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Matúš Majer
February 18, 2019, 3:46pm
Reading time: 7:24

Ladislav Prepares Dead Bodies for Funerals: Looking Them in the Eyes is Horrifying

Because of his work, Ladislav stopped believing in God. When he saw all the dead children and babies, it became clear to him that there really is no justice.

Matúš Majer
February 18, 2019, 3:46pm
Reading time: 7:24
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Ladislav Prepares Dead Bodies for Funerals: Looking Them in the Eyes is Horrifying
Zdroj: Refresher – Matúš M.
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This interview mentions sensitive topics such as death, cancer, contains detailed descriptions of dead bodies, or disturbing photographs.
We do not recommend it to weak-hearted.


There are many different jobs to do, and some of them are so unusual that they'd never even cross a child's mind. Few people state caring for dead bodies as their dream job, but for 66-year-old Ladislav Kányai from Bratislava, it has been a daily routine for decades.


Ladislav has been working with corpses for 42 years. He's seen rotten human bodies full of worms, some decaying for up to two years. Human remains were once even handed over to him in a plastic bag. Ladislav prepares the dead for their final journey. Doing what he does, he even stopped believing in God.



He dresses them, washes off stool, urine or vomit, and seeing torn human flesh is the worst for him. What does the job that you need the strongest stomach for look like on the daily?



In this article you will read about:
  • Where the corpses end up after death and how they're prepared for burial
  • What happens when the body is so decomposed that it is full of worms
  • Why would someone hide a corpse for 2 years
  • What kind of treatment the corpse gets before the funeral and what kind of liquids fleak out of it after death
  • Whether Ladislav gets sick from the smell of a dead body and whether he has bad dreams
  • What happens with detached legs or fragmented human bodies
  • Why do people drink alcohol during this job
  • How come corpses make sounds
  • How much can one earn as an "embalmer"


Umývač zosnulých: Môj najhorší prípad bolo 2 roky rozložené telo plné červíkov a hniloby. Pozerať sa mŕtvym do očí je hrozný pocit
Umývač zosnulých: Môj najhorší prípad bolo 2 roky rozložené telo plné červíkov a hniloby. Pozerať sa mŕtvym do očí je hrozný pocit Zdroj: Refresher – Matúš M.


What is your job actually called? 


The name is different everywhere. I work in various funeral homes. In one of them they call me the driver and dresser of the dead. This is also how my job is registered in the Chamber of Commerce. People often call it funeral worker, but funeral workers usually only transport the corpses. I drive the dead or decaying bodies, load them, clean them ...


How does one get into styling of the corpses?


One has to be born to it. Not anyone can do this. You can also stumble upon this somehow, I started in a funeral home after the war thanks to my stepfather, who offered me a job. Some people may do it for the money. But I don't know, in Slovakia the rewards are not so good.


I used to be a Christian, but after seeing the dead bodies of children and babies, I no longer believe that God exists.


In your case, however, it is not just about the styling of the corpses.


Not at all. Together with my partner, we have about 30 to 35 funerals a month, all on weekdays. You always have to pick the bodies up somewhere, in most cases at the pathology department where the bodies from hospitals are gathered. 


We load the dead bodies in the car, in the coffin, and take them to our place. Everything is coordinated by the relatives, who choose a coffin and also decide what the deceased will look like. How to shave, style or dress him/her. We simply turn the corpse into a decent-looking person to send them off on their final journey, respectfully. One styling takes up to two hours plus transport.


In what states are these bodies usually?


Better or worse. For example, cancer can be really visible. It's terrible. Especially young people. To look them in the face.


I once got a man in a plastic bag. Scattered to pieces after an explosion.



What is the worst for you?


In some cases, the bodies are found two or three months after the actual death. They are in decay, white worms everywhere. We will load these bodies, but they must be cremated, as they are hygienically harmful at this stage.


Do you exchange all clothing, including the underwear?


Depends. Sometimes we can't avoid it. But it's disgusting. That cold touch. Chills all over the body, these feelings are indescribably strange.


Do corpses have their eyes open?


Some do, but I'd rather not look. When I started, I did and I was always shook. But much worse things are happening. When I style the bodies, they make sounds. Rotting organs inside, the remnants of fluids and gases escaping, especially from the chubbier ones.


It must really stink.


Unspeakably. It's no joke. Humans are omnivores, so they stink even more than dead horses or cows, which are herbivores. And if you come to an apartment with two or three month-old bodies, totally deteriorated cases, it really hits you. It's extreme, I feel it in my mouth for three days and even chewing gum won't help.


My worst case was a mentally ill woman who let her dead husband rot on the bed next to her for 2 years.


Did anyone have a detached limb? 


Not due to decomposition, it doesn't work that way. Bones always stay together, worms and bacteria and other creatures eat the meat exclusively. Only murder or crash would destroy the skeleton.


But once a man was hit by a tram and both of his lower limbs got separated. But this is first sent to a court autopsy, as it is a criminal offense.


Were there any more extreme cases than legs cut off by a tram? 


