i’m tempted to actually post The First Teeth Incident on this blog but like, the spark notes version. who wants it
alright here it is
my funeral home has an ancient prep/embalming room that is not at all up to code and is not used for its purpose because we have a “care center” and two full-time embalmers who do all of our prep work and embalming. it’s in another town/county so bodies get delivered to us and I get the fun job of touching up cosmetics and hair, doing nails. that sort of fun stuff. i really, honestly love doing it which is why I am so excited that I finally filed my embalming license with the state.
anyways, way back in the beginning days of my apprenticeship the two fully licensed funeral directors in the office went on vacation at the same time, so we got a loaner licensed FD from a sister funeral home and I love T to death, she’s wonderful because she will let me do my own thing while she provides the “supervision” and license.
it had been a slow week for burials so when Mr. Corben* (not his real name) came in, his makeup was already done and perfect so we wheeled him into the chapel so his family could have some private visitation time before the public visitation began. about five minutes in and T comes to me, laughing in that bewildered, slightly frantic way that meant some Shenanigans had happened and tells me, “they think we stole his teeth.”
yeah. you’re as startled and frightened now as I was at the time.
so we put on our best “we have this under control” faces on and head into the chapel, and are immediately swarmed by eight anxious, hand-wringing family members and the most shame-faced daughter I have ever seen.
“Where are his teeth?” she wailed, and I headed over to the casket, and the first thing I noticed was that half his lips were missing. that sounds terrible, and I assure you it’s not as bad as you think, but it is. you see, part of closing the mouth of a decedent involves rebuilding the feature if the lips are sunken or too thin, so they look more like they did when the person was alive. so the embalmer had used wax and lip color to make his mouth look like a mouth, and there was the unmistakable shape of teeth behind the ruin of wax and lipstick. there were also nail marks in the wax that remained where someone had tried to pry his fucking mouth open.
the mouth that was very carefully and respectfully sewn shut and rebuilt. what remained looked like the aftermath of an animal attack.
“I don’t understand! Why can’t we see his teeth?” this woman was not going to be dissuaded that we were somehow hiding her father’s teeth. I even checked his belongings sheet, it’s not like he had dentures. this woman had convinced herself that we had stolen her father’s dead teeth out of his mouth and sewn it shut to cover our crime. I left T with her to patiently explain that no, we were not in the black market cadaver teeth trade while I went to grab the stuff needed to fix his damn face.
what should have been a ten minute fix became an Ordeal because the whole family hovered the entire time, at one point bumping into me so hard that I nearly shoved a makeup brush up Mr. Corben’s nose while trying to fix the foundation. I had to send T back into the prep room for another pot of toffee lip color, not thinking to tell her that the prep room door automatically locks and to make sure she took the key with her when she left. you can see where this is going.
Mr. Corben’s mouth rebuilt for a second time, I helped the daughter push on his mouth gently to feel that his teeth were, in fact, right where god and nature had put them last, and then fixed his lipstick. he looked like his good old dead self again. I handed off the makeup bag to T to put back in the prep room and explained to the whole family they can touch him, I can’t stop them, but for the love of god please refrain from clawing off his face again. T takes this moment to reappear and whisper that we have a problem. the problem? the only prep room key in this entire funeral home is sitting on the counter next to a pot of Nipple Pink lip color. on the counter, in the locked prep room.
we try not to let families know when we are worried or anxious because they immediately assume it has something to do with their service, and this family picked up on our quiet panic like a bunch of fucking bloodhounds and the daughter began to clearly dissociate right back into the cadaver black market where her father’s teeth were, and probably his eyes and everything else, because she began to not at all subtly begin pushing down on various parts of his face, looking for signs of bullshit.
T got us into this, so I abandoned her to the wolves to go try and pick the lock to the prep room. at this point, the priest arrived for the prayer service and began the visitation in earnest, all the while the daughter was loudly telling everyone that We Would Not Let Her See Her Father’s Teeth and that we would not open his mouth for them, all the while T trying not to lose her shit while explaining no, we will not open his mouth, it is sewn shut. no, we will not. no. no. no.
the priest was a sweet, tiny, italian man who tried to redirect the family back to the funeral going on. meanwhile, fifteen feet down the back corridor I was swearing loudly at the prep room door and cursing god in every language I knew. we needed the key, we needed the prep room for minor prep stuff, but more importantly Ms. Bernstein (also not her real name) was in there, waiting patiently in her casket for her service, which was two hours after Mr. Corben’s.
Mr. Corben and his not-stolen teeth.
I finally did get the prep room door open, and unfortunately had to explain how I knew how to pick locks to my boss’ boss. the daughter never did forgive us for not ripping her father’s mouth open and showing her his dead teeth.