@happymortician is an Instagram account where resources about grief, uplifting-quotes, and features of others in the mortician circle are posted. The aim is to normalize grief and death so people can feel more open about talking on the matter.
Kalisto Zenda Nanen is a licensed funeral director and embalmer intern; meaning he still has to take a national board exam to practice.
His responsibilities vary from the embalming end, which includes dressing and preparing the body for viewing, to directing, which involves setting appointments and meetings with families.
“On days that I’m not doing services, I generally do administrative work, which would involve updating the website, ensuring that our videos are running smoothly on the website… and communicating with the accountants on what that end of things looks like,” Kalisto said.
Now in the modern-day, funeral homes are starting to enter the education scope to host events called death cafes.
“[Death cafes] are ways for people who want to talk about death and dying to come together and have a space to talk about those topics. They may have lost their mother-in-law, they may have lost their husband…,” said Kalisto.
These death cafes are pretty informal, lasting for only an hour or two. The discussions aren’t lead by a facilitator, but by the group of communities that come together.
“There’s a big philanthropic part of funeral service that isn’t talked about…we care about the living as much as we care about the dead. We host soup kitchens for families right around the holidays,” Kalisto said.
This election year, Washington was a mail-in-ballot state. So in the South, there were funeral coaches getting voters, especially the elderly who can’t drive, to the polls.
“It’s a good career to be able to vitalize varying skill sets,” he said.
Being able to meet the families and walk them through the process, has become very important to Kalisto.
“There’s an aspect of taking care of the body and making them viewable and letting the families see them for one last time before putting them in the ground,” he said, “But the part that goes untalked about is the burial process where you clean the ground…that’s the final resting place that the family comes and visits.”
Kalisto communicates with the cemetery staff, finding particular tombstone sizes or urns for families.
He believes the idea of death being something society shouldn’t look at is starting to change in a positive way. An example brought up was photographing a loved one in their casket.
“It’s not unusual to keep a photo of your family member in that state, because after the caskets close and after the dirt is put on the casket, you don’t have a chance to just go and dig it up and be like, that’s what it looked like,” said Kalisto.
COVID has changed the way some funerals are being held in Washington. According to King 5, churches or chapels can do socially distanced services with up to 30 people, or 25% capacity, whichever is less.
Some funeral homes are just preparing the bodies and holding them in cold storage. Some aren’t doing in-person services and instead of providing virtual ones over zoom.
“I’m glad that we haven’t had to do that many video services or we’re able to give the families the option for a video service as well as in-person service…,” said Kalisto.
He has actually been able to still meet with families in person.
“The funeral home that I work at, we generally know or our boss or the owner knows our clients, so we can go and meet the families in their home if they so choose, or they can come and meet at our offices,” said Kalisto.
The funeral home Kalisto currently works at is very accepting. He defines his sexuality as demisexual and gay, with some pansexuality in it as well. In his free time he is involved in KIKI and drag, so having his work accepting him for who he is has formed a close-knit community feel.
“I don’t take any shame in being the person that has to lift the flower tray off the end of the casket…being the person who passes out tissues, being the person who holds a backdoor to the funeral coach, or the person who does the nails all the time,” said Kalisto.
When it comes to funeral service work, it’s a process, but you don’t have to do everything.
“You can leave work and be like, I did work instead of just like, I sat back and observed, or I came here to volunteer and then they didn’t have anything for me to do,” said Kalisto, “the good teams are able to discern the aspect of what they need you for.”