Can a person exchange souls
"I am talking to the deceased"
Judith Brauneis is a taxidermist for human medicine. She has headed the dissection department in the pathology department of the Rechts der Isar Clinic in Munich since 1999. Ten years ago she completed the additional training to become an emergency chaplain in order to be able to professionally look after the bereaved when they say goodbye.
How did you get into this job?
I was very young when I decided to become a taxidermist. I wanted to do something different from everyone else, I wanted to attract attention. And I was interested in anatomy. I wanted to get to know the human body and death too. That interested me for a few years until the search for meaning came along. And then I became an emergency chaplain. I don't know where the fascination for death came from. Even as a child, I loved going to cemeteries and always wanted to see the dead in the cemetery. But why, I don't know. Up until my apprenticeship I had never really seen a dead person.
Today you see dead people every day. Does it make a difference whether there is a child or an old person on your section table?
Often you think it's worse with children. I learned not to differentiate there. I think it's bad for everyone, and over the years I haven't gotten tougher, but rather softer. There are always people there who are grieving. In the case of a child, it is the parents, grandparents, siblings, and in the case of an old deceased other people mourn. I always think that's bad.
What kind of relationship emerges between you and the deceased on your section table? What moves you there?
Here in the section room: no relationship at all, that's purely medical for me. A section is a case for me. He is interesting. Not like twenty years ago, of course, because at some point you saw everything. I already imagine the person, wondering what he was like, but then that has to stop again. I keep a scientific distance, and I need that as protection. The protective clothing that we wear not only serves to protect against disease, but is also like a protective shield between the deceased and us. When we are in lay out, that is something completely different. You immerse yourself in history. The relatives tell about the deceased and have photos with them. Man has a story, a face. And then there are two options. Either you dull, or you let yourself in, experience the sadness and also carry some of this sadness with you. I chose the latter because that's how I am. I want to be touched. And I really enjoy doing it, as bad as it is often.
How much do you know about the deceased?
Little. I only know the basic data - name, date of birth, date of death and in most cases the cause of death that the doctor has determined. But I have to say: I rarely read the cause of death. To protect me. Even before the idea of what you can get, what diseases there are. Because I only see the people who die here. I never see the people leave the hospital alive. That suggests to me: everyone dies here. That's why I only read the causes of death in people who died very young, because that's what interests me. Or when I look after the family so that I am informed and can talk about it. The relatives always have questions. Above all, they always want to know the time of death and whether someone was in pain.
Do you talk to the dead sometimes?
Yes. You get a little weird. For me, this is part of the care when laying out. I always talk to the deceased and then say something like “Wilhelm, your family is coming soon, and I promise you that I will take good care of your people”. That's my way of dealing with the loneliness here, and maybe the dead person will even hear it.
They say yes, when someone dies, the soul leaves the body. Do you notice anything about it?
Yes. You can see it in the corpses. When I say goodbye, the relatives often show me photos of the deceased during his lifetime. If you put such a photo next to the dead person, the person in the photo is sometimes infinitely far from what the corpse looks like. This shows that the body is no longer inhabited. It is a discarded dress in which no soul lives any longer.
Do you think that the souls of the deceased will take something with them in the time after death?
I believe that the souls of the deceased will be around for a while, looking after their families. But I don't believe that the dead are wandering around here in the pathology. What are they doing down here, too. They are definitely with their families. Still, I speak to the dead, because maybe they'll get it somehow. You can also write that. When you have a job like that, people think you're a freak anyway. I am spiritual and I am very open about it. You can't imagine how often it happens that someone says to me: Thank you for saying that. I wouldn't have dared to do it.
Is the time here in pathology a quiet time or a restless time for the dead?
Good question. Absolutely restless. You are only temporarily stored here, and you are tampered with, you are dressed up, you are attracted, you are coffed up, you actually can't come to rest. Maybe the soul doesn't even know what's going on. Even in the refrigeration there is no rest, because someone keeps coming in, the undertaker, a new deceased, door open, door closed. Peace can only return after the funeral. And even then, as a deceased soul, you may still have work to do because you want to see how the family will go on.
Are you thinking about your own death?
Yes. I am also afraid of dying. And give me a lot of thought, for example what will become of my mother then. I wrote down at home how I would like to be buried. But I don't want to die just yet. Still, I'm afraid something will happen to me. We all in the industry know how fast this can happen. I have become very humble. And brave too. I prefer to do things rather than regret missing an opportunity. On the other hand, I'm also scared and don't need any more adventures.
Regardless of whether Undertaker, Grief counselor or thanatopractor: All the people in your industry with whom I have spoken so far seem to be satisfied with their work. Do you have an explanation for this?
It's not just a job. That is a purpose. You have to be made for it and you can't just slip into it. You have to think twice about it and really like it.
Is what you do here an exhausting job?
Yes. I also need a lot of rest. I often withdraw and want to pursue my thoughts and deal with bad cases. I used to get distracted, a lot of partying, always outside, but now I need to retreat and I want to deal with things. The psyche demands rest. My friends often don't understand that I don't want to go out and that my job is backbreaking. That after eight hours of pushing corpses and bucking, sawing and chiseling, I can't do anything standing because I'm physically and mentally exhausted. The circle of friends is reduced as a result, and there are only a few who understand that after such a working day you simply can no longer be like that.
Is your job fulfilling you?
After ten years I have found that the job of a taxidermist alone is no longer fulfilling for me. At some point everyone goes on a search for meaning. It was the same with me. Most people change jobs after a few years, I was still here. So this must be my place. Because that was no longer enough for me, I focused on bereavement support. I had lost family members myself in the meantime, so I knew what relatives need at such a time. I still enjoy working as a taxidermist, but working as a grief counselor is fulfilling for me.
Final ways: Departure - contribution to the taxidermist's workplace
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