Once a mobster nicknamed Tuti, very well-known and influential man, ruled Bratislava's underground. It was after the revolution. He died in an explosion. I got him in a bag, totally scattered. Pieces of the body, hands, ears. There is nothing more you can do about it.


My worst case was a mentally ill woman who let her dead husband rot on the bed next to her for 2 years. It took the neighbor two years to find out what was going on, the reason why the man disappeared and why the whole floor stank.


What happens to the body at the forensic autopsy?


They cut it up, take histological materials, like samples from organs, and then return it to us.


So they cut the body and take samples of the meat from it? 


Yes, they usually pick out individual organs for investigation.


Will the authorities then return the organs to the original places? 


No, they just throw it in, make it fit, and sew it up.


Will they re-attach the limbs to maintain dignity? 


No, this is a forensic autopsy. They deal with the law and don't care about anything else. We pick up the body with scattered organs inside and two separate legs.


Then, hypothetically, at the relatives request, we will sew them, burn them, or do whatever they want us to do. In this particular case, we've put the legs down and dressed the body as if they weren't even separated.



Doesn't a detached leg make you sick?


Raw and rotting pieces of meat are sticking out of it, so you can take a guess . Plus, I see the bones, shattered things... It's awful to see a person destroyed like this.


But corpses also need to be washed, right?


Yes. When a person dies, everything flows out of the body. Urine, stool, even through the mouth. Back in the days, when someone died in a hospital or in a retirement home, the nurses took care of them, but today they won't do it for €600 a month, so to it remains our responsibility.


Don't you ever get sick?


Not from this anymore. I did when I started. In particular, the odor of the bodies in decay. But we wash them quickly, shave and dress them. We also work with prostheses sometimes (laughs). Everything according to the requirements of the deceased, it has to be respectful.


Do you mask injuries?


If it's a normal wound, we'll put bandage on it, so it doesn't get the suit dirty.


What if they're shot in the head?


In these cases, we usually don't recommend exhibiting at the funeral. We'll tell the family no. But if they insist, specialists come in who know how to disguise it.


In all of this time, you must have built up a coping mechanism. However, these are still human bodies.


Yes. I am aware of this and it is causing me problems, especially children and young people. I was a baptized Catholic, but after seeing children and babies die, I no longer believe that God exists. This work has taught me that this is not true.


Yesterday I buried a 29-year-old woman, a beautiful model. She had a daughter, polite and honest. She died of cancer. And then I can't help wondering if there's any justice.


Alcohol is said to be an essential part of this work.


Depending on what you mean. The whole process of caring for the deceased is performed by sober people. Afterwards, they drink and they drink a lot, a lot. They are petrified of what they have seen and what they will see tomorrow.


What bothers you the most?


Definitely obese people. We once loaded a 250kg body. Two people couldn't get it from a stretcher to a coffin. After all, it's awkward in shape, there's an awful lot of effort and dressing it up is a real challenge.


Is such demanding work at least sufficiently valued?


As in any job, it's different everywhere. There's two of us and for one styling including transport  we take about €70  to €100, depending on the case. To sum it up, it's about € 1,000 a month each. Plus a pension of 420 €.


Have you ever considered opening your own funeral home?


Yes, but I'm probably too old for that. My wife has a small funeral home. I work for her too. I work regularly for four companies, and occasionally for another five-six. But I'm grateful for more work.


Washing the faeces of dead people is probably not attractive to young people. 


Definitely not. Young people run away from this job. First time they see a man covered in faeces, they instantly leave. Yet, about 90% of deceased are normal, but then there are about 10% of really disgusting cases, that are in fact terrible. But even the best cases are disgusting enough to scare some new people off.


So it would be difficult to find young people in this profession?


Not back in the days, but it's getting better. In the past, this work was done by all sorts of delinquents, former prisoners, people on the margins of society. But that has changed.


I know a young Slovak boy, who is studying funerals in France. A 36-year-old friend of mine is also in this business. She repairs corpses. For example, when they are shot in the head, she can remodel it with a special substance. And I also have a 26-year-old colleague to whom we are passing on knowledge.


So what is the difference?


Well, the quality of funeral services is higher. It's another dimension. A new era has come, village funerals and mourning are long gone. Today it is elegant and modern. People don't even go to funerals in black anymore. There are different coffins, different wreaths, different decorations. The funeral is no longer as used to be.


And it's good that way. Funeral services should be honest work, done by hardworking people. If a person has had a decent life, they deserve a decent departure.


You're even writing a book about your work. 


Yes, I am writing a novel called The Undertaker. About my life, how I've cared for corpses for decades. I was talked into it by my loved ones and it will be a really interesting read, since not many people have the stomach for this job.


Umývač zosnulých: Môj najhorší prípad bolo 2 roky rozložené telo plné červíkov a hniloby. Pozerať sa mŕtvym do očí je hrozný pocit
Umývač zosnulých: Môj najhorší prípad bolo 2 roky rozložené telo plné červíkov a hniloby. Pozerať sa mŕtvym do očí je hrozný pocit Zdroj: Refresher – Matúš M.
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