We caught up with Miranda Benge Hummeldorf, maiden name Robinson, to tell us what a day in the life of an Embalmer is really like!
This is part of the latest instalment in our ongoing series, Careers in Death Care; A Day in the Life, where we chat with professionals within the end-of-life and death care sphere to provide first hand experience and insight on working in this field.
Miranda, a.k.a. Mortician Miranda, is a Kentucky-licensed embalmer and funeral director practicing at Milward Funeral Directors in Lexington, KY. She was born and raised in the beautiful state of Kentucky where she lives with her husband and two cats. They recently welcomed their new baby girl into their family!
Miranda has been featured on Refinery29, has spoken on Dr. Oz as a funeral home advocate, and is a death-care educator. The authentic love and care she puts into her work and advocacy makes her an ideal mentor for anyone thinking of entering into the industry as an embalmer. She is always true to herself and open about her life and her job, answering peoples’ questions and sharing insider tips and information. She has a way of making everyone feel welcome and loved into her life and work, and it doesn’t hurt that her personal fashion and aesthetic is on point! You can follow Miranda on Facebook, and Instagram.
More from our Series, Careers in Death Care: A Day in the Life
Careers in Death Care: A Day in the Life of an EMBALMER
Tell us about yourself and what brought you to become an Embalmer?
Before I decided to begin my life in death care, I was unfocused and a little lost in the world. After high school I waited a few years before I started at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky (my hometown). I started college as undeclared, switched to a biology major, switched to art, then to middle school education, then I pursued a nursing degree.
I truly enjoyed the nursing classes until we started clinicals at the hospital. To me, working with the sick and dying in a clinical setting wasn’t for me, but I knew I wanted to help people in some capacity.
It’s amazing looking back and seeing how everything I did helped me lead up to what I am doing today, even without me knowing it. Art, sciences, education, and nursing made me a well-rounded mortician-to-be.
It was one day when I was at my lowest that it came to me out of nowhere to search “how to become a mortician.” To my delight, Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science was only a 2 hour drive from where I live, and to top it off, my boyfriend lived in Cincinnati. That’s how I started my journey in death care, and also how my boyfriend got a roommate.
What inspired you to become an Embalmer?
My inspiration to become an embalmer comes from a positive death experience I had. My great grandmother had always been gorgeous; she would always take the time to have her hair done and make up on. The very end of her life was full of sickness and distress, and it made it near impossible for her to want to take care of herself. Seeing her in the hospital room after she died has always stuck with me: her hospital gown, her pale skin.
When we arrived at the funeral home for her visitation I walked up to the casket and was stunned to see she was glowing. To be buried in, she wore a soft pink flowy pant-suit, her hair was done, her makeup was on, she looked at peace and like herself again. That positive memory picture inspired me to create this positive moment for the families I serve today.
What is the biggest misconception about Embalmers?
The biggest misconception about embalmers is that it’s men’s work. There are still days when I meet with a family to take their dead into my care that I’m questioned about my position with the funeral home. Throughout history taking care of the dead has actually been a women’s role. For example, before the emergence of funeral homes, the women would clean the dead and the men would build the coffin and dig the grave. Not that I believe gender has anything to do with someone’s ability to be an embalmer, I just find it interesting that embalming is still to this day considered a “man’s job”.
Run us through a typical day as an Embalmer.
When I wake up I start my day with a cup of coffee and I check our funeral home app to see if we received any new calls (new deaths) during the night. After getting ready for the day, I make my way to the funeral home. Once at the funeral home I go over what the day holds. During a typical day as an embalmer I embalm, dress decedents, do cosmetics/restorative art, place decedents in caskets, transport decedents, pick up descendants from their place of death, among other day-to-day funeral operations like sweeping the floor or running errands.
As an embalmer you must be flexible when it comes to your schedule because things can change without much notice.
What was one of the hardest days you encountered as an Embalmer?
The hardest day I have had as an embalmer was when I was still in mortuary school. Before mortuary school I hadn’t experienced much death; I especially hadn’t witnessed any tragedy.
It was a weekend at the mortuary school and I was working in the embalming lab as an embalming assistant. Funeral homes around the Cincinnati area would use our mortuary school for difficult embalming cases. A funeral home brought us over a decedent to embalm, a young boy who was struck by a train while he was running with his headphones in on the train tracks. I remember putting my personal protective equipment on and just before I entered the prep room where he was, my instructor called out, “Miranda, prepare yourself. This is a lot to see.” I remember not even hesitating—I just kept walking and entered the room. Yes, the boy was a lot to see, but I also saw the potential for helping a family see their son once more. How many hours it took to put the pieces together I’m not sure, the care and love we put into our work was obvious though.
Half way through the embalming I remember our exhaustion—more mental exhaustion than anything. After we completed the embalming and restoration I remember us just staring at him, he was bathed and looked like someone’s son again. I’ve never had a day that I hated while working as an embalmer, but I have had days that have pushed my emotions to the edge. You have to remember as an embalmer how much help you are to a family in their darkest times.
What was one of the most memorable days you’ve had as an Embalmer?
The most memorable day I had as an embalmer was when I took care of a woman who had been killed in a car accident, but was also 38 weeks pregnant. During the woman’s autopsy, the baby was removed and since the baby girl was at full term, we were able to successfully embalm her along with her mother. Being able to have the baby in her mother’s arms was beyond special, and the family was able to hold the baby for the first and last time too. It’s moments a funeral home can create for a family that make what we do worth it.
How can someone interested in becoming an Embalmer start the process?
The best way to start the process to becoming an embalmer would be finding a mortuary school near you, or one you’re willing to move for. I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio when I started my journey into death care because I knew how distinguished and established Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science is. Before I enrolled at CCMS I took a tour of their campus, which most mortuary schools offer.
Another way of starting your journey is to go to your local funeral home and see if they are hiring for funeral attendants, or better yet see if they are looking for an embalming apprentice. Most states require embalmer’s to go to mortuary school to get licensed, but you can sometimes start off in a funeral home beforehand.
What type of education or training do you need to become an Embalmer?
It depends on where you are trying to get licensed, but I will go over how I became licensed in Kentucky. I started out at mortuary school, completing there with a Bachelor of Mortuary Science. In Kentucky an associate degree is all that is required, but I wanted to have my Bachelor. After mortuary school I took my National Board Exam and passed, I was then able to start my apprenticeship with a funeral home and was an apprentice for a year.
During my apprenticeship I had to complete a certain amount of embalmings and removals, I also met with families at their arrangements. After my apprenticeship I then had to take a state licensing exam for embalming and state laws. After passing my exams, I was approved by the Kentucky State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors to be a licensed embalmer and funeral director in Kentucky.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as an Embalmer, or interested in becoming an Embalmer?
Words of wisdom from an embalmer to someone who is interested in becoming an embalmer is to make sure your heart is in it. Being an embalmer is challenging work that will make you question your sanity sometimes, but when you can look back on all the help and hope you’ve given people through the years it helps push you through the hard times. Embalming shouldn’t be romanticized, it’s not easy work and it is otherworldly at times.
Being an embalmer means being able to look into the face of death every day of your life, but it’s okay because death is a familiar face to you, like an old friend. My main advice for someone starting out as an embalmer, don’t carry the pain and grief you witness with you. It’s not your role to experience the loss, it’s your role to help the family heal from their loss.
More from our Series, Careers in Death Care: A Day in the Life
Do you currently work in the end-of-life industry? Would you like to be featured in a future Careers in Death Care: A Day in the Life article? Please contact us with your job title and tell us about your experience in the industry!