When I was 12 years old, I knew I wanted to become a funeral director. Little did I know there was also a person called an embalmer that performed the embalming of the body and recreated the natural form and color to the deceased. All I observed at that age was the end result which ensured the deceased looked good and smelled pleasant.
Coming from a large extended family, I had the opportunity to attend many visitations and traditional funerals. One evening, following a visitation, I mentioned to my parents that I wanted to become a funeral director. They would not hear of it. This taboo subject would never be discussed and I never brought up the subject again.
Fast forward 30 years. After serving as a career Army officer for 21 years, I still wanted to become a funeral director. At the age of 50, I enrolled and graduated from the Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service in Houston, Texas, and became a board certified funeral director and embalmer in the State of Texas. What a rewarding career it has been!
As a 12 year old, I had no idea that among the many day to day chores of being a funeral director and embalmer one of the most challenging is dealing with the foul odor smell of decomposition. Anyone working in the death care industry has a story to tell about THAT SMELL. One particular case I will always remember involved a young woman found in a field during the summer months. With temperatures well in the high 90s, and the deceased having been there for several weeks, the odor was overwhelming and had led the passerby to find the body. Making the removal, the stench was overpowering and an odor not easily forgotten.
Each state of decomposition is different, depending on physiological and environmental factors at the time of death. Funeral establishments attempt to mask and/or deodorize smells of decomposition using a variety of methods. The challenge of decomposition for funeral professionals is to satisfy the wishes of the family and provide proper disposition of their loved one including a pleasant smell.
The death care industry is constantly changing to meet the needs of its families. During the past decade, organ and tissue donations have received a lot of attention by the consuming public. It is challenging and rewarding for the funeral professionals as well as rewarding for the client families. There are religious considerations the funeral provider must endorse regarding organ and tissue donations. Some of these religious attitudes include:
1. Amish- The Amish consent to donation if they know it is for the health and welfare of the transplant recipient. If the transplant outcome is questionable, they may be reluctant to consent.
2. Buddhism- Buddhists believe that organ donation is a matter that should be left to an individual’s conscience. There is no written resolution on this issue.
3. Catholicism- Roman Catholics consider donation an act of charity, fraternal love and self sacrifice. The Vatican ethically and morally accepts transplants.
4. The Church of Christ Scientist- No specific position on transplants or donations is taken by the Christian Scientists. The individual church member must decide.
5. Greek Orthodox- The Church is not against organ donation provided the organs are used for the purpose intended, and not for research or experiment.
6. Gypsies- There is no formal resolution but on the whole, Gypsies are against donation. Their opposition results from their belief about the after-life. All the body parts must be intact because their belief is that for one year after a person dies, the soul retraces its steps, therefore the soul must maintains its physical shape.
7. Hinduism- Hindus are not prohibited by religious law from donating. The act is an individual decision.
8. Islam- After an initial position against organ donation, the position has been revised to permit donation, as long as donors consent in writing prior to their deaths. The organs of Muslim donors must be transplanted immediately and not stored in organ banks.
9. Jehovah’s Witnesses- Donations are not encouraged but Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it is best left to the individual. All organs and tissues, however, must be completely drained of blood before transplantation.
10. Judaism- All segments of the Jewish religion including Orthodox support donation, although there may be some reluctance among Hasidic Jews.
11. Mormons- The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints states that the individual involved must look within the conscience and make the decision.
12. Protestantism- Protestants generally encourage and endorse organ donation. Some Protestant churches have issued policies endorsing the practice whereas other Protestant churches have no official policy but regard a donation as a matter of individual conscience.
Fast forward to 2013. That 12 year old boy could have never imagined the unbelievable advances, especially technology, throughout the death care industry. One thing that doesn’t change is the mission of the funeral professional to ensure the deceased looks good and smells pleasant. FBA
O.C. “Chet” Robbins retired after 21 years from the U.S. Army as a Lieutenant Colonel, serving as a health care administrator and health care operations officer. Graduating from Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service in Houston, Texas, he is a board certified and licensed funeral director and embalmer in the State of Texas. Mr. Robbins served as the Executive Director of the Texas Funeral Service Commission for over 12 years. He is past president of the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards and currently serves on the Advisory Board of the San Antonio College Mortuary Science Program. He is co-founder of NeutrOlene, a company providing an allied science neutralizer, which neutralizes any organic odor.