TWIN FALLS • A few years ago, Mike Parke thought he was going to die.

He needed a liver transplant, but the chances of getting one looked grim. Now with a new liver, he hasn’t forgotten his close encounter with death. It has, in fact, changed his perspective about what he does every day.

Parke is director of his own business — Parke’s Magic Valley Funeral Home in Twin Falls and Gooding.

His other title: mortician.

“It’s really a call to serve,” he said, sitting in the Twin Falls mortuary’s parlor. At times he became teary-eyed as he talked about his work.

A funeral director oversees funeral arrangements, works with grieving family members and does plenty of paperwork. A mortician prepares bodies of the deceased for burial or cremation.

Being a mortician isn’t an easy job. It’s one that requires long hours and late-night phone calls. Parke and fellow mortician Brett Buckley sat down with the Times-News to discuss their thoughts about their jobs, preparing dead bodies and the afterlife.

Late-night Calls

When Parke was 14, he wanted to become a doctor. Then his grandfather died and he changed his goal to mortician. Today, he views it as his life’s calling. It’s not just a job, Parke said. It’s a lifestyle.

For one thing, there’s not a lot of down time.

The men often are awakened in the night to pick up a body — often the body of an elderly person who died in sleep, but sometimes of someone involved with something more tragic.

Dealing frequently with death and tragedy is the toughest thing about being a mortician, Parke said — especially preparing the bodies of deceased children and working with their grieving parents.

“I hate senseless death,” he said. Old people are expected to die, children are not.

Parke’s wife, Cathryn, also works at the funeral home and said she’s become accustomed to the late-night calls.

Preparing a Body

Mortal bodies weren’t made to last.

There are a couple of ways to respectfully dispose of a person’s body. The most popular in the U.S. is burial, but some families choose cremation.

For burial, a body must be embalmed — its blood replaced with embalming fluid — within 24 hours of death, according to state law.

Embalmers, in this case Parke and Buckley, may reshape or reconstruct bodies using materials such as clay, cotton, plaster of Paris and wax. They also may apply cosmetics to provide a natural appearance, and dress the body.

“The body is so intricate,” said Parke, noting that the process can take anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours.

Lots of Paperwork

When not preparing a body or working with a family — such as helping choose caskets, urns or headstones — Parke is busy doing paperwork.

“Funeral directors handle the paperwork involved with the person’s death, including submitting papers to state authorities so that a formal death certificate may be issued and copies distributed to the heirs,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor. “They may help family members apply for veterans’ burial benefits or notify the Social Security Administration of the death. Also, funeral directors may apply for the transfer of any pensions, insurance policies or annuities on behalf of survivors.”

Parke said: “Working with a body is about 5 percent of our time. Forty-five percent is working with families, and 50 percent is paperwork.”

Belief in Afterlife

Parke wants to do what he can to honor the dead and respect the wishes of those who are left behind.

Part of that desire is because of his belief in God and the afterlife. Parke said he knows some funeral directors who do not believe in God, but he finds that odd.

Buckley shared similar sentiments, noting that his belief in the afterlife helps shape the kind of mortician he is. It helps make his job easier, he said, knowing there is something beyond this life.

Preparing bodies, helping arrange services and overseeing burials and cremations are the final tribute to deceased. These two morticians believe the spirits of the dead are aware of how their mortal bodies are being treated.

“I don’t know how people can do this line of work and not believe in a higher power,” Parke said. “I believe.”

(8) comments

Anubis

Unfortunately they only got the perspective of a few morticians in the area, but it is a fairly accurate article. I also feel it was a calling. I spent my childhood memorializing pets on the farm and being fascinated with funerals and memorialization. I told my mother when I was 12 that I was going to be a mortician. Don't forget us women that get up at all hours of the night to respond to death calls as well. Nearly 60% of all mortuary students in the U.S. are now women and women will likely dominate the industry in the coming decades.

chief10

I think this is about the 5th article I've read by the Times News about Parke and his liver. There are over 15 morticians in the Magic Valley based on my best estimation. Can we get some different perspectives please?

portfoliopete75

While I will agree that Mr. Parke has appeared alot in the news because of his liver, he also is one of the kindest and most respected Morticians in the Magic Valley. I myself have had the privilege of having Parke's care for my loved ones and I will say that it was handled with the utmost care and respect. He is a walking miracle who knows the funeral industry and lives by his convictions. So knowing the struggles that he went through, to return to his calling is quite amazing.

LettuceC

do we really need one more article about death and remains and plaster of Paris??? What the heck!! Mr Parke, something's are better left unsaid...how many times are you going to remind the public about your illness? Seems to me there are a lot of other business people who have gone through hard things but don't use the paper for free advertising. Quit using good space to gather sympathy!
Enough already!!!!

Jim_Bob
Jim_Bob

There ya go

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0la5DBtOVNI

portfoliopete75

I am amazed at the hate mail in this community! Lettuce C if you are bothered by the subject matter, don't read the article! Jim Bob is clearly a man with an expanded mind and limitless vocabulary! However just an FYI, many of us want to know about many different subjects and death is a major albeit an unpleasant topic.

LettuceC

Portfoliopete...I would not say that any of the comments here classify as "hate mail". It seems, by your comment,it is just as easy for you to throw a punch as anyone!
While I won't comment any further about the article..I know there are many morticians that are just as ccompassionate about what they do whether they have a brush with death or not. They live with death every day..it is a part of who they are....seems to me that if there needs to be further articles SURELY there are many other compassionate funeral directors with strong convictions that can be interviewed besides Park's. Do they have to have had a serious illness to get on the front page over and over?

Comment deleted.
Kuroshitsuji

Yeah, that kind of bothered me too lol. Like, oh, I'm sorry I wasn't aware that it was just the MEN that wake up at all hours of the night. Unless everyone at that certain funeral home are guys, then I don't understand why it was said like that.

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