The mortician

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

THE scorching heat of the sun reminds me that summer is near and when it is summer, fun time begins.

Images of that white, sandy beach and cold tea with your significant romantic other is indeed a good picture to consider.

But wait… it is still February and here I am already penniless, also in a “drought” situation.


I have been absent for many days last January because of my mother’s death and so, for MOA workers like me, “the no work, no pay” applies.

I did not regret to be absent because at least, I was able to spend quality time with my mother until her death.

I just realized how important it is to have a job.

Whether your job requires 24/7 or requires you to wear that very formal attire and high stilettos, it doesn’t really matter.

Times like these (with commodities getting expensive), having a job is important.

Worry not, because I will not bore you to death narrating my job and how challenging it is to make a project status report or conduct spot checks.

But rather, I would like to share my experience with an individual whose job I consider as remarkable.

I called him Noel. That was the name printed on paper.

At first glance, you might think that he is just an ordinary college student.

Clad in his blue jeans, sneakers and a printed shirt, Noel started his job seven years ago.

According to him, he never planned to consider his present job until one day a friend invited him to try it.

It was not an easy job since he was like a doctor.

For him, it is difficult and quite tiring to report for work during nighttime and even during the wee hours of the morning.

“Pirmi man ko on-call ma’am. Murag doctor ba (I am always on-call just like a doctor),” he said with a boyish grin.

When asked about his professional record, he told me that he got his license in Manila and has been practicing his profession with pride.

He mentioned that his job is very challenging since he gets to encounter many people with different personalities and most of all, he likes the idea of tagging himself as an “expert in death care.”

Meet Noel, the embalmer.

I befriended Noel when I personally accompanied my mother in the morgue.

I have been always afraid of facing dead bodies but it was an entirely different feeling when it involves a death of a loved one.

And so, while Noel was busy with his “embalming activities,” I got the chance to engage with him in a conversation.

He described his first experience in embalming and how hesitant he was to perform his first embalming activity.

“Babae to siya, medyo bata pa. Namatay to siya kay nay sakit. Looy pud to kay pamilyado na (She was a female, quite younger. She died due to an illness. It’s a pity since she’d a family),” he recalled.

Before the young Noel performed his first duty, he prays first as a sign of respect.

He claims that he also welcomes a family member to watch during the embalming considering that there have been many stories circulating about embalmers showing disrespect to the dead body.

“Naa pud bya ko nadunggan nga kanang mga patay ginabastos daw. Dili pud ko ana. Mao ng mas mayo nga nay makatan-aw kamulo ko gabalsamar (I have heard stories about embalmers showing disrespect to dead bodies but I am not one of them. That is why I prefer family members to watch while I am embalming),” he added.

Noel stressed that to be an embalmer, one should possess the necessary skill in death care and that is why they have to acquire a license.

Secondly, he thinks that patience is an important virtue since embalming dead bodies require more time, most of which is spent standing for quite a long time.

The average embalming procedure may take 1-2 hours but mostly, embalmers need to wait 3 hours prior to embalming.

“Manigurado lang pud mi nga patay na gyud ang tao nga gidala, maong mohulat ko ug three hours ayha nako sugdan (I just wanted to make sure that the person is really dead. That is why I have to wait for three hours before I will start),” he said.

When asked how much is he earning, he simply said that his salary is just enough for his two kids to go to school and for his family to eat three times a day.

“Fix man akong sweldo maski pa galaray na ang patay nga imong atimanon.Pero daghan na man ‘mi so naa pud ‘mi shifting (My salary is fixed even if there are bodies queued. But there are a number of us here so we have also shifting),” he added.

Interestingly, he disclosed that he was just lucky enough to have a kind employer since he also managed to have “sidelines” in spite of his hectic schedule.

This includes selling vigil candles amounting to P200 each and making gravestones with inscriptions. Prices of gravestones vary from the kind of material used and their sizes.

During that time, I was glad that in my own little way, I have helped him.

I ordered 14 vigil candles which I later found was not even enough since my mother’s wake lasted for 12 days. I also ordered a 30 x 60 granite gravestone.

I felt weird during that time since I was expecting myself to be crying but instead, I was amazed and fascinated by how “normal” he performed all the embalming procedures.

Indeed, Noel felt very at home since the job has become a routine for him.

He was able to draw my attention when he was about to apply makeup on my mother’s face.

I did not dictate him on what color of lipstick would he apply or how dark or light the foundation would be.

I just left him decide as he professionally chose colors from his makeup kit.

True enough, when everything was done, my mother looked splendid.

Her facial features looked just fine and from the color of her lips, she was glowing.

Had my mother been alive, she would have praised Noel for making her feel beautiful.

Not to mention that Noel used Maybelline lipstick and foundation, one of the cosmetic brands that my mother adores.

Sure enough, taking pleasure in the job will put perfection in one’s work.

To express my gratitude, I gave him a ‘batchoy’ treat, which he revealed as one of his favorite meriendas.

I left the morgue not with tears but a smile on my face.

My beaming expression was disturbed with teary-eyed family members as another body was rushed to the morgue.

Well, my tears can wait.

In the meantime, let me savor the peace and contentment inside of me, an antidote for my bleeding heart.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 01, 2014.


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