A Conversation with Your Neighborhood Mortician

Talking to Your Neighborhood Mortician

Talk to Your Neighborhood MorticianHow many people actually know a mortician?  Not many.  How many people feel comfortable asking questions about death & how we go about our business of caring for those who have died? Very few. However, at O’Connor Mortuary part of our mission is to unmask the mortuary mysteries (say that 10 times fast!).  We strive to be transparent in all that we do & all that we are by opening our doors, hearts & minds to you.  We want you to know we are trustworthy to care for your loved ones & that we will always be here for you.

Recently we invited everyone we knew to ask me questions about the funeral profession & all of its  aspects.  Here are some of the great questions we received & my honest answers in accordance with California state law.  Please feel free to comment with more questions & remember that there’s no such thing as a dumb question.  If you want to know, chances are that others do too!  Please, tasteful & respectful questions only…Thank you!

Marcia – Is it true that if a family member wants to watch their loved one be taken care of, they can?

Yes, you can watch as your loved one is being cared for as long as you are a member of the immediate family & the Next Of Kin approves of you doing so. This is true for embalming, dressing, cosmetizing, casketing & cremation.

Lisanna – I want to know if you have to purchase any type of box/casket if the body will be cremated & there is to be no viewing?

For a simple (no formal services) or any type of cremation, you do need to have a cremation container to hold the body for the cremation to take place.  It can be as simple as a cardboard cremation container or as elaborate as a full wooden casket, whichever suits your family’s preference.  The cremation container helps the crematory operator to properly place your loved one into the cremation chamber & it also helps the cremation to begin by providing combustible materials.

Marianne – If the deceased was in the military, can you have a military presence at the funeral service?

Military Honors

Photo Credit: Arlington National Cemetery

Yes, you can & we do arrange for military honors for many services. The family needs to present the deceased’s Honorable Discharge Paperwork (form DD-214) so that we can fill out the necessary applications for military honors, a funeral flag and/or burial at a National Cemetery. Typical military honors include a two-person team from the branch that the deceased served in. They do a formal folding of the flag & present it to the Next Of Kin in a very moving ceremony. They finish by playing Taps on the bugle & ceremoniously retreating. If the deceased was a high-ranking official, retiree from the military or killed in action, the honors can include a 21gun salute.  This usually doesn’t mean there are 21 guns being fired (they shoot blanks) but 7 guns being fired 3 times to total 21.  The ceremony, no matter how simple or elaborate, is incredibly moving – I get emotional every time…

Nancee – Are there significant cost differences between cremation & burial? 

The biggest cost difference between cremation & burial is the cemetery property.  You can keep cremated remains at home which costs nothing or you can purchase urn burial property (either niche or in-ground) which is more economical than a casket burial plot (either crypt or in-ground).  There is also a big difference in the cost of an urn burial vault versus a casket burial vault, the urn vault being less.  The vault safely holds the urn or casket in the ground.  The cheapest cremations are provided by “cremation societies” which provide little personal care for your loved one.  They have you fill out all the documents online & they contract out all aspects of the cremation.  At O’Connor Mortuary, we go far beyond what a cremation society provides & our standards are higher than what the state of California requires of us.  We own & operate our own crematory which means your loved one comes into our care & doesn’t leave us for any reason until you pick up the urn or we take it to the cemetery for burial.  This level of care does cost more but the peace of mind it affords is priceless.

Are there legal limitations as to where cremation ashes can be spread?

Cremated remains can be scattered at sea, spread in a scattering garden at a cemetery or scattered over land if you have the permission of the land owner.  Also, you must have a permit to do the scattering- we obtain the permit from the health department & give it to you with the urn.

Debra – If I am cremated, can my ashes be buried in the same plot as my mother’s casket?  If so, can my deceased pets’ ashes be placed there as well?

To have your urn buried in the same plot as your mother’s, you would need to contact the cemetery to see if the property itself is one that could accommodate an urn. Also, you would need to verify that the cemetery allows for a second interment in one plot. They may require you to purchase separate property for your urn, but be sure to check with them to know for certain. Unfortunately, California state law will not allow pets’ urns to be buried in a cemetery for humans. However, there are some lovely pet cemeteries where you can bury your pets’ urns.

Mercury – Is embalming fluid biodegradable?

