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  • Writer's pictureAlison Monette

Toni - Roadmap to a Mortician

What do you do for a living? I am a Recovery Tech for the Illinois Eye Bank (responsible for recovering human eye tissue from a deceased person who has given permission for donation).

What does a day at your job look like?

I go to hospitals or funeral homes to recover the eye tissue, I harvest it in solutions to preserve the tissue, and then I take it to the lab for it to get worked up and sent to the person who needs it. It’s shift work, I work all over the state, and I work primarily alone. I don’t have to deal directly with the families, which would be heartbreaking.

What path did you take to get here?

Got my GED and took a 6 week course to be a pharmacy tech-->

Worked as a pharmacy tech for Walgreens - but my husband got sick-->

I was primary caregiver of my husband until he passed away 10 years ago from a brain tumor-->

I was grieving and felt lost and didn’t know what I was going to do next to pay the bills-->

While planning his funeral, I noticed I was working with very professional looking women who were wearing suits and comfortable with death. They were the morticians-->

I became more curious about death and what they were doing. The funeral home owner was a woman and she had all of her certificates and achievements on the wall in her office. She inspired me-->

Signed up to go to school at Ivy Tech Community College in East Chicago in the Mortuary Sciences program-->

Also took general education courses to build a strong educational foundation-->

I didn’t mesh with the instructor and left program after I found a similar one in Dallas, but that didn’t work out either so I moved back to Illinois-->

I enrolled in a private program at Worsham College of Mortuary Science and did everything I needed to do to finish, including taking 12 classes a week-->

Graduated with my Associates Degree in Mortuary Sciences, but decided I didn't want to work in a funeral home-->

Got my job at Illinois Eye Bank

What are the Challenges of your job?

1. It's a lot of driving - my region was recently extended because we're short staffed.

2. I'm not full-time, so no call means no pay. There's a very defined death to (tissue) preservation time, and that determines if I’m dispatched or not when I'm working.

What are the blessings of your job?

I set my own schedule, work alone and have autonomy.

What 3 characteristics do you have to possess or develop to do your job well?

1. You have to have patience but also be a quick learner

2. Open mindedness

3. Strength in yourself and your emotions, or this job will break you. It's dealing with death daily and it changes you - you have to be careful not to become empty inside, fearless, or monstrous.

What are 3 concrete things you’d tell someone on their journey to doing your job?

1. Start prepping in high school for your career if you can - learn techniques to study and retain what you study, do your homework, etc. Everything you do leads you to the next thing you’re gonna do.

2. Take your time and get a clear understanding of where you want to end up. Whatever and whoever you’re around effects where you end up. Surround yourself with good teachers, friends and company on the roads you travel.

3. Nothing is easy but it’s all worth it. Take the best out of everything that happens to you instead of focusing on the bad. That will destroy you.

FB: Toni Housing-Thomas

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