Océane has been a thanatopractor at HYGECO for 2 years. She explains with modesty and honesty how she chose this unusual vocation and what the roots of her profession are. Interview.
How did you hear and choose thanatopraxis? What do you like most about your job?
Océane: I got to know this job by chance. I was a teenager and I was curious about the human body and death. So, by doing research on the Internet, I came across a website that presented this job and all of a sudden, it seemed obvious to me! Then, I couldn’t get this idea out of my mind. Death is always a strange process, something that is misunderstood. We do not wake up in the morning saying “well, one day I’m going to die!”
I was only 15 years old, but I had already clearly perceived the subtlety of this profession and its interests both at the human level—especially for the families of the dead—and for our society in general. In this, it’s a very rewarding job! Being able to make the body of a dead person clean and peaceful, as well as seeing how thankful the families are, gives a lot of personal satisfaction and meaning to our work. I believe that when you work in the funeral and thanatopraxy industry, you realize the importance and the fragility of life. We understand how much we have to live every day, because we know better than anyone that everything can change from one moment to the next. So it’s more than a job, it’s a personal enrichment everyday! It also allows you to take a step back from a lot of things.
How do people react when you tell them about your job?
Océane: When I told my mother that I wanted to be a thanatopractor, she first made sure it was really what I wanted to do. She was a little skeptical at first, but she quickly supported my choice. As for my entourage, there was a big selection in the people I thought were my friends. However, there are people who have been quite understanding, even curious about this profession, and who think it’s great. Today, when I answer people who ask me what I do for a living, at first they often have a step back. Then they say “Oh yes, we need people like you!”—as if it is a burden. It always makes me laugh even if it’s a little annoying. There are also those who are more curious or who have lost a loved one who has had thanatopraxia care. So there they say “Oh yes! Thank you, you are doing a great job!”
For you, what is the most difficult part of your job?
Océane: Psychologically, it does not affect me. I’m pretty good at controlling my emotions when I’m at work. Families are waiting for quality service from me, so I can not be too emotional. Physically, it’s true that it’s not easy every day! When I have to work on a corpulent person, I ask a little help from the funeral home team to install the deceased and dress them up. They are always here to help me. At the technical level, it’s another matter. I have been practicing for only two years and although I master the gestures, I remain very humble. There are thanatopractors who have been practicing for more than 20 years and who tell me that they are still learning things about the job! What is really difficult is when I have a body that isn’t easy. Sometimes whatever I do, I’m not happy with the result. This feeling of helplessness is frustrating. So I go home and think about it. I wonder what I could have done differently to make it better.
Do you think that as a woman your approach to the job is different?
Océane: Often, families and funeral homes feel that a woman would have a better attention to detail. We will be picky when finding the right way to adjust the costume, put the makeup on, etc. As for me, I think that whether you are a woman or man, as long as you love your work you’ll do it well! Thanatopraxy is something that comes from the heart, and if you get tired, you do it badly. We are facing families. So we have to do our job with passion!