Ann Wanjiku Njoki, a mortician in charge of Pope Benedict XVI Hospital in Nyahururu has opened up about how she ended up choosing the profession.
Speaking to Radio Maisha’s Mwende Macharia and Clemmo on Konnect, Ann explained that she had a bad experience at the morgue when her mother passed as the mortician was drunk and insensitive to their pain. During a subsequent visit, however, Ann met a female mortician who inspired her to pursue the career.
“When I lost my mother, the mortician who attended to us was not accommodating; he was very intoxicated and I didn’t like the experience. After high school, we went to the morgue to pick a friend who’d passed away and we met a female mortician- she received us well and treated us with empathy. I admired her a lot and inquired on how one becomes a mortician,” Ann narrated.
Inspired by the encounter, she decided to first pursue a course in cosmetology. “I thought of incorporating the makeup skills in being a mortician, which comes in handy when doing reconstruction on bodies,” she said.
According to Ann, she was hesitant to tell her grandmother, who was her guardian, she was interested in pursuing a course in Mortuary Science.
“I didn’t flinch or get scared,” Ann said, describing her first day of training at the morgue. “I asked myself ‘what would people say? Will my family support my course?’ At first, I didn’t tell my grandma but instead spoke to one of my young uncles who is a teacher. He was initially hesitant as he perceived morticians as being drug addicts and he thought I’d be oriented into the same. But he eventually agreed and I went for training at the Egerton University funeral home.”
Mortician roles, childhood aspirations
Ann let on that her roles as a mortician include registration of bodies, cleaning, embalming temperature regulation, dressing and encoffining. But growing up, she’d never pictured herself working as a mortician. “You are presented with career options that parents believe are the best- I thought I'd become a doctor or pilot.”
Dealing with work-related stress
While admitting that working as a mortician can be mentally tasking, she divulged that having a support system is vital. “You must have a big heart and be accommodating- while at work, the stress isn’t from the deceased but their mourning families. That environment is not mentally friendly and if you are not careful, you can easily lose yourself. I have a great support system from my family and each mortician has a psychologist assigned to them in case they need counselling.”
In her five years of work, Ann said that an incident involving a child left her traumatised, hence, she’s not keen on having children. “My first encounter with a child who had been defiled was jarring- I have never recovered,” said Ann, adding that “it doesn’t take courage to be a mortician but God’s grace.”
Ann is now on a mission to change the perception people have towards morticians.
“I have seen a lot of stigmatization around death and this career- some view morticians as a bad omen. I want to debunk all these myths. It's a male-dominated industry but more women are coming aboard and I appreciate that. It's tough for a woman working as a mortician as every day, people tend to doubt you and you have to continually prove that you can do your job. What motivates me is the fulfilment after serving people and seeing they are satisfied - giving my best keeps me going.”
She went on to send a message to the youth saying, “success is not a bed of roses- it will have thorns but your resilience and determination will get you anywhere.”