In Conversation With Gemma from our Mortuary team
What’s your role at our Trust and how long have you been with us?
I’m a trainee Anatomical Pathology Technologist based in our Mortuary and I joined last October.
What does your job involve?
I cover everything really. I book bodies in, release them to funeral directors and I also get involved in post-mortem examinations, opening the bodies and removing organs, as well as putting them back in once the pathologist is finished.
Tell us about your career path that led you here
I studied archaeology at university and after that I worked in the building trade. But after the economic crash, it wasn’t sustainable. I ended up working as a sales manager at Roomes in Upminster for five years before joining a financial administration company but I wasn’t happy.
I spoke to a friend who asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to work in a mortuary so I emailed our Mortuary Manager, David King. I didn’t get the first job I applied for but he advised me to look for something in the NHS so I got a role in rota admin at Guy’s Hospital. In the meantime I did some work experience here which really made up my mind so I kept an eye out for jobs and first got in as a mortuary assistant, then a trainee place came up which is what I’m doing now.
What made you want to work in a mortuary?
I wanted to help people and I get a real sense of that in what I do. We have family viewings and I find it really satisfying to do everything we can to help them. People sometimes expect us to be a little bit strange, so it’s nice to show them that actually we’re really normal and friendly.
How do people react to what you do?
I enjoy telling people to see their reaction! I find there are two ways people react, they’re either really interested and want to know more, or they say ‘oh no’ and don’t want to talk about it!
What was your first day working in the mortuary like?
There were six post-mortems on my first day, so I did find it a bit shocking. Often colleagues say to me, ‘do you want to see this?’ I think about it, and I do. I’ve found things are never as shocking as you think they will be in your head.
Tell us more about the Death Café you run
I always wanted to run one but I didn’t have the confidence before, so I went to one myself, it was a nice evening and everyone was friendly so I thought I could do it.
I held the third one on Tuesday this week (17 July). They are in the Sweet Rose Cakery in Upminster from 7pm to 9pm. It works quite well as the bakery is closed then so we have it to ourselves.
It’s not a bereavement service, though people can share their experiences of losing people, they’re actually a place to meet up and discuss death. We’ve had quite good turn-out so far and they’re not sad and depressing!
You can come along with something you’d like to discuss, or just join in on the night. We’ve had one lady come along who’d like to prepare for death by discussing her wishes, but unfortunately her family don’t want to talk about it.
Topics can be anything from green burials to what happens to your social media once you die.
They were launched by a guy called John Underwood from Hackney who died last month and they’ve taken off in lots of other countries.
I really hope mine take off, you can find upcoming events at www.deathcafe.com.
Anyone is welcome to come along.
We’ve also heard you’re a popular blogger…..
When I did work experience my friend was really interested, and so was her dad! As I didn’t see him that often, I started a blog so he could read about it online.
I found I really enjoyed talking about it and lots of people I didn’t expect approached me to talk about it too. I realised people do want to talk about death, but have nowhere to do it.
So I’ve kept up the blog and have had over 4,000 views so far, I blog as mortuarygem.com.
Do you ever find anything in your job upsetting?
It’s usually accepted that at some point something will make you cry, and I hadn’t had that until recently. I was dressing an elderly man after his post-mortem, putting him back into his pyjamas. I did it all on my own and he looked so peaceful and sweet that it made me cry.
Tell us something interesting about you
I have two three-legged cats, Rocky and Ruby. I got Rocky from Cats Protection first, he’d been hit by a car and lost a leg and no-one wanted him, so of course I took him home.
Then a few years later my friend visited a local rescue centre and called me to say there was another cat missing the same leg as Rocky, so Ruby came home too. She’d been attacked by a dog.
They get about fine and Ruby is a feisty little thing, I didn’t think a cat would be able to hunt on three legs, until she brought in a bird, and then a mouse!