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This week's Chicagoan: Aldo Marin, funeral director

"I can be in the embalming room sitting next to five people that have all passed away, and that’s, like, harmony."



A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.


"People think I'm in a suit all day, and that's not the case. You've seen that show Dirty Jobs, right? Well, this would be in the top 20, if they were able to show it in a tasteful way. Which they probably wouldn't. It's not something we allow the public to see, because it's always somebody's loved one.

"I do most of the embalming. My gloves go all the way up to my forearms. A lot of people are donating their organs nowadays, so they basically look like Jell-O when they come in, 'cause there's no bones, no organs, no lungs. We have to put them back together.

"People when they're decapitated, we've had those. Different suicides. One fellow died in a motorcycle accident. He hit a wall going 100 miles an hour, and he didn't have a helmet. Two-thirds of his face and head were pretty intact, but one-third was gone.

"The mom wanted to see him. We said, 'Give us a week.' We were able to reconstruct that side of his face with waxes. The mom was trying to touch him, and I was standing over the casket guarding him, because I didn't want the face to melt in her fingers. That would be kind of traumatic.

"When I was in anatomy class, I used to get squeamish. Now I can be in the embalming room sitting next to five people that have all passed away, and that's, like, harmony. I got used to the peacefulness. Only when people are here does it get a little bit loud, with the crying and stuff. Otherwise, it's like a church.

"If we pick up someone at a house, sometimes people are real upset. Sometimes I'll pray with them for five minutes, if they look like they're very religious. If I see a lady who's acting upset, and she goes down, I try to get her some room and make sure she doesn't have a heart problem. You see it over and over.

"If you have someone who's passed away who's 300 pounds, that becomes challenging. You can't move somebody that heavy by lifting their arms and legs. There's no way. You will break your back. You have to work with gravity, kind of like in weightlifting, how those guys do a clean-and-jerk lift.

"A hospital or a nursing home is easier, because most of them are in body bags. Plus you always have security giving you another hand if you need it.

"I did an internship in a funeral home in Saint Louis. The first night I was there, they called me up at two in the morning: "We have a house call. Put your suit on." It was a lady that had died on the sofa watching TV. Her daughters were there, and they were pretty traumatized. They were kind of lost at that moment. After we were done, they hugged us. At that moment, I said, 'Oh, this is not your typical job.' This was real, and it mattered. I had never felt like that before."

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