A Life and Death Career: Plymouth HFS Chair Works Both Ends of Health Spectrum

Posted by on October 31, 2011


Carrie Rowell has been the health fitness chair at the Minnesota School of Business-Plymouth since 2006. Along with teaching students how to improve lives through exercise, fitness and diet, her 21-year career as a licensed mortician puts her much closer to death.

“Life is short no matter how you look at it,” Rowell said. “That’s how I got into the health fitness end of things. I realized if I didn’t get myself healthy and fit and strong, I wouldn’t last as a mortician. I’ve seen a lot of death that was senseless because people weren’t conscientious of what they were doing in their lives. They could have avoided a lot of issues.”

Rowell’s route to mortuary sciences was unconventional, in that her family had never worked in the funeral services – a commonality in the field.

“I found myself jobless and pregnant, and had to go back…to get a different degree that would allow me to afford being a single parent,” Rowell said. “After taking a skill assessment at the University of Minnesota, I found that I would be suited for law school or in health care. After looking at the options on those results, mortuary science was there, and I thought, cool!”

Rowell is licensed to both serve as a funeral director and embalmer, but carries the title of mortician. She is on call every other weekend and the scope of her work includes consulting with the family, embalming, dressing, cosmetic work, running the funeral, after care with the family and selling grave markers and headstones.

“The first time you [embalm a body] really want to know what the person was like” Rowell said of the embalming process. “That’s part of [mortuary science] school: it desensitizes you to the fact that it actually was a person. You get to know the body in a pretty intimate way. Nobody gets to hide from the embalmer.”

Rowell said that it took her awhile to feel 100% comfortable in her work, and there are still occurrences when her job is especially tough.

“The only time it bothers me is when I see my children’s current age, or anybody my age,” Rowell said. “That brings home your own mortality, but I think that’s the easier aspect of funeral service.”

Longevity in the field takes a unique mindset according to Rowell. A very unique sense of humor helps to mask the many bad days.

“It’s all about finding a healthy way to channel the bad. There is a lot of alcohol and drug abuse in funeral services. You can’t take things to seriously or you just won’t last,” Rowell said.

After 21 years, there isn’t too much that bothers Rowell. In that time there has been only one body that has bothered her.

“The strangest thing that has happened was about 10-to-12 years ago,” Rowell said. “I had this little old lady on the embalming table at about 3 or 3:30 in the morning and I swore she crossed her ankles when she was on the table. I don’t think she actually did, but that was probably the weirdest thing that has happened.”

Rowell often is kidded about straddling the fence on life and death, but says that her dual career has helped give her perspective on the full circle of life.

“I get kidded  a lot for being on both ends of the spectrum,” Rowell said. “But the thing is that I know firsthand when you take your health and wellness for granted, what it does to you later on. And we truly die by how we live.”


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