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My Dad was a mortician, so it's no surprise I ended up as an embalmer

Pamela Murphy had a unique upbringing in that her father was a mortician, so working as an embalmer never fazed her.

Pamela Murphy

As part of the Last Rites Series, TheJournal.ie have asked a number of people what it’s like to work in a job that is so closely associated with death.

Today, an embalmer tells us why she got into her line of work.

An embalmer is responsible for embalming and preparing the bodies of the deceased for funeral services as well as burials or cremations. This may involve replacing blood with artificial embalming fluid, performing reconstruction to disguise damage, and applying makeup on the deceased.

What’s an average day like as an embalmer?

Being a freelance embalmer means I don’t work solely for one particular funeral home and I work on an on-call basis, so in essence I don’t have an average day. Every day varies and every day in different.

Are you used to seeing dead bodies and what was it like when you started?

Yes, very used to it at this stage! I had the unique upbringing in that my Dad was a mortician, so all the family has been raised not to fear the deceased, but it did take a little while to get used to all aspects of the job.

Do you ever get emotional at work?

Yes, I do. There are days that are harder than others. The deceased may be someone I know or a child etc, but I treat every person I work on with the same respect and dignity I would show my own family members.

What do you family/friends think of your job?

My Dad’s been in the business for 20+ years, so the family are well used to what I do. My son also wants to train when he’s old enough.

I’ve a great group of friends who are very understanding and know that my work comes first, so I may need to rush off if I’m called.

Why did you get into it?

I’ve always had an interest in it since I was young, from my Dad, and when he retired from the hospital and set up his embalming company the opportunity arose for me to train.

Where did you train?

Again, I was very lucky to have my father in the profession. He trained me in all the practical aspects while I did my theory work with the Dublin School of Embalming.

This course was run in conjunction with the British Institute of Embalmers (BIE). I had to do six theory exams ranging from anatomy and physiology to some chemistry and physics.

I then completed two practical exams in order to receive my diploma and register with the BIE.

Do you enjoy your job?

I love my job. No two days are the same and I get great satisfaction in knowing I’ve given families the opportunity to spend time and say goodbye to their loved ones.

Is it difficult at times and how to deal with families?

Yes, it can be difficult at times both emotionally and physically, but the end result always makes up for it.

I always respect families and understand that they are grieving. It’s a very hard time for them and I will endeavor to ease that to the best of my abilities.

Does your job give you a different perspective on life?

Absolutely! It’s taught me to enjoy the time I have here with my family and friends.

Pamela Murphy is a freelance embalmer based in Wicklow/Dublin. 

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MORE: Organising a funeral: The unexpected challenges when a loved ones dies>

Read: ‘Then everyone died’: I lost four people I loved in 14 months>

Read: Everything you wanted to know about grief but were too afraid to ask>

Read: Advice: What to say – and not say – to a friend who is recently bereaved>

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Pamela Murphy

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