A good portion of my life has been fielding the question “Why?” I spent a large chunk of my high school and early college days working in minimum wage customer service jobs, a field that puts you uniquely in the view of the public. And the public does a lot of scrutinizing. They like to ask questions about anything out of the ordinary. “Why did you dye your hair pink? Why do you have stretched ears? Why did you get that tattoo?” Beyond the public interaction, there were plenty of things to ask me “why” about. Why did I study Latin and Ancient Greek, why did I want to be a therapist for so many years, why did I learn ASL. To quote Ada Monroe from Cold Mountain, there came a point where I just wanted to shout, “Why?! You could ask why about just about everything to do with me!” and be done with it. But when people ask me why I want to spend all my time being reminded of my own impending mortality, why I’m going into such a “morbid” and “creepy” profession, I never, ever give sass back. As it turns out, I love talking about why I’m going into the field, hence why I started this blog.

Without going too David Copperfield on you guys, I used to really dig Ancient Egyptian culture. I mean really, really dig it. I was an intense kid; I would devour all the books I could find on a subject that interested me until there was nothing left. Then I would dwell on it and get sad that there was “nothing left to learn” (how naive!). When it came to Ancient Egypt, once the books were finished being read, I drove my family nuts and wanted to make a Barbie into a mummy. My grandfather indulged me and we “mummified” a Barbie with medical tape and glued gold rickrack on it and I made a death mask and some accessories out of clay. My grandpa made her an inner and outer sarcophagus and we laid her to rest. Okay, weird for a little kid, but if my mom thought I would end up being anything other than a mortician at that point, she was just willfully blind. (Or not. Love you, mom, thanks for indulging my weirdness all these years.)

The part of my story that brings me to where I sit today, in my dorm at mortuary college with three projects sitting on my desk (I’m not procrastinating, really), starts about a year ago. You see, around that time, I was heavy into reading Jezebel and spent most of my time as a desk-bound intern perusing it. I saw this really rad video with this really cool chick in it, which, as you probably know, was entitled “Ask A Mortician”. I was riveted. Seeing as my mom tells me I used to watch clips of open-heart surgery on TLC, my interest in weird videos doesn’t really shock me. So, in this video our resident mortician, Caitlin, was talking about how to become a mortician. I went, “Huh. That’s really neat.” I looked into it, to see if the college I had been accepted to offered mortuary science as a major. It didn’t. I looked up college in Connecticut that did. One. Huh. I went along with life and followed Caitlin’s videos sporadically.

Excuse my French, but in the interim between November and May, some serious shit went down. I wasn’t feeling too hot about continuing on in my quest for a social work degree. In retrospect, I realize that I made the decision to be a social worker at a point in my life where I wanted different things from my future, when my plans were different and my expectations for happiness were totally warped. I remember thinking a lot, “Well, you know, dad already paid the deposit for Southern. If I hate social work I can always go back to school later, right? … Right?” My human services program got so stressful that I wasn’t eating very much, I was having trouble sleeping, and I couldn’t bear to be in class very much. For the record, I think that Housatonic Community College has a wonderful HS program. It just didn’t fit very well for me personally.

This is about the time when I started making serious plans to run away to New Orleans, dust off my piano playing skills, and join a jazz band to pay my way through school studying psychology. I was probably more than a little deranged at that point, not to mention sleep deprived from my lack of rest and teaching 50+ kids sign language. (That was my internship last semester, and boy do I miss those little monsters.) I was talking to a friend one night in early May, probably around three in the morning, whilst simultaneously browsing my YouTube favorites. We were talking about how schools in America don’t really help kids pick what they want to do, a topic I was keenly feeling the sting of at the moment. Something clicked in my head.

I asked him, “Hey. Do you think … do you think it’s okay if I don’t want to be a social worker anymore?” And he said, “Well, of course it’s okay. It’s fine. No one says you have to be a social worker.” It felt so good to say it. I didn’t want to be a social worker. I didn’t want to be a social worker! And no one could make me do that. This was the first step on my long road to self empowerment. He asked me what I thought I might want to do. I didn’t know how to answer. I scrolled through my YouTube favorites. Caitlin’s Ask A Mortician video caught my eye. There was a second click in my brain. “You know. I think I want to be a mortician.” Second step on my road to self empowerment. I wasn’t really thinking at this point. I found that one college in Connecticut that offers mortuary science and I applied. At three in the morning!

