Not a dead-end job

Marco Flores, Aaron Alvis and Rocky Skaggs at the South Whidbey Youth Center listen to Brent Trimble, owner of Visser
Marco Flores, Aaron Alvis and Rocky Skaggs at the South Whidbey Youth Center listen to Brent Trimble, owner of Visser's Funeral Home talks about his career as a mortician and funeral director.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

"Do dead people ever pop-up into a sitting position?"

"Does hair continue to grow after death?"

Those were a couple of questions students put to Brent Trimble on Wednesday at the South Whidbey Youth Center. And believe it or not, they were appropriate, considering the season -- Halloween -- and what Trimble does of a living.

Trimble, a mortician and owner of Visser's Funeral Home in Langley, assured students the answer to both questions is "no."

"People cannot spontaneously sit-up after they are dead," Trimble said. "Hair and fingernails do not grow, but tissue shrinks giving an appearance of beard growth."

As the popular choice of speakers for the youth center's weekly after-school career presentation, Trimble fit the bill for the week of Halloween. Each Wednesday, the youth center invites professionals from the South Whidbey community to speak to youths at the center about career options.

Speaking on a subject that rarely gets much attention, death, and a job that is not widely considered, that of the funeral director, Trimble's frank discussion with a half dozen youths at the center seemed to be more of a delight than a fright.

For about 30 minutes, students stood around Timble asking questions. In keeping with the "spirit" of the season, several asked him if he ever sensed ghosts in the room with him while he worked to prepare a body for burial.

"I personally feel like we have spirits, but I don't think they hang around the funeral home. They have more important things to do," Trimble said.

Some questions were bizarre in nature but Trimble displayed a sense of humor when he answered the most macabre questions. Rocky Skaggs, a South Whidbey High School student, wanted to know if Trimble had ever had a body move while he worked on it.

"Well, I have seen muscles contracting as the embalming fluid goes in," Trimble said. "But that isn't because anyone is alive."

Several students asked Trimble if his job ever depresses him. He assured them it doesn't. His job, he said, helps families take care of their loved ones. However, he said it does bother him when his work brings him babies or young children.

Once students got beyond the ghoulish side of things, the questions became more thoughtful as they wondered about the amount of education required to be a funeral director. They asked Trimble about what he does beyond preparing bodies for burial.

He said both medical knowledge and training in counselling are vital in doing his job. Plus, there are the skills that cannot be taught in school.

"Above all, this job requires a reverence for life. It would be impossible to do without it," Trimble said.

Before Trimble and his wife, Marge, purchased Visser's, Trimble worked at Forest Lawn, the famous mortuary in Los Angeles. That funeral home was run as a tight ship, he said.

"One of the hard and fast rules at Forest Lawn was if any employee used profanity in the presence of the deceased, it was cause for immediate dismissal."

Students wanted to know if he had ever taken care of anyone famous. He had, but his answer was one that did not cross generational lines. Apparently, none of the kids at the youth center had heard of Charlie, the cook from Wagon Train.

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