Humans of Brighton – Hannah the Embalmer!

'you can’t drain the blood normally, because usually all their arteries and things have been severed'

Sunshine spilled onto Gardner Street as I spoke to Hannah about her interest in preserving the dead, but if one of the few grey clouds of the day happened to wander in front of the winter sun during our interview, then Hannah’s bright orange hair seemed to light up the street.

My name’s Hannah!

What do you want out of life? To be happy, surrounded by people I love, and people not to hassle me. I’m getting hassled a lot at the moment!

What do people hassle you about? Just work. I want to have a life where I either enjoy my job or I have to work really hard and I can just chill.

Is that difficult for you to get at the moment? What do you do? I work at the Body Shop at the moment, I’ve just moved to Brighton about 5 months ago. It’s so good to be back, I’m from Horsham. It’s very… kind of… conservative, but everyone here seems to be so free and relaxed and it has a very calming influence on me I feel.

What do you like to do in your spare time? What is that, what is spare time? Chill out? I don’t actually have spare time at the moment. I like to sit about, not do anything, I like going on walks, that’s why I like Brighton. I like being able to walk on the beach and compose myself – that’s really nice.

I’ve not yet found the time to find anywhere else to chill out. I’m really just going round friends’ houses at the moment, and work. Trying to balance the two is impossible. I may be going back into education.

What would you like to study? Embalming. Yeah, I did it voluntarily like once a week when I was living in Horsham, ‘cause I’m really into human anatomy, but since I’ve moved to Brighton I’ve obviously had to give that up. I’m currently on the hunt for somewhere to do that. I wasn’t getting paid for it, I did it out of my own interest. I recommend it to anyone.

What does embalming involve? So it involves… when someone dies you have to preserve the body. How much detail do you want?

All of it, all the sticky stuff Haha, you’ve got to drain out all the blood, put Formaldehyde in if someone’s had a post-mortem done and they’ve been opened and all their organs have been removed and just shoved in a bag and thrown back inside and stitched up.

So you can’t drain the blood normally, because usually all their arteries and things have been severed and you have to reopen them up, take all the organs out, plonk them on the side, and do it individually and like massage it in.

Section by section? Yeah, flap-by-flap, you know?

Okay, how did you approach that idea? Did you just wake up one day and say “I want to study embalming”? Well, I’ve always wanted to be a pathologist, but you have to train to be a doctor. I don’t have a very good attention span, and I can’t imagine spending nine years of my life towards one qualification.

So I looked into it and it’s so much money, and I looked into embalming, ‘cause I work in skincare it kind of crossed over into it.

I’ve always been interested in embalming, and when I did beauty in college I studied the human anatomy side of things and found it really, really interesting, and from there I kind of looked into it.

And my mum, weirdly, had a friend of a friend who had an embalming job – and she was like “come along!” and I didn’t think… legally – I thought there would be loads of laws about that.

But they literally just let me get my hands stuck in once a week, it was mental haha! It was once a week on my day off, and now I’m looking for a place in Brighton to study embalming. That’s what I want to be doing in my spare time.

It’s all new. I’m still settling, you know? I’m still in my honeymoon period of being in Brighton. Being able to go out past 10 O’Clock in the evening is quite nice.

After the interview, I stood and wondered who Hannah would embalm next. As she disappeared around the street corner, I noticed a small band of huddled musicians began to tune their instruments.

Interview and image by Marc Kis

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