For most college students, a part-time job entails providing customer service to living people, but for Rachel Hunt, sophomore in biology, this is not quite the case.
Since February, Hunt has been employed by Irvin-Parkview Funeral Home and Cremation. Hunt, who plans on going to medical school to become a medical examiner or forensic pathologist, was looking for a job that would provide useful experience for her desired profession when a friend recommended the funeral home job to her.
“When I was looking for a job, they asked if I had thought about working in a coroner’s office or a morgue or something,” Hunt said. “I didn’t think there would be very many opportunities like that around [Manhattan], so he suggested, ‘Well, why not a funeral home?'”
From there, she sent an email to two local funeral homes. Mike Carlson and Misty Nuckolls, licensed funeral directors and embalmers at Irvin-Parkview, were impressed by her background in biology and autopsy labs. Nuckolls was the first to speak with Hunt over the phone.
“From the beginning, we knew Rachel was going to be a huge asset to the company,” Nuckolls said.
Once she got the job, Hunt relayed the news to her mother, Mary Hunt.
“I knew she was looking for a job, wanted something relevant to her career field and that’s why she didn’t want to work at Starbucks,” Mary Hunt said. “She told me she found something at a funeral home doing retrievals. I texted her back like, does that mean what I think it means?”
It did. “Retrievals” refer to the service provided by funeral homes in which employees go on calls to pick up the recently deceased and bring them back to the funeral home to carry out the post-mortem procedures as desired by the family. These procedures range from simple disposal to embalmment and burial, plus traditional visitations and funerals. Hunt assists in all of this along with yard work, clerical and office work.
The wide range of duties present a potential challenge in the funeral home business, where versatility and flexibility are valued skills. Other challenges include the physicality required for burials, retrievals and embalmment, as well as the emotional taxation brought on by ever-present death and grief.
“This is a job that breaks your back and your heart on a daily basis,” Nuckolls said. “You have to develop this balance between empathy and detachment.”
This balance comes naturally to Hunt, whose mother describes her as level-headed. However, Hunt is very aware of the saddening realities at her workplace.
“It is sad, and sometimes in the moment you don’t want to think about it,” Hunt said. “Looking at the dead person, you know they had a life, and it’s hard to think about, but dealing with it has come pretty easily to me.”
Hunt describes her employment at Irvin-Parkview as a valuable experience in more ways than one. She finds comfort in knowing she is able to help people who have experienced great loss by bringing them closure. She meets numerous unique personalities in her coworkers and clients, but perhaps the biggest lessons come from the dead.
“Recognizing that they were people has been really important to me,” Hunt said. “I think others get in the mindset that they’re not human anymore, that they’re dead, and that’s true. They are dead, but they were still people at one point, and they deserve to be respected as such.”