Women are marginalized and renowned for taking up the easiest roles and ways out; nevertheless, more and more women are taking up challenging roles and truly thriving in them!
In the spirit of celebrating women in the month of March, Scholar Media Africa caught up with Ann Mwangangi, a mortician who has used digital platforms to change the human’s perspective of the way of all the earth -death.
Born and raised in Nakuru county, Ms. Mwangangi did not always picture herself serving and taking care of the dead but rather as a lecturer.
“I am from a family of teachers and I thought I’d grow up to be one. I did cosmetology at the Rift Valley Institute of Science and Technology. However, priorities changed thereafter and I thought of becoming a mortician,” Ms. Mwangangi explains.
Her life turned around when she lost her mother on September 24, 2012.
She would go ahead and get inspired to take care of the deceased, or the ‘loved ones,’ as she prefers to call them and help the bereft transition through grief.
“My mother is the first person I ever saw dead. It was a difficult time; I was stuck in denial and felt that I did not have anyone. I therefore vowed to be that one person to help people who have lost their loved ones in their difficult times,” the 26-year-old mortician opened up in an exclusive interview with Scholar Media.
She enrolled at Egerton University for a seven-month course in The Mortuary Science in 2017 and immediately got hooked onto the industry.
Five years down the line as a female mortician, Ms. Mwangangi notes that she has grown mentally, and a great sense of responsibility has grown in her.
A typical day of a mortician
Being in charge of the Mortuary Department at St. Benedict’s Nyahururu, Ms. Mwangangi’s typical day starts at 7:30 in the morning.
“I cannot use statements such as ‘I hope work’s good today’ while working at the morgue. Nonetheless, there are other activities that have to be done other than receiving bodies,” she states.
On the day of clearance, Ms. Mwangangi has to sign clearance sign-off forms for the deceased, do final touches to the body, such as oiling and accessorizing, and do final casket touches, such as wiping and polishing.
“Tuesdays to Fridays are our most busy days. I have to correctly plan out my day to avoid mixing of records and delayed clearance. Being orderly is also a boundless consolation to the family,” she says.
On the less congested days, Ms. Mwangangi explains that she likes to clean counters and arrange records for ease of service on demanding days.
In a department with only two working in service, she says that she alternates on-call days with her colleague so as to give a 24-hour service.
“Death is unfortunate and very untimely, which means that one can be called in for work at the middle of the night. We alternate on-call shifts which means one stays ready at night just in case our services are needed,” Ms. Mwangangi explains to Scholar Media.
A traumatic experience
The caregiver observes that she has seen herself grow from the naïve mortician who would be lost in her work; she was not as strong while starting the profession.
She reveals that she would relate to situations and extremely empathize with the bereaved, which would throw professionalism out of the room, taking a toll on her mental health.
“The first six months were tough for me; I ate just to survive because I was mostly bloated and had no appetite at all. Many things I saw nobody had ever taught me in class and I had to live it to experience the reality,” the mortician discloses.
Regardless of her traumas not haunting her at night, Ms. Mwangangi says that she is left with so many questions in her day-to-day service. Such has not only increased her faith in God’s doing but also her appreciation for life.
Of them all
Her greatest trauma is serving children.
“It breaks my heart when a mother hands me their young one because it makes me question the process so much; so much potential lost and the wound it leaves on the mother! It has to be excruciating pain,” she commiserates, adding that if it were up to her, she would prefer never to handle children.
Over the years, Ms. Mwangangi says that she has continually asked for grace to accept life deeds and explains that she feels she is duly serving her purpose on earth.
She also acknowledges counseling sessions offered for free to morticians in the country, saying that such a way of debriefing is vital to morticians who deal with different shocking ordeals every day.
The TikTok experience
In December 2022, Ms. Mwangangi posted her first video at work on the online video platform TikTok, and the reaction was not anything close to her expectations.
“It was a short video of me getting dressed for work. I didn’t realize that everybody is not familiar with death and curiosity was killing the audience. Most asked questions about my line of work and how I survive at it while others distinguished my bravery,” she states.
The naivety in the comments section of the platform brought her to a realization that this phenomenon was close to a taboo to many, and people were full of misconceptions about morgues and death itself.
In a short period, Ms. Mwangangi was gaining popularity as she went on to make videos that helped answer questions that were posed to her.
In three months, she has gained a little over 180,000 followers and over 2 million views of her online content.
“My account was initially for my beauty products until one day, I posted a short video in scrubs and in a mortuary scenery. The reception was unbelievable and many questions were thrown at me.
In the quest to answer the questions, I went on to make more videos which I think have been impacting my audience every day,” Ms. Mwangangi recounts.
The mortician explains that her happiness lies in seeing people enlightened with knowledge and has vowed to keep pushing in her passion for service.
She notes that there has been a shift in perspective from her content, where more people are embracing morticians and not stigmatizing the career as seen before.
However, just like barriers exist in other careers, the young mortician reveals that she has had her fair share of challenges in the industry, more so as a female mortuary attendant.
“At first, I was looked down upon because I am very self-aware and feminine. From how I dress to work to how I talk, to how I present myself, clients would confuse me for the secretary and would be left in shock when I’d dress up and take up tasks,” recalls Ms. Mwangangi.
She explains that in a world where roles are defined by gender, women are forced to work twice as hard to stand on the same grounds as their male counterparts.
Social media comments reveal that many people show less trust in female medical practitioners.
Nonetheless, Ms. Mwangangi has taken it upon herself to change the narrative as she works to offer her clients the best of her capability.
Marginalization, forgotten industry
Besides the marginalization of women in this industry, she calls for more visibility, as mortuaries are often viewed in the backgrounds of hospitals.
“Rarely do we hear reports of mortuaries being funded or equipped either by the government or by individual organizations.
This industry is the most forgotten and it would not be a shock to find out that in some morgues, the same equipment launched along with the morgue is the same one used over the years,” the young mortician speaks on the state of the industry.
Call to perspective change
In her last remarks, Ms. Mwangangi urges everyone to look at life with a different lens of humility because it all boils down to how one lives with people.
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“There are no titles in death; apologize, love one another and live life,” she advises.