ONE joke that made the rounds during the pandemic said a mother got angry because her son brought his work home.
Her son was an embalmer.
Ferdinand “Bong” Malgapo, Jr., a 25-year-old embalmer and a TikTok star, made it clear that he is not doing his job at home.
“Hindi po pu-puwedeng syempre iuwi mo yung patay doon sa mismong bahay niyo,” a chuckling Malgapo told republicasia.
But the hardships that he experienced at the height of the pandemic were no laughing matter.
When the health crisis first struck, he and other funeral workers initially did not have personal protective equipment even if they were handling the people who died of COVID-19.
They improvised with raincoats, boots, gloves, face masks, and clear glasses, which thankfully worked as none of them has ever gotten infected.
But they did have to contend with the heat while being covered from head to toe, especially when attending the burial of COVID-19 patients.
“Ang problema lang, pagka halimbawa may nililibing namin at tanghaling tapat, para kaming may suot na pampapayat, sobrang init talaga ng kapote,” he said.
They could not even pull down their masks for fear of getting infected, he said.
He also said the number of bodies he had to handle increased as the crisis wore on, and it peaked in September 2021.
In that month, the funeral home he worked for got 80 bodies, a mixture of those who died of COVID-19 and other causes, and he personally embalmed 53 of them.
“Halos wala na kami tulog lagi, talagang wala ng kumpletong pahinga. Tamang napapahinga kami, kain lang, tapos kuha ulit ng patay,” he said.
While he worked non-stop, he also experienced having a neighbor avoid him because his job put him in close contact with COVID-19 deaths.
He talked about this in one of his TikTok videos.
He learned that a neighbor who has a water station did not want to make deliveries to his house because people there supposedly had COVID-19.
But he did not get mad when he heard about what his neighbor said as he knows that he follows the proper protocol and safety measures when doing his job.
The situation became a chance for him to show people that workers who handle COVID-19 patients should be respected.
“Naging paraan pa yun para lalo kong maipakita sa kanila na talagang mataas na ang pagkakilala sa mga taong humahawak ng COVID nung time na yun,” he said.
He has never been infected since the pandemic began, and this was despite his job requiring him to spend hours with one body.
Embalming a body lasts from two to three hours, depending on the size, he said.
And Malgapo’s job does not end there. He also dresses the bodies he embalms, applies makeup on them, and fixes their hair.
“Sa pag eembalsamo po hanggang sa maisilid siya, mailagay sa loob ng ataul, embalmer po ang gumagawa,” he said.
If he has no other clients to attend to, he stays with a body even after it is brought to the venue of the wake in case there is a need to fix the body’s makeup or clothers.
His work has no fixed hours as well and he could get called to handle a body at any time of the day.
This is why whenever he has free time, he makes sure to catch up on sleep.
He is paid per body, and this allows him to earn more than if he has a regular monthly salary, he said.
Malgapo comes from a family who has long been in the business of taking care of the dead.
His relatives manage funeral parlors or work as embalmers, and the funeral home he is working for belongs to his uncle.
This was why working with the dead was not a bizarre idea for him.
He has become so familiar with the business that he has parlayed his knowledge into Tiktok stardom.
His TikTok account @kamorgue has more than 300,000 followers and 3.7 million likes so far.
His most popular video has 10.2 million views and has him answering a question about bodies moving while being embalmed.
His relatives do not mind him doing his TikTok videos, and he plans to continue answering questions and sharing his knowledge about his work as an embalmer.
It is a job that he enjoys doing, despite the hardships and challenges that come with it.
“Tamang napapagod kami pero masaya yung trabaho,” he said.