Funeral director + embalmer = mortician
You’re going to die. And that’s perfectly natural. When that time comes around, your vessel may be prepared for the afterlife by Monique Luna, funeral director and apprentice embalmer at Sacramento Memorial Lawn. She’ll make you look good, and will listen to Bowie while doing it.
Do you call yourself a mortician?Mm-hmm. Although, I think until I’m a licensed embalmer, I’m not technically. I’ve got one more year, then I can get my license. It’ll be exciting. I’ll be dual licensed—not a whole lot people have that.
It’s basically like art and science.I think so. It’s what I love about it. I went to UC Santa Cruz and majored in art history. Because I loved art so much, but am not creative enough to do anything artistically. But with this, I discovered it’s the one thing that I can do that is artistic. It satisfies me. I do it well. Cosmetically, it’s really making someone look transformed: They go from looking like an embalmed body to a sleeping person. It’s fun.
What else does your job entail?I meet with families, find out what kind of services they want, which is everything from ordering flowers, limousines, motor escorts, coordinating with the church, greeting people at the service and giving guidance for the family. And we have to do death certificates, which is a long process. It’s really stressful. I can’t imagine families that are grieving trying to take care of all this stuff on their own.
With embalming, we get the person on the table, remove everything from their body, disinfect them with embalming spray, set their features—close their mouth and their eyes—assess their case and how long they plan on being on view for presentation, make the incision, find the artery and vein, and massage [embalming fluid] through the body, and at the same time you’re washing them. Then dry them, get them dressed, cosmetized, placed in the casket.
Your favorite part?I like making them look pretty. I love it. I think my favorite part is ultimately hearing families are really happy with the way that they look.
What kind of hours do you work?Regular hours, 8 to 5. There’s a lot of overtime, because there’s always a family that walks in and other unforeseen things that need to be taken care of, so I hardly get to take a lunch.
Do people react strangely when they find out what you do?Everybody who knows me knows that it suits me. I worked at The Beat, and when I was leaving there, they were teasing me, saying I was going someplace where the customers didn’t talk back to me.
Any weird cases?People who I’ve gone to high school with. Things like that really get to me. And tragic circumstances, like if they’ve been burned beyond recognition. Being around death all the time, I feel I should be used to it, but I m not. I’m constantly worried about my family and having to deal with their demise.
What’s the strangest cause of death you’ve seen?Being hit by a train is the most unusual, because they’re not identifiable by any means. It just looks like they’re totally open. Within a year, I’ve seen three.
Are you a dark person?I think death is very beautiful. To me, I fantasize about a funeral more than a wedding for myself. [Death] is the one thing that’s going to be guaranteed. I am a little darker in that sense, but I’m not because—
Is it because you have an appreciation for life?Yes.
Do you listen to music when you work?I have to, otherwise it’s too quiet for me. I love to embalm to David Bowie or the Pixies, otherwise I listen to classic-rock stations. I’m really weird about my personal belongings being in that space, so I don’t take my music into there. If don’t have music on, I get jumpy or startled.
Have you ever been scared?Yeah. I had a weird moment during the massaging process. We position their hands, a lot of times with the soap, their hands will drop. I had positioned the hands, started working on the feet, and I heard the hands fall. That startled me, but I knew what it was, so that wasn’t too bad. So I went back toward the hands and they were back in position.
Like they snapped back?Like they were put back in place and I just don’t remember doing it, or it was done by someone else, and that scared me, because I honestly don’t recall. I went over to his face and was like, “Did you do that? What is going on?”
Do you ever go “Eww, I don’t want to this"?Certain smells will bother me to the point where I can’t embalm if I’ve eaten lunch. It’s too soon.
It’s a good thing you’re so busy and don’t often have time to take lunches then.It’s true.