Interview – Annie on being a Mortician


Ever wondered what a 250 pound tumor or a full face transplant looks liked? Annie, a 38 year old mortician living in Washington State, will help you visualize these extraordinary physical manifestations. She shares the most rare and oftentimes quite morbid pictures on her instagram account @sanguinary13. But be warned: what has been seen, cannot be unseen… Fascinated by these images and the woman behind them, I got in touch with Annie to ask her about her job.

 

What inspired you to become a mortician?

Annie: I have wanted to be a mortician for as long as I can remember. However, life is life and I initially ended up working as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant). I worked in multiple nursing homes throughout the years. Working at nursing homes placed me in the position of sometimes caring for people as they were dying – and caring for their bodies following their death. I was incredibly honored to be the last person to hold someone’s hand and to be the last person to care for them.

To my surprise, most of the other CNA’s hated dealing with the dead bodies and some would refuse to care for them after death had occurred. I was actually very shocked about that. I started volunteering to do the final care and to help the funeral homes when they arrived to pick up the bodies. Once, while helping a funeral technician, I asked a few questions and decided to look into that path once again. I lived in Portland, Oregon at the time and there happened to be a mortuary college near there.

 

“All sorts of things can go wrong at a funeral service. You have to be able to go with the flow often. And sometimes a body just isn’t going to look good, no matter what you do.”

 

What do you love most about your job?

My favorite things all come down to being able to help people when they need it most. To guide them through the details while they are neck-deep in grief. To be able to help someone say goodbye to a loved one, to plan a proper send-off that the family will appreciate and benefit from, to relieve people of most of the paperwork involved when someone dies.

Is there anything you particularly dislike about it?

A very tough part of the job is the fact that when a person loses someone they loved, they are at their worst. They are going through one of the hardest times they will ever go through. Sometimes people lash out at those around them – a funeral director is a convenient target for someone’s anger and distress. Most people would rather be anywhere else than at the funeral home with you.

Also, all sorts of things can go wrong at a funeral service that are out of your control. You have to be able to go with the flow often. And sometimes a body just isn’t going to look good, no matter what you do. An embalmer can only do so much. There are many thankless days for a funeral director / embalmer.

 

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Mortuary Monday: Annie holding a needle injector and metal spikes, which are used for closing the mouth.

 

You share extremely graphic content on your instagram account. What made you start sharing these images?

Ahh, my Instagram. Well, my account started as a place to share funeral minutiae and educate anyone who may be interested in the funeral business. As I started sharing more graphic content, I realized there were so many more people out there than I thought who were interested in seeing and learning about unusual or awful cases of trauma, anomalies, and abnormalities. I found my tribe, so to speak. I have really enjoyed interacting with others who share my interests and morbid proclivities.

What was the most bizarre state of a human body you ever encountered in your own work as a mortician?

Oh goodness. The tales I could tell… I’m not even entirely sure what counts as bizarre anymore. I’ll be talking about something totally normal, and then by the look on the other person’s face realize it wasn’t normal at all! Seeing a person divided in multiple pieces is never a normal day, ever. I worked near train tracks for years and have been surprised several times at how cleanly a train will slice off limbs. I would have imagined more mangled limbs, but from the train deaths I’ve seen the parts were always sliced quite cleanly.

 

“I’ve been surprised many times at how cleanly a train will slice off limbs.
I would have imagined more mangled limbs, but the parts were always sliced quite cleanly.”

 

Are there things you would like to see changed in the funeral industry?

I wish we could all have more options for our bodies after death. I would love to see way more natural & green burial options. I’d like to see more alternative methods of disposition become available, like alkaline hydrolysis.

There is value in a family wanting to see their loved one looking “nice”. Many find comfort in seeing mom with her hair done nicely, favorite dress on, laying peacefully as in sleep. Particularly after a long hospital stay, where the person always looked miserable and in pain. Conversely, there is value in seeing mom as she really looks in death and letting nature take it’s natural course. I would like for more people to truly be able to decide how they want to send off their loved one. And for more people to decide for themselves, before their deaths, to alleviate any guilt or indecision the ones who are left behind may face when deciding what to do.

What are your wishes for your own funeral?

I don’t have any particular wishes for my own funeral. Whatever my family prefers is fine with me. The funeral is for the living. The ones left behind. As far as the wishes for my body? I would prefer to be cremated and have my ashes interred in a cemetery. I love cemeteries and have always liked to have a place to go to “visit” someone who has died. However, having my body sent to a “body farm” would also be amazing! These are research facilities where dead bodies are placed in different settings to study decomposition. Having my body teach others would be very cool indeed.

 

Image credits: @sanguinary13.

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A Course in Dying is a platform for all subjects dealing with death, with the aim of raising death awareness. Founded and written by Claudia Crobatia.

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A Course in Dying is a platform for all subjects dealing with death, with the aim of raising death awareness, founded by Claudia Crobatia.

I explore how the theme of death influences us, how aware we are of our own mortality and how death can even be a great source of inspiration.

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