A Conversation with Your Neighborhood Mortician

A Conversation with Your Neighborhood Mortician

Talking to Your Neighborhood Mortician

How many people actually know a mortician?  Not many.  How many people feel comfortable asking questions about death & how we go about our business of caring for those who have died? Very few. However, at O’Connor Mortuary part of our mission is to unmask the mortuary mysteries (say that 10 times fast!).  We strive to be transparent in all that we do & all that we are by opening our doors, hearts & minds to you.  We want you to know we are trustworthy to care for your loved ones & that we will always be here for you.

Recently we invited everyone we knew to ask me questions about the funeral profession & all of its  aspects.  Here are some of the great questions we received & my honest answers in accordance with California state law.  Please feel free to comment with more questions & remember that there’s no such thing as a dumb question.  If you want to know, chances are that others do too!  Please, tasteful & respectful questions only…Thank you!

Marcia – Is it true that if a family member wants to watch their loved one be taken care of, they can?

Yes, you can watch as your loved one is being cared for as long as you are a member of the immediate family & the Next Of Kin approves of you doing so. This is true for embalming, dressing, cosmetizing, casketing & cremation.

Lisanna – I want to know if you have to purchase any type of box/casket if the body will be cremated & there is to be no viewing?

For a simple (no formal services) or any type of cremation, you do need to have a cremation container to hold the body for the cremation to take place.  It can be as simple as a cardboard cremation container or as elaborate as a full wooden casket, whichever suits your family’s preference.  The cremation container helps the crematory operator to properly place your loved one into the cremation chamber & it also helps the cremation to begin by providing combustible materials.

Marianne – If the deceased was in the military, can you have a military presence at the funeral service?

Military Honors

Photo Credit: Arlington National Cemetery


Yes, you can & we do arrange for military honors for many services. The family needs to present the deceased’s Honorable Discharge Paperwork (form DD-214) so that we can fill out the necessary applications for military honors, a funeral flag and/or burial at a National Cemetery. Typical military honors include a two-person team from the branch that the deceased served in. They do a formal folding of the flag & present it to the Next Of Kin in a very moving ceremony. They finish by playing Taps on the bugle & ceremoniously retreating. If the deceased was a high-ranking official, retiree from the military or killed in action, the honors can include a 21gun salute.  This usually doesn’t mean there are 21 guns being fired (they shoot blanks) but 7 guns being fired 3 times to total 21.  The ceremony, no matter how simple or elaborate, is incredibly moving – I get emotional every time…

Nancee – Are there significant cost differences between cremation & burial? 

The biggest cost difference between cremation & burial is the cemetery property.  You can keep cremated remains at home which costs nothing or you can purchase urn burial property (either niche or in-ground) which is more economical than a casket burial plot (either crypt or in-ground).  There is also a big difference in the cost of an urn burial vault versus a casket burial vault, the urn vault being less.  The vault safely holds the urn or casket in the ground.  The cheapest cremations are provided by “cremation societies” which provide little personal care for your loved one.  They have you fill out all the documents online & they contract out all aspects of the cremation.  At O’Connor Mortuary, we go far beyond what a cremation society provides & our standards are higher than what the state of California requires of us.  We own & operate our own crematory which means your loved one comes into our care & doesn’t leave us for any reason until you pick up the urn or we take it to the cemetery for burial.  This level of care does cost more but the peace of mind it affords is priceless.

Are there legal limitations as to where cremation ashes can be spread?

Cremated remains can be scattered at sea, spread in a scattering garden at a cemetery or scattered over land if you have the permission of the land owner.  Also, you must have a permit to do the scattering- we obtain the permit from the health department & give it to you with the urn.

Debra – If I am cremated, can my ashes be buried in the same plot as my mother’s casket?  If so, can my deceased pets’ ashes be placed there as well?

To have your urn buried in the same plot as your mother’s, you would need to contact the cemetery to see if the property itself is one that could accommodate an urn. Also, you would need to verify that the cemetery allows for a second interment in one plot. They may require you to purchase separate property for your urn, but be sure to check with them to know for certain. Unfortunately, California state law will not allow pets’ urns to be buried in a cemetery for humans. However, there are some lovely pet cemeteries where you can bury your pets’ urns.

Mercury – Is embalming fluid biodegradable?

Traditional embalming fluid is not biodegradable but with the interest in Green Burial increasing over the last 10 years, most embalming chemical manufacturers are now offering or currently developing a more green kind of embalming fluid. This new type of fluid is much better for the environment than traditional fluids – it releases fewer toxins into the ground when buried.  It is also less harmful to the embalmer because it doesn’t contain formaldehyde.

Is it true that fingernails & hair continue to grow after death?

It is an old wives’ tale that the nails & hair continue to grow.  What happens is that in the days after death, the skin of the fingers & scalp dehydrate & shrink which makes the nails & hair appear longer than they were at the time of death.

What is the process when it is a home death?

In Orange County, California, a home death can be cared for in two different ways depending on the circumstances.  If your loved one has been on hospice care at home, the hospice nurse can call the mortuary any time day or night & we will come to the home to bring them directly into our care.  If the home death was unexpected, the Coroner must come to investigate & decide if an autopsy is necessary to determine why your loved one died.  If it is, the Coroner takes them to their facility for further investigation thru autopsy. Once the process is complete, the Coroner releases your loved one into our care & we bring them to our mortuary. We then will meet with you to find out your wishes & provide the highest value services possible for your loved one. To learn about what to do in other circumstances, click here.


Have more questions? Most people do. Please feel free to leave them in the comments below for a future installment of Talking to Your Neighborhood Mortician.”

Ask a Mortician with Also, here is a great link to a Youtube channel called, “Ask a Mortician” – she answers some pretty interesting questions and does a great job.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Molly grew up in and around funeral homes her entire life. In 2009 she began working for O'Connor Mortuary and found a bridge between her passion for writing and her interest in grief and bereavement. In 2016 she earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. She is honored to be able to write about these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.


  1. Patricia Kolstad says:

    Hi Carrie:
    You have great wisdom and a wonderful, professional way of addressing the wide range of questions asked. I’m so thankful that you are apart of this great team of professionals here. That’s why I was always secure in giving professionals the opportunity to call us anytime, day or night, knowing that we can provide honest, truthful answers in the most delicate situations. Nicely done, my friend.

  2. Shayna Mallik says:

    Wow Carrie, GREAT JOB. You gave such honest and educational responses to these questions. Thank you so much for your honesty.


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