of my life experiencing all of life’s treasures with my husband and family.

What's your greatest accomplishment in life?
My greatest accomplishment is that I am doing what I have always wanted to do. I have been told that it is “my calling” to be a mortician and I am very proud that I have achieved that goal. I truly love what I do and not everyone can say that. I have an amazing career. It is very challenging (in a good way) and stressful at times - I have only one chance to get “things” correct; there are no do-overs. Every workday is different and I still learn something new almost every day, even after 20 years. There are no two families alike – the concept may be the same but everyone is different and chooses different things i.e. caskets, urns, music, flowers, scriptures, etc.

Tell us about your family.
(Smile) My immediate family has recently been expanded. I have a wonderful husband; we were just married [in September of 2011]. We connected on Facebook in early 2010 and were married a year and a half later! My husband and I and our families strongly believe that God brought us together and the fact that I had never had children and never been married before –now I understand why. I have two awesome step daughters, 19 and 17 years old. Oldest just graduated last year and decided to move to Minnesota last summer – hopefully going to college this fall and the youngest is a junior in High School and lives with us at home. Their mom died in 2007 – she had a heart transplant in 1994 and it extended her life for 14 years, but got ill again and her heart gave out. She raised two beautiful girls and I am so thankful for all that she did. My mom still lives in Northern Iowa, my brother, his wife and two children, live in the [local] area. We are all very close. My parents-in-law are so kind and loving and have just welcomed me into the family. Our wedding party was perfect – my mom was with me every step of the way, my dad walked me down the aisle, my mother-in-law right in the front row, my brother was a groomsman, his wife (sister-in-law) was my matron of honor, my step-daughters were two of my bridesmaids, my niece was a junior bridesmaid and my nephew was the ring bearer, and my father-in-law was one of the ministers. (So everyone that means the world to me was right there next to me.) It was awesome (if I do say so myself). Also, my biological dad – who lives in Hawaii and two sisters –one in Las Vegas and one in Florida, then my other dad (who walked me down the aisle) and his wife and two more sisters and a brother. Then I still have grandparents, awesome aunts, cousins and all of my husband’s family. I know it gets confusing. :) There are a few divorces and remarriages on my side of the family but fortunately everyone gets along and we have so much fun! I feel so blessed to have such an amazing family.

When we were in high school… well, I can only say that the boys appreciated you… How is it that you went all this time without marriage or kids?
Not sure about the boys in high school, but I just chose to focus on my career. I guess my career was more important to me at that time. I have had a couple of long term 7 & 10 years relationships along the way – Having children and/or getting married was not a priority to me and now I know why - God had other plans for me (bringing my husband and me together). It wasn’t until I met [my now-husband] in 2010 that I even seriously considered being married.

You’re 40-ish, a newlywed, and have never had kids. Are you and your new hubby considering kids?
That answer is no, I am totally content with not having any biological children of my own. And there are too many concerts for the hubby and I see to have to worry about raising children. We are looking forward to all the fun things we can do together and are thinking about retirement at this stage of our lives. Of course that won’t be for probably another 20 years.

You say that you and your hubby connected via Facebook. How well did you know each other before connecting on Facebook? Considering that the internet facilitated your marriage, what is your overall opinion of Internet dating in general?
We really didn’t know each other at all. I saw that he was a friend of a friend on Facebook and asked if he was the same guy that worked at the [local record store in our hometown] and he responded yes and we just got to talking (I still had my ASIA guitar pins and other rock band pins that we used to wear on our jean jackets) and I had purchased all my pins from him. Then once we started Facebook chatting figured out that we had mutual friends and he asked me out to lunch – that was April 2010 and he proposed just over a year later and we were married [in] 2011. Attending rock concerts is what we enjoy – we have been to a least one concert a month since January of 2011. Even our wedding had a concert theme. Our invitations were concert tickets (you had to tear off a portion for the RSVP) We made lanyards for all of the wedding party- it had their photo on it and a bar scan code and priority access, and our ushers and greeters wore “Security” polo shirts. You can see some of the photos on our Facebook pages. It was a very cool and fun wedding. I don’t know now much about internet dating – I myself never tried that. But one of the ladies that I work with met her husband through an online dating service – so I guess it does work.

I saw a few photos and videos of the proposal and wedding and so forth. I’ve got to say that the whole thing was one of the most awesome, creative spectacles I’ve ever seen. I’m very happy for the two of you, and I hope you have many happy years together. Maybe one day in the future, your husband would grace me with an interview.
Thank you very much; we are very happy as well. I will certainly let him know. I have enjoyed your questions. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Evaluating the Traxxas Stampede TRA3605

Several months ago, I got an awesome deal on coupons to a hobby shop in my neck of the woods.  I bought something like $300 worth of gift certificates for about twenty cents on the dollar.  At the time, my daughter and I were building models (her idea, by the way), so I figured that it would be a good investment, but she kind of burned out on models.  Since I was still holding over $200 worth of gift certificates, I figured that I could turn her interest to RC airplanes.  This whole endeavor though was about spending time with her, based on what she wanted... and she was more interested in having an RC car, or rather, a truck.  She wanted a truck, like the Dodge Dakota that we actually own.  Based on what she wanted, and my price constraints, we purchased the Traxxas Stampede TRA3605.

The idea with this car was that we could have a reasonably fast, durable, low-maintenance toy... something that my daughter and I could play with for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, where I could charge the batteries, we could run the car through one or two batteries, and that would be that.  I didn't expect to beat on the car, but I expected it to be durable enough to jump a few curbs, run through some grass and tolerate splashing through the occasional shallow puddle.  The result has been a mixed bag.

For those of you who want the short version, let me say this.  The body is tough as nails.  The motor... not so much.  And with that said, let me start off with the negative.  The Traxxas Titan 12T motor absolutely fails to live up to my expectations.  I've had this car for just over a month, and I've already plowed through two motors.  When I bought the car, the hobby shop guy specifically told me to RTFM, so I did.  The manual said something about a break-in period, so I ran through one battery charge, going VERY easy on the motor.  I ran it only on concrete, rarely at top speed, and I was easy on the throttle.  I won't bore you with the details, but that motor burned out within a week... and no, we weren't playing with this every day.

I DID call Traxxas, and they sent out a replacement, no questions asked.  Furthermore, the tech told me, in great detail, that a break-in period was required.  I asked many questions about the break-in period, and when the new motor arrived I broke it in.  Specifically, I ran a full charge with no load, and then ran a second charge on concrete, using his specific recommendation.  I know a bit about electromechanics... if this didn't seat the brushes, then nothing would.

After this, I once again played with the car.  I ran the motor through several charges strictly on concrete.  But I once again made the mistake of running it in grass for about 50% of my latest run, and again the motor has failed.  I'm not going to blame this on Traxxas.  I'm going to blame this on my expectations.

Now, with that out of the way, the chassis of this car is virtually indestructible.  I did manage to break one part, but hey, I hit a pole at 30+ MPH.  It would have been totally unreasonable to expect the piece to hold up, when a REAL car crumbles at that speed.  But the thing is, only ONE piece broke.  I've taken the truck down stairs... even launched it off of my deck, which is about a 4 foot jump, and the chassis totally withstood the abuse.

I've done some research, and am now converting to the brushless motor and electronic speed control system.  From everything I've heard, it's a lot faster, and has far more torque.  But I've got to say, I was happy with the speed and torque of the 12T.  The only thing that disappointed me was that it wasn't durable enough.  Again though, I'm not specifically blaming Traxxas.  The Stampede was more than content to run on pavement, sand and through small puddles.  It just couldn't handle the grass.  But in my area, grass is a big thing.