Mortuary Musing
a mortuary science student's perspective on the study of the dead

Restorative Art

2:56 PM
Restorative Art—a class that teaches mortuary science students how to reconstruct a face that has been destroyed! In real life people do not die looking pretty as they might appear on your television shows. In the case of an accident or a tragic situation, a deceased person could be missing a nose, a part of an ear, or about 1/3 of their head. Restorative art teaches students how to recreate the natural form of the skull and face of a person to help give people a comforting memory of their loved one. It is one part class and one part lab.




The class involves a review of information that one would have learned from Anatomy & Physiology. The class consists of two textbooks: Restorative Art and Color and Cosmetics by J. Sheridan Mayer. The textbooks are not fun to read—actually you will most likely develop a headache if you try reading them. When I say headache, I actually mean you will probably want to ram your head into the wall if you try reading them. They are old textbooks with an older writing style. They are not an easy read.




The class also requires The Anatomy Coloring Book by Wynn Kapit and Lawrence M. Elson. The entire book is a coloring book of the anatomy of the human body. The idea is the book is suppose to be a good study guide for students, but I found myself more focused on the coloring than learning about the different anatomical parts within the pages. I was concentrating more on not coloring outside the lines than anything else.




The lab section of the class requires a fake model skull and restorative wax for facial reconstruction. This is possibly the best part of the class. Students learn how to recreate body parts like noses and mouths in relation to their proper form and size. The main project for the Restorative Art lab is each student needs to recreate the head of someone that they know. Students will use pictures of their subject from different angle to help recreate the natural form. It will involve a lot of work, but it should be fun.




Restorative Art teaches a lot of useful information that mortuary science students can use in the future. The only problem is now when I go out in the public I can’t stop studying people’s faces and foreheads. For some reason it always feels like I hit the jackpot when I walk inside a Wal-Mart.

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The 4th Week Massacre

2:39 PM
Sometimes in life you might feel like a cowboy riding on the back of a horse into the sunset with your guns blazing in celebration of victory. Other times in life you might feel like a helpless victim being shred apart to pieces from a roaring chainsaw in some random B-movie horror/slasher film. Some of us from the mortuary science program probably feel like the latter after this week.

The mortuary science program just finished the last of three exams for the week. Students came face-to-face with Restorative Art, Funeral Administration Services, and Thanatochemistry exams that had a "take no prisoners" attitude. Sadly, students in the accelerated program (a program designed for students to complete the 2-year mortuary science program in one year) had more than three exams this week. We all survived the exams...at least I believe everyone did. Now we have a small break to enjoy ourselves until we encounter the Embalming I exam which will most likely occur next week.

Another reason why this week has been chaotic is because the mortuary science program was being reviewed for its accreditation. Officials came to Carl Sandburg College to make sure the mortuary science program was up to standards, and if the program didn't meet the standards or certain expectations then it would be shut down. This little process happens every seven years. We passed. Our program shined like a diamond stuck in the mud. Trust me if we didn't pass then I would not be writing this blog post right now. Now I imagine our instructors will also be enjoying some relaxation this weekend. One thing I have learned is to appreciate any little free time that you can get. Sometimes it seems like it is never enough.

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Hide Your Food! It's the Return of Sigma Phi Sigma

4:21 PM
Sigma Phi Sigma--the co-ed mortuary science fraternity here at Carl Sandburg College--held their first meeting this school year. The first and second year mortuary science students all gathered around in a crowded class room for the glory of eating free pizza. The idea for the meeting is to have all the mortuary science students meet each other and to introduce the first year students to Sigma Phi Sigma. Doing both is a bit difficult when people's faces are being swarmed with Papa John's pizza and soda pop. I'll admit though having free pizza is a good incentive to encourage the first year students to attend the meeting. If there was no food, I doubt half of the second year students would have bothered showing up.

At the meeting I was somewhat taken surprised when I was asked to speak to the entire mortuary science program about Sigma Phi Sigma. For five minutes, I quickly scribbled down some thoughts on a piece of paper as to what I was going to talk about. This year there is slightly over 50 students in the program. I usually have no problem speaking before people, but it is a lot better when you know about it ahead of time. There is a little tactic I like to use called preparation. I like this tactic. I am not a big fan of something unexpected thrown upon me. Especially when half the time I don't know what will be coming out of my mouth.

Overall the first Sigma Phi Sigma meeting went well. It wasn't exactly an all-you-can-eat pizza meeting considering by the time I went to get some pizza there was hardly any food left. Plus it was a bit different this year with majority of the first year students being quiet like tiny mice. Maybe it is because a good percentage of the second year class is older than the first year students. Maybe some of them thought we would spank them if they said anything stupid. I don't know...maybe some of them will speak more at the next meeting.

