BY HECTOR LEYVA
College of the Desert students in Professor James Waddell’s Perspectives of Death and Dying class visited Wiefels Funeral Home in Palm Springs last month.
The philosophy course at COD focuses on analyzing the concept of mortality through many different mediums such as religion, psychology, philosophy and medicine. Furthermore, the visit to the mortuary gives students a firsthand look at the practices related to death that usually go unperceived.
The visits occurred during the final week of October. Students had multiple time slots where they visited the mortuary in smaller groups. They were made possible thanks to a collaboration between professor Waddell, and Wiefels Funeral Home advisor John Caranci. According to professor Waddell, “We’ve been doing the visits for about four years, and around 90% of my students attend.”
He also pointed out that transportation and class schedules can make it difficult for a student to attend, but Caranci is good at working with their schedules. If this is the case, the student must contact Caranci to arrange an individual tour.
COD student David Vargas said, “Being there lets you realize how things are actually done, it got rid of my previous ignorance and made the whole experience calming”.
Students were shown the freezer where the bodies are kept before cremation, but students could decline to look inside.
COD student Cindy Montoya said “I find it odd that the body is just an empty vessel in the end, and it is just left for the loved ones to remember.”
The bodies were inside boxes, and about two dozen were visible, but Caranci said there were many more below other boxes. The whole area had an overpowering smell because of the formaldehyde present in the area. It had a strong bubblegum smell.
Caranci also showed students the cremation oven. Cremations at Wiefels usually start with the heaviest person, and end with the lightest person because the heavier a person is, the longer it takes for them to cremate.
“Sometimes people worry that we have more than one body in that oven at one time, but we don’t because I want to make sure that the ashes that you’re getting are the ashes of your loved one,” said Caranci.
When the cremation is over, there is nothing left in the oven except for skeletal remains. The ash could then be turned into jewelry, put into an urn provided by Wiefels, or the family can bring one of their own.
The tour of the funeral home only last as long as a class session. Students were shown the prices for Wiefels’ services. Caranci explained that when meeting with a grieving family, it is his job, to be honest, and to make them feel as comfortable as possible.
Students learned that burial is more expensive than cremation because not only does a family have to pay Wiefels for the funeral services, but they also have to pay the cemetery for a burial site.
The students also went into the embalming room.
Embalming is the process of preserving a corpse from decays by injecting it with fluids. This is helpful for an open casket funeral service, or when remains have to travel to a different country. Embalmers also have to cover up the fatal injuries of the deceased before the funeral. Students found out that to be a professional embalmer, they only need an embalmer license.
Students enrolled in the Perspectives of Death, and Dying course also have to visit a cemetery to analyze and write about the headstones of the deceased.
Professor Waddell explained that students would also like to visit the Coroner’s office in Indio, but transportation is tough. “Some of the students tell me it’s one of the most valuable educational experiences they’ve ever had.”
If obtaining and understanding concepts of death is interesting to you, speak to a counselor about taking the course in the spring.