Real Life

REAL LIFE: 'I'm a mortician during the day, stripper by night'

''My two careers are poles apart but I ditched the taboos to find my true purpose in life.''

By Brittany Smith

Emma Jane Holmes, 36, from Sydney, NSW, shares her shocking story:

Dirt snaked its way underneath my nails as I dug into the soil.
"You'll be comfortable here," I soothed.
Cradling the deceased platypus in my arms, I placed it in the shallow grave then fashioned a cross out of nearby sticks.
At eight years old, I felt comfortable around death. Living in the bush, I was no stranger to it.
I'd lost nearly every pet I'd had to snakebites, and whenever I rode my bike around my parents' farm I came across bodies of animals that had passed.
Instead of being scared, something drew me to them. I wanted to honour the creatures by giving them a dignified burial.
When I grew older and realised there was an entire industry dedicated to those services, I knew I'd found my calling.
Sadly, people thought my interest was weird and morbid.
"Ew, why would you want to do that?" someone sneered.
I pushed my dreams aside as I graduated high school and, later, got married.
At 24, I saw an ad for a receptionist at a funeral home. Knowing deep down it was what I wanted to do, I applied.
Who cares what people think? I decided.
Amazingly, I got the job.
After six months, a role as a funeral director's assistant came up. It required a jack-of- all-trades to cover everything a funeral director needed, from polishing coffins to preparing a corpse. I jumped at the chance and was over the moon when I got it.
People found my job strange. Image: Darren Leigh Roberts
Soon after, I was called to a nursing home to collect a body in the middle of the night. Adrenaline pumped through me as I stepped into the room.
Shrouded in darkness, it was eerily still.
The person was lying on their bed, clad in pyjamas. I gazed at the stacks of books and family photographs that decorated the walls. A wave of emotions rolled over me as I realised this client was so much more than a body. They were a person who'd impacted the world. Collecting them from their bed was my chance to understand what they were like.
"I know how to honour you now," I whispered.
I was bursting with pride once the body was safely in the morgue.
Collecting corpses soon became my favourite part of the job. It was an opportunity to slow down and be with the deceased, treating them with dignity and honour.
People still found my job strange but my parents, Ricky and Kathy, came around to the idea.
Since death never takes a holiday, I missed out on a lot of family events. It broke my parents' hearts, but they supported me.
The work was hard but so fulfilling Image: Supplied
As the years passed, I worked my way up and finally landed my dream role as a mortician. Although I'd taken to the job well, I still made a few mistakes.
One day, I was preparing the body of an old man and decided to trim his overgrown ear hairs. Unfortunately, those whiskers had been his calling card and his family was shocked I'd snipped them. But most days, everything went smoothly.
Helping people farewell their loved ones was an honour that never got old.
While my career skyrocketed, my personal life hit rock bottom.
At 30, I got divorced. My self-esteem took a hit, as did my wallet, so I took up a side job as a waitress at a strip club for extra money.
One night, my manager approached me.
"You should dance," he suggested.
I was shocked but, once again, deep inside me something clicked.
I loved the glitz and glam of the dancers and was in awe of their graceful movements. I knew I could move to a beat. With nothing to lose, I got up on stage before the club opened.
I twirled around, feeling free and empowered. My manager was happy with my efforts, so I became a dancer.
I loved my time as a dancer Image: Supplied
With my day job so dark and sombre, I wanted my night job to shine. I decorated all my costumes with glitter, rhinestones and diamantés.
Stepping on stage gave me a high I'd never felt before. Having people throw money at me was a confidence boost but the exaltation I felt was more than skin deep. It was like a secret part of me that I'd always kept hidden had broken free.
For the first time, I was living life to the fullest, with death pushed into the shadows.
For six years, I juggled both jobs. Working days and nights meant I barely slept but since both jobs fulfilled me, I pushed through.
It wasn't until a dancer I'd worked with died suddenly that I decided to hang up my heels. Attending her funeral had thrown my two worlds together in a way that made me uncomfortable.
Heels and cemeteries were all in a day's work. Image: Supplied
Two years later, I also left the funeral industry.
Instead of burying people who died by suicide, I wanted to prevent those untimely deaths by becoming a mental health support worker.
I never thought I'd find another job that brought the kind of joy I'd discovered in my other careers, but that role was even more rewarding than I could have imagined.
All my jobs, however controversial, have been rewarding. Image: Darren Leigh Roberts
Now, a year later, I've published a memoir, One Last Dance. The funeral industry and the adult industry are both judged so harshly and I want people to understand that it's not dirty work.
Strangers have messaged me saying how special my story is. I'm so grateful that people want to listen to me and not judge me.
I've worn many hats in my life and they've all been controversial. But I'm not scared of backlash. I'm going to continue shedding light on the darker side of life.
If you or someone you know is struggling to cope contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au

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