I jumped the gun on this one, most definitely. Had I not been okay with the long hours and grueling work, I would have sort of boned myself. Thankfully, if you decide to go to mortuary college you guys have me. I had a friend of one of my mother’s coworkers who actually had gone to my school and was still very involved in several projects with the head of our department. She talked to me on the phone for two hours, which is basically like eight zillion in mortician time, explaining to me what the courses were like and how hard the work was, told me stories about picking up bodies at all hours and what it’s like to be on call all the time. I was a little apprehensive at first, but when I mulled it over in my brain vault later, I got that steel feeling in my bones. I wanted this. I want this.

I suggested to my horrified parents that maybe they watch the Ask A Mortician videos, which I’m sure they never did, and to speak to my admissions rep here at Lincoln. They were more than willing to do the latter, and even though it took some goading and coaxing and courage from my sisters, my parents accepted my decision and have been nothing but supportive. (My dad has actually turned into my built-in accounting tutor. It’s quite nice.)

So now I think you might understand why being featured on The Order of the Good Death website means so much to me. Had it not been for Caitlin Doughty, I never would have realized what I wanted to do, and might very well be down in NOLA right now, learning how to play sax and living in a dirty studio apartment with my dog. (Which doesn’t actually sound that bad, but I much prefer mortuary college.) There are several of us here on campus that feel quite the same way about Ms. Doughty. The best thing about this field, I think, is meeting all the wonderful, supportive people already in the field who are willing to talk to us young deathlings. Be it my mother’s coworker’s daughter (thank you so much, Donna, if you’re reading this), the head of our department, or Caitlin Doughty, they take time out of their busy schedule to lead us to water, so to speak. Caitlin has always answered my Facebook pleas and tweets, and indeed has answered several emails from my peers on campus. When Caitlin told me that she liked my writing, liked my blog, wanted to work with me, it was, and still is, an honor. It was better than that one time I made Misha Collins blush. And I love Misha Collins. I mean, she’s really ultimately the reason I went into the field. It was like Christmas in this dorm all weekend, I can tell you that.

So thanks, Caitlin, for being the coolest internet mortician and being an inspiration to all us baby deathlings in training.

I hope everyone is happy and safe after the hurricane.


PS: Mom, look, I mentioned you specifically at least three times. Thanks for being a neat mom and junk.


~ by mementomorissa on November 2, 2012.

7 Responses to “Why?”

  1. Hi there! I just would like to offer you a big thumbs up for your excellent info you’ve got here on this post. I’ll be coming back to your website for more soon.

  2. I followed Caitlin’s mention to you here and I’m so glad I did. It’s not really about the ‘why’ — because the ‘why’ imo is irrelevant as long as it makes one happy — but about the journey that brought you to make this choice, and the way you talk about it is really refreshing. (The Misha mention also made me smile, not gonna lie)

    • Thanks for the read! I feel like the why is the most underrated part of the journey. The exciting things happen afterwards, so everyone focuses on that, but it’s the why that pushed you to make the story in the first place! Also: Misha Collins has the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.

      • I guess the why could be the first step to connect with someone’s choices, but as you say all the exciting stuff comes after that. and about Misha, yes, his eyes seem scarily blue; he also seems to have the capacity to pop in pretty much everywhere 🙂

  3. I’ve never known anyone else that enjoyed watching TLC The Operation. I have them all on video tape. Came in handy when I had to have my gall bladder out. I had no questions. My surgeon was impressed.

  4. Found you through Caitlin’s blog as well. I couldn’t help but note the similarities between us (fascinated by Egyptian culture, attempted social work degree, and the sense of being pulled toward mortuary science). I’ve been thinking about it for the past few months, and Caitlin’s videos kind of kick started the serious conversations. I recently requested information from the mortuary science school here in Illinois. I haven’t made a decision yet, but I really looking forward to reading more about your journey. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

  5. Hi! Again, someone else who found you through Caitlin. I can’t wait to read about your journey. Good luck!

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