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Music From The Morgue

5:37 PM
About a month ago Dax Riggs released his new album, Say Goodbye To The World, but I figured I would wait to write about the album until I saw him live in St. Louis. I spent 10 years trying to catch him live. I was about to give up considering it seems like he likes to cancels shows whenever I try go see him perform live. Five times I have missed him. That has never happen to me before. Thankfully, I was able to see him and chat with him in St. Louis. Weird little guy--but talented nonetheless.

For those who are not familiar with Dax Riggs, he found success in a influential southern psychedelic hardcore/metal band called Acidbath. After Acidbath, he went from the short lived but amazing Agents of Oblivion to several variations of his Deadboy and the Elephantmen band. After Deadboy and the Elephantmen, Dax decided to start releasing albums under his own name. Not bad for a guy who dropped out of 7th grade.

Say Goodnight To The World is not Dax's best album. In my opinion his best album (outside of Acidbath and Agents) is the original demo version of If This Is Hell Then I'm Lucky that he recorded as Deadboy and the Elephantmen. However since the demo version of the album was not officially released and most people are not familiar with it, his best is probably the album If This is Hell Then I'm Lucky that he released originally as Deadboy and the Elephantmen and then later re-released under his own name.

While not superior to If This is Hell..., Say Goodnight To The World is an improvement over We Sing of Only Blood or Love as an album as an whole. With We Sing Of Only Blood or Love, the album felt unsure or confused as to what musically the sound should be. And the album is definitely on a different level compared to the travesty of We Are Night Sky. There is no White Stripes sound here. It is just the familiar haunting, eerie sounds that one imagines echoing across from the unseen parts of Louisiana's bayou.

In my opinion Dax shines best when he is able to show off his voice. Tracks such as the title track,
I Hear Satan, Like Moonlight, Sleeping With The Witch, and See You All In Hell Or New Orleans all bring a certain richness to the album. Dax Riggs also does a cover of Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel, which is an interesting choice considering all the covers he has perform live in the past.

If you are looking for something new or different for your music collection then pick up this album. This music may not be for everyone's taste, but it is something beautiful to listen to on a rainy day.

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2nd Year Fall Class Schedule

3:42 PM

The second year of Mortuary Science is now in full swing. Classes don't seem to be too bad except the class schedule this semester seems to be all over the place. Here is a list of classes for the second year mortuary science program at Carl Sandburg College.


Embalming I

Embalming I Lab
Funeral Service Administration

Introduction to Mass Fatalities
Restorative Art

Thanatochemistry

I have not had a chance to experience all my classes yet since the labs for Embalming I occur periodically throughout the semester. I will try to write a more detailed description of each class as the semester progresses. I will cover information such as what textbooks are needed, and what other additional expenses may be required for the program.

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Back to School

7:29 AM
The summer is over. A part of me is glad. It has been an exhausting summer. I lost so much weight these past couple of months that an anorexic would be jealous of me. The past couple of weeks I have been trying to gain some weight back. Not from hard work though. Just eating a lot and being lazy.

School is back in session. Students are starting to line up and prepare for their classes at Carl Sandburg College. Like cattle that have been shown an open door, some of them don't know exactly where to go. Either they wander around, or they stand still and hope that something will appear right in front of them. A part of me wonders if I was like them when I was their age. Probably not.

This is my second and final year in the mortuary science program. There is a part of me is anxious to get this year over with because I somehow feel like I've been robbed of a summer break. I spent most of the summer working two jobs. Oh well, I imagine the feeling will pass eventually. As for now, I will hang on tightly to that feeling.

If you don't already know who I am, my name is Paul Olson and I have been writing blogs for Carl Sandburg College for one year now. If you haven't read any of my blogs...well, that's okay. You don't need to. There are quite a few posts written by me, and I have a bad tendency to write a lot. If you do check out any of my older posts there will be lots of reading. However maybe you should at least check out my first blog posting which is a basic introduction for this blog.

I am a mortuary science student here at Carl Sandburg College. This is my second year in the program which means I can tease all the newbies in mortuary science this year. I pretty much write little musings about my experiences here at Carl Sandburg College and its mortuary science program. That is why I title my blogs, "Mortuary Science Blogs."

Hopefully if your brain consumes a slightest bit of curiosity about mortuary science, you will find these posts interesting. If you have any questions feel free to ask me. I always enjoy comments or questions from people.

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A Mourning of Lost Time

8:28 AM

The other day I went with a friend to a visitation. I originally had no knowledge or any intention of attending a visitation that day, but my friend wanted to make a quick stop at a Free Methodist Evangelist Church where the visitation was being held. Since we were already in the area, and my friend said the stop won’t be one second longer than 10 minutes I figured okay.

Showing up to a visitation where you do not know a single person does give you a feeling of slight awkwardness. Worse is I was showing up for a visitation wearing a dirty t-shirt, kaki shorts and sandals, but then I reminded myself that this was a small Midwestern town. I probably looked normal for a person showing up for church or a visitation. If I had some screaming children with me to smack around I probably would fit in perfectly with the people from that town. Just hand me a cold beer and I will yell “Junior, don’t make me whip your butt!” in front of everyone.