Traditional embalming fluid is not biodegradable but with the interest in Green Burial increasing over the last 10 years, most embalming chemical manufacturers are now offering or currently developing a more green kind of embalming fluid. This new type of fluid is much better for the environment than traditional fluids – it releases fewer toxins into the ground when buried.  It is also less harmful to the embalmer because it doesn’t contain formaldehyde.

Is it true that fingernails & hair continue to grow after death?

It is an old wives’ tale that the nails & hair continue to grow.  What happens is that in the days after death, the skin of the fingers & scalp dehydrate & shrink which makes the nails & hair appear longer than they were at the time of death.

What is the process when it is a home death?

In Orange County, California, a home death can be cared for in two different ways depending on the circumstances.  If your loved one has been on hospice care at home, the hospice nurse can call the mortuary any time day or night & we will come to the home to bring them directly into our care.  If the home death was unexpected, the Coroner must come to investigate & decide if an autopsy is necessary to determine why your loved one died.  If it is, the Coroner takes them to their facility for further investigation thru autopsy. Once the process is complete, the Coroner releases your loved one into our care & we bring them to our mortuary. We then will meet with you to find out your wishes & provide the highest value services possible for your loved one. To learn about what to do in other circumstances, click here.


Have more questions? Most people do. Please feel free to leave them in the comments below for a future installment of Talking to Your Neighborhood Mortician.”

Ask a Mortician with Also, here is a great link to a Youtube channel called, “Ask a Mortician” – she answers some pretty interesting questions and does a great job.

By | 2013-04-10T05:00:54-07:00 April 10th, 2013|Community, Planning Ahead, Resources & Information|13 Comments


  1. GREG FORSTER April 10, 2013 at 12:14 pm - Reply


    What a great job, well done! Whether it be an “At Need” situation, or a “PreArrangement” one, your efforts prove to us all once again that nothing has to stay hidden or mysterious. The value of education in every subject is a fact and the quest to seek it is an important life long journey. Our passing is a part of our living. Let’s all make sure that we make the most of it, both for ourselves and for our families.

    Thank you,

    Greg Forster

    • Carrie Bayer April 11, 2013 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, Greg! I have believed since day one that I was going to revolutionize our industry by breaking the stereotype of a mortician. I seem to be doing just that one family at a time. I’m thrilled with the direction Neil is taking O’Connor- unmasking the mystery is the greatest way to earn our community’s trust. Showing them our all is making a big difference & YOU are a big part of that. Thank you so much for all that you do! Carrie

  2. Nancy Donaldson April 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    I bought a prepaid cremation there at least 10 years ago and all my questions
    We’re answered at the time. Was told what I paid then would always
    Remain same & paid for. Does this remain true 10 years and more?
    Also am surprised to Never receive a yearly confirmation. From you or
    Bank holds my money!! My parents had prepaid elsewhere & always got
    A confirmation yearly. What happens if bank closes up??? I have the
    Paperwork but is that all that is needed? And does your computer system
    Have older purchases of cremation prepaid?

    • GREG FORSTER May 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm - Reply

      Hello Ms.Donaldson,

      Thank you for following along with us and thank you also once more for choosing our mortuary to handle your service requests. We value very much the trust that you have placed with us and I want to assure you that we are here to take care of your needs. I tried to reach you at the phone number we have of record, but that number is no longer in service. My name is Greg Forster, I am an Advance Funeral Planner here at O’Connor and I am most happy to answer your questions. To speak with me further, you may reach me at 949-581-4300 at your convenience. I stand ready to assist you.

      In the meantime, I would like to address your questions in a general nature regarding the Pre-planning process, as I believe my responses would be of value to others who also follow along on our blog:

      Price Guarantee–O’Connor indeed guarantees that your family will never pay anything more for the services and products that you have chosen…ever. This guarantee is unique, not all funeral homes and mortuaries are willing to provide it. Regarding Cash Advance items that one chooses, these are costs that the mortuary cannot control (sales tax, death certificates, honorariums, etc,) and these as such cannot be guaranteed. However, your family would only be responsible for any incremental cost increases, if any.

      Yearly Confirmation of agreement–We currently do not offer this service.May I refer you to your Original O’Connor contract, your funeral insurance provider contract and any related materials in your possession. We keep on file both written copies and computer-related information regarding one’s arrangements. You may call, email or write at any time to arrange to review or update these files with current information. One’s paperwork is always available.

