The job of a mortuary attendant or mortician is only for those that have heart, following the myths and mysteries that border on bizarre occurrences in morgues, especially spine-chilling behaviours of corpses. In this report, some daring attendants who defied all odds to take to the job, share gripping experiences with Daily Trust.
‘I enjoy the job’
Orban John Thomas is a mortician at Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH). With 12 years of experience caring for the dead.
Thomas has worked in both private and public health institutions. When Daily Trust cornered him for a chat, he gave a blow-by-blow account of all that his job entails.
He told Daily Trust delightfully that he enjoys the job.
According to him, the job of a mortician is not for the fearful, but the strong-hearted who are able to withstand the scary mysteries about dead bodies kept in morgues awaiting burial.
Though he took to the career without any formal training, Thomas was able to keep his job for three years in the private sector until he gained employment at the BSUTH. Over time, he learned on the job until he acquired the necessary professional training.
While telling tales of his experiences on duty, he said that a lot of mysterious things happen in the morgue. But he expressed confidence that he had been able to build resistance to fear because he has remained focused and confident.
“I don’t experience these scary things all the time. It is also not every dead body that exhibits strange behaviour. It is mainly those who had initiated themselves into secret societies during their lifetime. It’s the spirits in them that react when they are dead, but not their dead bodies. Other corpses are usually normal. They are dead and gone,” he said.
Thomas added that when anything unusual was noticed, relatives of the deceased would be informed immediately. “The relatives might change the environment of the corpse. Sometimes, such strange occurrences might be the result of not adhering to a standing instruction given by the deceased before death. Before they die, some of them would request that their bodies be treated in a particular manner after they had passed away,” he said.
The instructions might include: “Don’t put me in a morgue.”
But perhaps, the family forgot the instruction and dropped the body in a morgue. So, the person’s spirit then reacts maybe because he belonged to secret societies whose regulations were based on such directives. Such corpses can’t even be kept among others because the spirit of the person would awake.”
Thomas, a father of three, however, said he did his job with passion, fulfilment as well as lots of encouragement from his family who sometimes visits him at work.
Has Thomas ever thought of quitting his job? Certainly no.
“I have never thought of quitting because I enjoy the job. It’s through this job that I have a family and education today. I now have a HND in Public Administration from Benue State Polytechnic in Ugbokolo. My wife and children are in support of my job. In fact, one of my children is showing interest in the job. I have started training him and will encourage him to do it.”
For Thomas, all the myths about whether morticians actually communicate with ghosts could be likened to the relationship between a herder and his cattle. He said that as cows know the voice of their herders, so the corpses too know the voice of their caregivers.
“The dead also know when a stranger enters mortuary. Those who are experienced on the job understand this kind of communication better,” he said.
On his personal experiences, Thomas said he had never seen a dead body walk, neither has he communicated with their ghosts as have been rumoured to happen in some morgues. He, however, said he had witnessed cases of corpses found in different positions from where they were originally kept.
“In such circumstances, I would rearrange the corpse and put it back in its position and if the reaction goes beyond that, I would inform its relatives. Sometimes, when they go beyond control, every night, I would go to search for corpses and see them scattered. In the process of searching, if I discover that any of them is missing, as a strong-hearted mortician, I would search to identify the missing one and tell the relatives. So, corpses can miss. Sometimes, the society they belonged to can use their spirit to change the body into another body. So, the corpse might be there, but the mortician won’t be able to see it. That’s when people say the dead body strolled out or walked out. But I haven’t experienced any corpse take a walk,” Thomas said.
Contrary to the common belief that every mortician needs to be fortified with charms, Thomas said he didn’t use any charm other than relying on God Almighty.
“Using charms does not really help in doing this job because some dead people might have acquired powers higher than yours. In most cases, this could trigger negative consequences. That is why you hear stories about a dead body slapping a mortician. In such a case, the morticians may have applied a charm on the corpse.”
Thomas, however, said that though he sometimes had nightmares after an encounter with certain corpses, it is not enough to deter him from the job.
“In the dreams, the spirits of those corpses show up, especially those who were initiated into a secret cult and whose items, like pieces of ornaments, are taken off from their body in the process of tidying them up in the morgue,” he said.
“Not everybody can die and another person uses their belongings. For instance, items such as rings, bangles, wristwatches, necklaces or initiated possessions. In 2018, a corpse was brought from one of the troubled local government areas of Benue State. I saw that one of the eyes of the corpse was open and I decided to remove the ring on him. But, on my way out of the hospital that day, I saw two people who threatened me. Immediately after the threat, I had an accident. I later visited a prophet who told me the accident occurred because I removed someone’s ring.”
“The guy (corpse) was actually a terrorist in his lifetime. Based on the powers he acquired to carry out his acts during his lifetime, the spirit reacted,” he said.
I communicate with spirits – Anayochukwu
Mr Ugwu Peter Anayochukwu, 37, is a mortuary attendant at Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital (DASH), Lafia, Nasarawa State. He also works with Freedom Funeral Services, a private home-based funeral outfit in Makurdi, the Benue State capital.
He told Daily Trust that his passion to take to corpse care and the job of an undertaker began immediately after the death of his mother in 2004. Later, he went for a ‘professional’ training in Benin, the Edo State capital. He has been in the practice since 18 years ago.
While telling the story of how he found himself as a mortuary attendant, Anayochukwu said that after he lost his mother, one of his uncles who attended the burial, had asked him if he would like to work in a mortuary. But he hesitated in responding to the question. He added that even though the uncle tried three times to persuade him, he turned him down, until he changed his mind after a dream.
“One day I had a dream and all of a sudden, I saw myself working in the mortuary. I was surprised and couldn’t believe I had such a terrible dream. I never took the dream as God’s calling to work as a mortician. But I was afraid. So, I rushed to my father to share the dream with him,” he said.
Peter finally decided to take up the challenge. But the first time he assumed office as a mortuary attendant, he saw scores of dead bodies in the morgue. According to him, he panicked and was traumatised.
“I almost ran away, but summoned courage and stayed,” he said.
He, however, said that since he took the job, he communicates while asleep with the dead in the mortuary. He disclosed that such communication usually takes place around 2:00 am in his dreams.
“The deceased know me because they know that I care for their bodies. There was a time the spirit of a dead person visited me in my dream and revealed to me that some of his relations were trying to plant some charms in his grave,” he said.
Anayochukwu also revealed that some persons visit mortuaries, claiming they have relations, but their visits are mostly for sinister motives as they request for water used in bathing the dead.
Some corpses can be stubborn – Okokon
Mr Etim Okokon, a 56-year-old mortuary attendant, has been on the job for about 25 years.
He told Daily Trust Saturday that he had had different experiences in the ‘profession.’
Okokon said that he had several unpleasant experiences at Goldie Mortuary, which is a stone throw from the University of Calabar, before it was taken over by the Calabar Municipality and refurbished.
He added that the job of mortuary attendant had a lot of challenges and experiences of bizarre activities that could give impression to people that one is not normal, but not really so.
“I feel as normal as you feel. Working in a mortuary is also like working in another place.
We that work in this kind of place have developed thick skins. We no longer have any fear of ghosts or such things. We are now very used to the life of working in mortuary,” he said.
“For those not working here, it is natural that you will develop or harbour some fears and worries about safety. Yes, there are instances where you encounter stubborn corpses, but we have ways of taming and communicating with them.”
Hope Abah Emmanuel (Makurdi), Umar Muhammed (Lafia) & Eyo Charles (Calabar)