teachers in the Philippines

Pangasinan town’s mortician is also a teacher

Ahikam Pasion
Pangasinan town’s mortician is also a teacher

TEACHER, MORTICIAN, BUSINESSWOMAN. Leda Cariño is a licensed embalmer who runs a funeral parlor. She also teaches grade school students in Pangasinan.

Photo courtesy of Leda Cariño

Teacher Leda Cariño is a licensed embalmer with her own funeral business in Binalonan, Pangasinan

Leda Cariño – “Madam Leda” to her students – has been teaching for 19 years at the Linmansangan Elementary School in Binalonan, Pangasinan.

Cariño spends most of her time nurturing young lives, but she still has to find the time, especially during the pandemic, to practice her first profession – tending the dead.

Long before she became a teacher, Cariño and her brothers learned the art and science of embalming as well as providing funeral services from their father.

“Noong bata pa lang ako, sinasamahan ko na tatay ko sa pag-eembalsamo. Noong una, nagpapasa lang ako ng mga gamit tapos tumutulong lang, pero nang maglaon natutunan ko na ring mag-embalsamo,” she said.

(As a child, I would tagged along my father who did embalming work. At first, I would just pass him the tools but I eventually learned how to embalm.)

Cariño honed her skills in the family’s funeral business in Barangay Pao, Manaoag town, and was paid P500 to P1,000 for every body she embalmed.

She eventually set up her own funeral parlor, Leda Funeral Services, in nearby Barangay Bued, Binalonan town.

From father to children, grandchildren

Despite being a licensed embalmer and earning her keep in the family business, Cariño felt that it was not a stable job, so she set her eyes on a different profession. That’s when she decided to pursue her dream to become a teacher.

“Pangarap ko pong maging teacher talaga. Kaya pinagsikapan kong maging isa,” she said. (It was a childhood dream so I worked hard to become a teacher.)

Though she got the stable job she desired, it came with a heavy workload. Cariño also realized she could not give up embalming, as it was the legacy of her father.

“’Yung pag-aalaga sa mga namatay, ipinamana ng tatay namin sa amin ‘yon. Dahil sa punerarya kaya kahit papaano nakakaraos kami noon. Hindi ko ‘yon makakalimutan,” she said.

(Taking care of the dead is a legacy of our father. The business helped us get by before and I can’t forget that.)

In addition to masterfully juggling her time as a teacher and as an embalmer, Cariño also makes time for her family. She has two children: Jasper Dale, 21; and Aldrich, 5.

Jasper used to accompany her when performed embalming services, and she taught him the trade. He is now the manager of his mother’s funeral business.

“’Yung panganay ko, marunong nang mag-embalsamo. Tinuruan ko siya,” Cariño said. (My oldest also knows how to embalm. I taught him.)

Jasper Dale manages their funeral business when she is not around but she assists him from time to time.

“Ako pa rin kausap ng family ng namatayan sa scheduling at services, sinusupervise ko na lang ‘yung embalmer, pero ako na ang gagawa kapag maselan ang case,” she said.

(I am the one the bereaved families talk to for scheduling and services. I now supervise the embalmer but I step in and do the job when a case is sensitive.)

Ever since establishing her own business back in 2019, people have been flocking to her for their dearly departed’s needs.

She sees her business’ quality service as the main factor.

“For me, ‘yung quality talaga. Affordable ‘yung price naming pero malinis ang trabaho,” she said. (For me, it’s really the quality. We offer affordable rates and we really do our job well.)

Overcoming challenges

While her business became brisk because of the COVID-19, Cariño also experienced some challenges.

Some families have a hard time understanding government health protocols, and she has to explain the situation to grief-stricken kin with great sensitivity, especially those mourning the death of suspected COVID-19 cases.

“May mga tao na ipinipilit talaga na iburol kahit na hindi naman puwede. ‘Yun kailangang patient ka talaga na ipaliwanag sa kanila,” she said.

(There are people who insist on a burial when that’s not allowed. We need to be very patient in making them understand.)

Cariño said she strictly complies with government guidelines and health protocols – from handling cadavers to her personnel wearing PPEs during work.

“Lagi po tayong nakikipag-coordinate din sa RHU kapag may pipikapin na patay. Sinusunod din po natin lahat ng protocols ng gobyerno,” she assured.

(We always coordinate with the regional health unit whenever we pick up a corpse. We always follow all government protocols.)

Cariño doesn’t know of any other teacher who doubles as an embalmer. But she believes every person should find one’s path.

She urged individuals to continue pursuing their dreams, to step out of their expected paths if they have to, but to also never forget where they came from.

“Kung nahihirapan sila na habulin ‘yung pangarap nila, sige lang. Magiging worth it ang lahat sa dulo,” she said.

(If they’re struggling with pursuing their dreams, just persevere. It will all be worth it in the end.)

With the COVID-19 pandemic still active, Teacher Leda continues to take care of both living and the dead. And she isn’t quitting any time soon. – Rappler.com

Ahikam Pasion is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.