Embalmer turns author to share experiences
Who is the last person to touch you after you’ve died? Who gives you the final makeover that reflects the profundity of your beauty even though life no longer pulses through your veins? Who transforms the creases of your face into the peaceful “gaze” that fills the hearts of those left behind with a knowingness that you are now in a better place?
Author/poet and licensed funeral director/embalmer Amber Lenore Winckler of Escondido does such work daily and has done so for the past 15 years — eight as general manager of Alhiser-Comer Mortuary in Escondido. Those curious and brave enough to glimpse into the world of one who cares for the dead can walk beside Winckler through her intriguing, albeit graphic, novel about the life of a mortician, “The Final Bath.”
She will sign her “novel” from 1 to 3 p.m. June 10 at Isabel’s Cantina, 966 Felspar in Pacific Beach.
If you’re thinking, what a morbid book this must be. Who wants to read about the precise maneuvering of veins in preparation for embalming fluid? Who wants to tag along with a mortician as she excavates a decomposed body from a trailer-park home in sweltering heat?
“Give it a chance. It’s more of a coming-of-age book, than a book about death,” Winckler said.
The book is also an engrossing adventure peppered with her “death care experiences,” the simple and complex daily joys and sorrows of a human being compelled, perhaps even obsessed, with performing the ritual of preparing the bodies of the deceased for their final worldly presentation.
Seems Winckler took her profession seriously well before she embarked upon it. “I do take it seriously. I embalmed a body last night,” she said. “I was told that I didn’t have to shave him or anything, that no one would be seeing him. But I shaved him and trimmed his nails. I don’t care if anyone is going to see him. I guess that’s where God comes in. I’m doing right even if no one is watching.”
The spiritual side of Winckler’s story is open to interpretation.
“With my book, some groups criticize that it doesn’t have enough God in it. Other groups criticize it for having too much God in it,” she said. “I was atheistic when I first began my career. I found my own version of God working with death and despair. You have to have something to believe in. Just doing what we do isn’t enough.
“I don’t think we reincarnate back to Earth, after we die, but I do know the body energy continues. It’s like graduating ... death is. This is a pretty harsh world we’re living in. It’s not like you want to stay around forever in my opinion.”
Book No. 2 publishesWinckler was the first female to be hired by the medical examiner in San Diego as an autopsy assistant. Her second book, ‘Into The Hands of Strangers,’ chronicles her experiences on that job and has just been released.