– Why did you become interested in Tanatopraktik?
– Eight years ago there was a tragedy – my husband died in an accident. At that time we had just moved to Veliky Novgorod (I have lived in Vladivostok all my life). I had known my husband for 12 years, six months into our ten years of official marriage. But when they handed the body to me at the morgue, I didn’t recognize him. After the funeral, I thought about the necessity of restoring the dead to make them look worthy of farewell.
What does your job need?
– At the funeral, relatives see the person for the last time – this special day will be remembered forever. Many refuse to say goodbye because they want to remember the deceased as they were alive. Our mission is to ensure that people are not afraid to say goodbye to their loved ones. We help people alleviate the pain of loss, at least a little bit.
– Is your specialty popular? How long did you work?
– In recent years, the profession is gaining popularity, many morgue attendants began to be retrained as thanathopractors (in another way, this specialty is called “mumbalmer”). I have been studying continuously for eight years and take refresher courses every year. Working methods do not stand still and you constantly want to learn how to do your job even better.
What is your primary education?
– I have a higher education, but it has nothing to do with my current job – I studied hotel and restaurant management.
Tell me about your responsibilities at work.
– First – the acceptance and washing of the body and further work depends on the complexity of the specific situation. If this body is without restoration, at the request of relatives, I wash its head, sculpt and make up. I do eyelash extensions, manicures and pedicures if requested. Then I get dressed and put on a light make-up or do a full restoration or makeover – it all depends on the complexity.
From the archive of Margarita Antonova
— How in demand are Thanatopraktik’s services?
They are not in demand as much as we would like. The subject of death is generally taboo in our society and many of them do not know our profession. We are people in the shadows. Of course, I would like to share and tell others that there is no shame in our work. First of all, we make a person beautiful on the day of farewell to him. The funeral is his feast, the feast of the deceased. And on this day I want a person to look neat. As many say: “Oh, at least take them to the registry office, at least to the wedding.” It’s very expensive to hear that from people.
– Are your services available?
– I get 5 thousand rubles for my work in the Novgorod region. In the most difficult situation, when it was necessary to collect the messy head of a man, I got 13 thousand rubles. Naturally, Moscow and St. Petersburg, these amounts must be multiplied by two or even three. For comparison, a forensic medical examination check in our city costs 2.8 thousand rubles. Up to 10 thousand And for 10 thousand rubles it is difficult to call what they did make-up, or even make-up.
– Were there any difficulties in purchasing special cosmetics due to sanctions?
– Thank God, no, because on the basis of the Novosibirsk crematorium there is a laboratory that develops cosmetics for the dead. This cosmetic is very good and has no analogues in the world. It is much more budgetary than the French and English, but not inferior to them in quality. Of course many morgue attendants use Ballet cream just like they did 15 years ago.
– How do cosmetics for the dead differ from ordinary ones?
– We call ordinary cosmetics “civil”. It is designed according to the skin temperature of a living person. Civil cosmetics do not lie on the cold skin – it rolls, curls and does not interfere with the nuances that we do not need. Try taking a refrigerated chicken—sounds gross but still—and garnish with the usual mass-market cosmetics. You will not be successful.
— What are the requirements for working with the skin of the deceased?
– There are no special requirements, the main thing is to use special cosmetics that will suit the skin well. After death, the functions of the skin are lost, it loses its moisture, dries up and becomes thin like parchment.
– What make-up for the deceased is most desired by relatives?
– As a rule, relatives rarely ask for something specific. I believe that the deceased’s make-up should be in neutral, soothing pastel colors. Although the requirements are different. Recently, I had a request: a 92-year-old grandmother was asked to curl her locks like Lyudmila Gurchenko, apply burgundy lipstick on her lips and get a manicure to match.
– What is the most memorable case from your app?
– I remember all my difficult cases – each is individual and is remembered by something of its own. Of course, in our profession, it is the hardest to endure the death of children. We are also people with feelings, we have families, many of them have children. And there is nothing worse than watching the pain of mothers who bury their children.
Two years ago I was preparing three kindergarten children from the same family at the same time. On the first day of January, a fire broke out in an apartment in our city and three children died. At the time of the funeral, their mother was under investigation and was not released to say goodbye. And almost all the preparations for the ceremony fell on me. There were no relatives to talk to, communication was only with neighbors and parents’ mothers. They gave clothes.
– If a person has some kind of frozen emotion on his face at the time of his death, how do you fix it?
– Every person has a different side of death – and it’s not always pleasant to see. As a rule, fear is read on the face, fear in the eyes. Many leave with the grind and this facial expression persists. Of course, we straighten – if the mouth is open, we sew. We work with massages to change facial expressions, that is, we relax the muscles and bring them into a state so that the face of the deceased is as calm as if asleep.
From the archive of Margarita Antonova
— Do the working methods change according to the storage period of the corpse?
– Of course, because cadaveric spots may appear, especially if the storage in another morgue is incorrect. The bodies are seen to be purple, blue or eggplant colours. In general, if the body has been lying for a long time and has been stored incorrectly, we can also fix this. Only the process will be longer and more laborious.
– If a person is seriously injured, how do you treat the wounds?
– We are restoring the skull frame if it is an accident, fall from height, gunshot wound and other serious injuries. So, we reshape it, we sculpt the broken bones, we fill in the missing pieces – and then we work with the skin. Something needs to be sewn and glued, and then there is direct work with the makeup.
– Is your job safe? As a result, bacteria multiply in a dead body and harmful formalin is found.
“Unfortunately, this job is not safe. 60% of people in our profession suffer from chronic tuberculosis. However, if you follow all the precautions and work with gloves, masks, glasses and a special suit, health problems can be avoided. Since I embalm the body, I work with formalin daily. Respiratory devices, goggles and a mask come to my aid.
— Tell us about forums and contests in the ritual community. How important is participation in them for a career?
— Competitions in our community are held on the basis of the Novosibirsk Center. Special thanks to its founder, Sergei Borisovich Yakushin, who was the first to openly talk about burial rituals. Training also takes place on a center basis – we develop our qualifications either in Novosibirsk or in Moscow. Last year, I won the first place in the competition “The Best Thanapractor of Russia”.
I think this is very important for a career because if you don’t talk about our profession they won’t know about it. It is good that forums and exhibitions dedicated to funeral culture are now starting to take place. In Novosibirsk there is the only museum of death in Russia, which dedicates people to the burial culture of different times and peoples. Of course, the death of a loved one will always be perceived as fear and grief. But I believe that we should send a person off on his last journey with great honors.
What do you think before you go to bed?
– I am a living person, I think about worldly things, some family problems. Naturally, I review my workday and plan something for tomorrow, especially if it’s a difficult extradition or if I have to hold a civil memorial service. In addition to being engaged in thenatopractic, I have the expertise to be a master of ceremonies and conduct commemorations.
– Are you afraid of death?
– I am not afraid of my death – and I tell my children that there is nothing terrible about it. It is as natural a process as birth. It will touch each of us and we should not be afraid of it.
– What are you afraid of?
– I am frantically afraid of heights – and, oddly enough, the death of a loved one. The worst for me will not be my mother, who is now 74 years old. I’m terrified that one day you won’t be answering my calls.