Sarah Wambold, 26, is an Austin, Texas-based funeral director-turned-patient navigator and writer. After getting her funeral director’s license in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Wambold spent three-and-a-half years working as a funeral director. I asked her about what it’s like to deal with dead bodies on a daily basis, the secret lives of female funeral directors, and what sex has to do with death. Currently, Wambold is at work on a book about the real and the fantastical in the not-altogether dissimilar funeral and porn industries.
Thought Catalog: What does a funeral director do?
Sarah Wambold: Most days are like this: Get up too early, shower?, go on a call with a coworker who might be cool though not usually, go back to the funeral home and open doors for the family, make a bunch of phone calls, laugh our cares away in the embalming room while crappy radio plays, smoke, drink heavily, bed?
TC: Why did you become a funeral director?
SW: I felt useful. I felt like I was actually taking care of a situation. There is a solitude to the job that I came to love and a unique demand for creativity. For instance, I went to church three to five times a week and stayed cool. I also regularly engaged in conversation with my coworkers, who were largely conservative white male friends-of-Bill W. types and enjoyed it.
TC: Are there many female funeral directors?
SW: There are many women funeral directors. I have heard men (and some women) say it’s because they are natural caregivers, that families appreciate their funerals having a “woman’s touch” or something equally silly, but truthfully many women I know in the business are power hungry and cleverly disguise it in tenderness.
TC: What’s it like to deal with a dead body?
SW: Bodies are heavy. Moving around dead weight at all hours is the part of the job they don’t prepare you for and many directors suffer because of it.
TC: How do you get all the fluids out of a person?
SW: Blood is drained out through the veins and embalming fluid is injected through the arteries. For a fairly dry, however accurate description, read this.
TC: What fluids come out?
SW: I believe Warren Zevon put it mostly eloquently when he sang, “sweat, piss, jizz and blood.”
TC: How do you deal with handling dead bodies? Do they ever twitch?
SW: The twitching question is a classic funeral director question, and I have never seen it. Mostly it’s just jaws falling open due to muscle relaxation, etc.
Bodies are the most competitive part of the business, in terms of how many your firm has handled each year and how they look at the funeral. Every embalmer you ask will tell you they are the best, but of course they are all lying.
I never had a problem being around dead bodies, but when I first started it was really awkward sponge-bathing naked corpses in front of my boss.
TC: What dead person sticks out in your mind the most?
SW: My uncle Lee. Because I only met him once, and I was a young child, he is always in my mind as a dead person.
TC: Tell me about sex and funeral directors.
SW: I have never known it to involve the dead bodies. That’s totally repulsive. There is a lot of sex happening between funeral directors, though, and they talk about it. Affairs begin and marriages end. The jokes get pretty blue when the families leave, and sex in the funeral home/hearse/casket happens. Normally, lots of alcohol is involved.
TC: Are funeral directors perverts?
SW: Some funeral directors are perverts, but not necessarily because of the job they do. I think that because the business is so conservative, deviant behavior begins to brew, and sexual antics are an easy outlet for it.
TC: When you tell men about being a funeral director, you’ve said that some men sexualize it. Why?
SW: One reason might be that they sexualize everything, but when death is directly involved, it’s a little harder to imagine so they have to ask, “Do you actually touch the bodies?” And then I say, “Yes,” and then they imagine that to be whatever they want. But I don’t really know why.
TC: What does being a funeral director teach you about life and death?
SW: Life is too short to be on call. Working with the dead means never (or barely) having your own life.
TC: What about when you die?
SW: Ultimately, I will be cremated and scattered, but if my people want me laid out for one last look, that’s for them to decide.