Alumna undertakes deathly pursuit

Death is a healing process.

When someone passes away, their loved ones who are left behind still need time to heal and move on.

It is a process that survivors of the deceased should not undergo alone and that is where students of mortuary science, like Jessica Reeves come in.

“After a number of good and bad funeral experiences, I stood at a college fair and had a conversation with two women representatives from the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science about how it is a noble job to help those in a time of need,” Reeves said. “It’s never left my mind since then.”

Reeves, an NKU alumni with an associates degree in integrated studies, began attending the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science in 2012, which is the same year she graduated from NKU.

Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science offers clinical, hands-on coursework, which includes embalming bodies, according to Reeves.

“Embalming has the goal of disinfecting and preserving the remains of a body with the hopes of restoration and viewing,” Reeves said.

Clinical work also includes learning the anatomy of the human body and the protocol for handling a body.

“The body needs to be cleaned, facial features should be set as well,” Reeves said. “Along with applying cosmetics and styling hair, they also have to be dressed.”

Handling a body for the first time was a strange experience for Reeves. She said it made her a little nervous at first, but that’s true any time she does something new.

“The first body I’ve ever handled was actually at the anatomy lab at NKU,” Reeves said. “It was odd. To me it was a real reminder of mortality.”

Since her first experience with a body, Reeves has become more comfortable and associated with the fluids in the mortician’s tool kit, such as water conditioners, anti-coagulants, ph buffers, and, what Reeves said is the most notable of all, formaldehyde.

“Most of the time I come across [formaldehyde] in an arterial solution fluid. This means it has water, dye, and other things like [perfuming agents],” Reeves said. “It doesn’t smell bad, but it smells odd. They do their job and are known carcinogens. I don’t expect them to smell nice.”

Reeves said she usually works with Visarock, which is a brand of solid formaldehyde known as a paraformaldehyde.

Often joining Reeves in her studies is her cat, Maverick, who like to ride on her shoulder. It took some training, Reeves said.

Maverick has been trained to use a toilet, according to Reeves. She said that cats can learn to use the toilet through observation and kits can be purchased through pet stores or the internet.

“I walked in on him one day,” Reeves said, recounting the first time she witnessed Maverick using the toilet. “Best day ever.”

Reeves said that she had finished her co-op position at Gilligan Funeral Home in Cincinnati last month. She hopes that she will be a licensed funeral director one day.

“I’ve yet to gain an internship, but that will be in good time.”