      What happens to the funds that you have invested? I cannot here address one’s individual circumstances, but most funeral insurance providers are “mutual” insurance companies,
      not banks, and as a “mutual” company the policy owners are the owners of the company.
      Insurance companies have industry “pools” to protect the funds that are invested and these funds are generally invested on a conservative basis.

      I hope that the above answers your questions. And again,please feel free to contact me if I may assist you further.

      Best Regards,

      Greg Forster

  3. Neil O'Connor April 11, 2013 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    Carrie –

    Great job with this blog! I love the questions and the professional responses. You are very well versed in all aspects of our profession, I am grateful for your professionalism, care, compassion and your big heart. I enjoy being in your company on a daily basis!

    • Carrie Bayer April 11, 2013 at 6:19 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Neil- but don’t forget that everything I know (outside of mort school) I have learned from you. I love your drive & passion to show families why they can trust us to care for their loved ones. Unmasking the mystery is an amazing approach & I’m so glad you are taking us in this direction. Thank you! XOXOX Carrie

  4. Ms. Fran Cantor April 12, 2013 at 2:50 am - Reply

    Hello Carrie,

    I acknowledge your professional input due to the fact I have concur but not finalize my
    Pre-Planning thru O’Connor. Sorry to say but I have been thru many Mortuary because
    of my Precious Family that are in grace thru the years eight are now in Gods hands. I have
    met a few of the staff and I find them Caring, with compassion knowing that my dear Family
    and I will be taken care of this is why I had choosing O’Connor. Blessing to you and all who
    make God’s calling a gift. Thanks again for the info!!!! Frannie

    • Carrie Bayer April 12, 2013 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      Dear Fran, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been thru the process of making arrangements for so many of your loved ones- it’s something we all will do eventually but that you have done this multiple times has got to be incredibly difficult. However, I’m glad to know you feel safe in our care. We don’t just take care of the dead, we also care for the living & we are always here for you. Sincerely, Carrie

  5. Shayna Mallik April 19, 2013 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    Wow Carrie, GREAT JOB. You gave such honest and educational responses to these questions. Thank you so much for your honesty.


  6. Patricia Kolstad April 23, 2013 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    Hi Carrie:
    You have great wisdom and a wonderful, professional way of addressing the wide range of questions asked. I’m so thankful that you are apart of this great team of professionals here. That’s why I was always secure in giving professionals the opportunity to call us anytime, day or night, knowing that we can provide honest, truthful answers in the most delicate situations. Nicely done, my friend.

  7. Chelsey January 28, 2016 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    I am looking to become a Mortician and will soon be going to speak to a funeral director to make sure that this is the right path for me. What do you think are some important questions to ask to get the most valuable information?

    • Molly Keating January 28, 2016 at 4:37 pm - Reply

      Hi Chelsey,
      Thanks for asking, there is so much involved with funeral directing that a lot of people don’t think about when at first considering this path – of course that’s true of most jobs, but mortuary service is a very special calling.

      Here are some questions to ask the funeral director you talk to:
      – What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
      – How do you handle the stress and sorrow of your job?
      – What is most rewarding about this job for you?
      – What do you think are the best traits to have when considering a career in funeral service?
      – What was the hardest lesson to learn when you first started in the profession?
      – How do you handle the families that need extra attention?

      Those are just a few…I think it’s so important to know the kinds of challenges that funeral directors face. Because you will be dealing with families that are in the after-shock of loss, you will have families at times that are angry and will direct it at you, even though you are not the cause. Some families have difficult dynamics that have to be tactfully and delicately handled. Most of the time, the families you help will be so grateful for your presence and expertise and they are a huge part of the reward factor of the job.

      It’s also good to know a lot about yourself before you begin in this field. Knowing what you can handle emotionally, how you will manage the tough days, and what motivates you are all good things to be aware of. Being reflective and paying attention to your emotional, physical, spiritual and mental needs is also of primary importance in this field – burnout happens if we aren’t careful to pursue our needs for the sake of serving our families the best we can.

      I could go on and on Chelsey, but I hope this is a good starting point for you. If you have more questions or want clarification I hope you will reach out again.

      Thanks again,

      • Chelsey January 28, 2016 at 7:56 pm - Reply

        I very much appreciate your response! Those are fantastic questions and such a great starting point. I believe that this is the field I am meant to be in mostly because it called to me…It is not a family business simply something I think I am meant to be a part of (crazy as that may sound) Another question I do have is how hard was it finding a job right out of school? I am concerned that it will be difficult to get in the door without them being familiar with me
        Thanks again

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