Well the supposedly 10-minute stop turned out to last over one hour thanks to how the funeral home set up the visitation. You walk inside the church and the funeral director has you sit down with a certain row of strangers until it was your turn to get up and go see the family. My friend and I sat on the chair for approximately 25 minutes, which I won’t complain because it did beat waiting outside in the hot sun with the heat index of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. But the visitation was like going through an assembly line in a factory. You walk in a church, sit down on the chairs and wait your turn. Then when it is finally your time, you move to the back room and wait in a single-file line. You see the family, you see the urn and then you see the exit doors. Goodbye. Hope you enjoyed little Johnny Boy’s visitation. Please don’t look for a time clock to punch out when you exit those doors.

There was no life at the visitation (no pun intended). It was absent of people walking around and socializing with each other. A person could literally hear a needle drop. The entire time my friend and I were stuck seated next to people we didn’t know. Of course I didn’t know anybody at the visitation, but most likely people will feel more comfortable talking or sharing stories with other people that they know. Not every person is outgoing and social able with strangers. And my friend and I were there longer than we wanted to be. With no disrespect to the deceased, the visitation was extremely dull and boring. Visitations should be full of life and not dead like the decease.

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Music From The Morgue

6:03 PM

"Why am I writing about music in a mortuary science blog?"
"Funeral directors have to pay for a music license, don't they?"
"You might as well learn about new music."


There is a new little music project from Trent Reznor and his wife Mariqueen Maandig called How To Destroy Angels. In case you are not aware, Trent Reznor is the brainchild behind the industrial band Nine Inch Nails. NIN is considered one of the most influential and the most sucessful bands from the past couple of decades with a huge catalog of albums you can easily find and check out.

If you never heard of Mariqueen Maandig before (which there is a good chance), she isn't a person who is new on the block. Unlike what many are assuming, Maandig isn't among the numerous list of wives who marry a musican and suddenly wants to have their own music career. Maandig was part of a band called West Indian Girl. The keyword to that sentence is "was." She left the band last year.

Fans of NIN might enjoy How To Destroy Angels as some songs resemble something you might hear off the Ghost or With Teeth albums. However, fans of West Indian Girl may not dig the music as much. My girlfriend Kavita is a fan of West Indian Girl (as well as I) and she has yet to give me her input on the new EP. The EP of How To Destroy Angles is extremely contrast in styles compared to any West Indian Girl albums. Maandig's vocals and the style of music reminds me of something similar to the musician Jarboe. The music stays mellow and never gets heavy. Fans of Reznor also might be disappointed in that Trent does not sing on most the tracks.

Personally, I find the music relaxing. In my opinion this is something you can listen to while reading, writing or doing some other type of work or recreation. The one disappointment I do have has nothing to do with the music itself, but the fact that Maandig left West Indian Girl for this. I'm aware that she wanted to do something different musically, but she was fantastic in that band. I guess one big plus for West Indian Girl is more NIN fans are checking out that band now out of curiosity. Although I admit I am amazed that Reznor and Maandig ever hooked up and eventually married. I didn't realize this fact until I checked out the EP. I never imagined Reznor as a person who would listen to West Indian Girl.

The music video below is the band's first single. You can download How To Destroy Angels EP for free off the band's website, or if you are like me and like having physical content in your hands or supporting certain bands you can now purchase the album fairly cheap.




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Dollars and Sense

12:46 PM
Funeral homes are a business. Like any other business, the goal is to maximize your profits and while keeping your expenses low. It is practical economics. Of course, the more money you make the better it is. One quote by Helen Gurley Brown is, "Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort."

However sometimes I listen to funeral directors talk about cremation and green burials as if they were an enemy that somehow needs to be dealt with. The issue some funeral directors have is they do not make as much money with cremation or green burials as they would with a traditional burial. In my opinion, ignoring or not wanting to perform these types of services is just plain dumb business.

The business environment is constantly changing, and unfortunately some funeral directors can be real stubborn. Both cremation and green burials have a market which there will be people wanting services for. True, you might not make as much money from these markets as you would from a traditional burial, but by ignoring these alternate services instead of embracing them you will be segregating yourself from a potential strong market.

Today there are individuals out there who choose cremation instead of burial due to their tradition or culture. Likewise, there are individuals out there today who are more environmentally friendly and are drawn to the idea of green burials. If you choose not to embrace these different type of services then you will struggle trying to receive their business.

As for me that is okay. If you do not want to change with the times, I am fine with that. I will be more than happy to do all those funerals that you prefer not to do. I will gladly serve all those people whose business you will lose, and embrace any choices they want for a final disposition. I will adjust to the changing environment, and draw in more customers and business as I meet people's needs. It's a dog eat dog world out there. You can learn to adapt with the times, or be left behind.

If you don't believe that then pick up an economics book.



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