Ryan Lee writes guide book on death-care industry
Porterville resident Ryan Lee knows what he is talking about when it comes to death and dying. He should. He’s been working in the mortuary business since he was a teenager. He’s also written a book on it — “A Day in the Life of Death.”
The book, published last October, made the AARP Best Sellers’ List in February and is available on Amazon.com.
Lee, a 1995 graduate of Porterville High School who attended Alta Vista from kindergarten through eighth grade, said he started working at Myers Funeral Home in Porterville when he was only 17 years old. It was a job he enjoyed.
Then one day, funeral director Richard Mendivil approached him with a question.
“He walked in and he said, ‘When are you going to mortuary school?’” Lee said. “I enjoyed working there. It seemed like at every service there was someone I knew. It was a real sense of being able to help the community.”
Mendivil, who admitted to not having read the book, said Lee was a good worker who desired to learn the profession — and did.
Lee, a graduate of San Francisco College of Mortuary Science and Chapman University, continued his career in the funeral industry for more than a decade before writing a book for the public.
“I was talking to my [girlfriend, now wife] one day, while dating, and she said I really needed to write a book,” he said. “I knew it was something I had wanted to do.”
The book was actually started five years ago, he said. And, wanting to keep it simple, he went with a conversation format, breaking it down into simple chapters that people could read comfortably.
“I wanted to give them just the facts in a totally easy-to-understand way,” Lee said. “I started breaking it down into chapters.”
Lee said he would like for readers to see his book as an inside guide, a map to the stars, or as a friend in the business. People can learn about what goes on inside a mortuary business, where it happens and can learn how to save money when the time comes to make funeral arrangements. What he offers, he writes, is a “tour of an industry that often runs from the limelight.”
As he thought of how to proceed with the book, he thought of some of the most frequently-asked questions, he said, and then included the questions and answers in chapters.
Among the questions featured are why one should be a mortician, what is learned in mortuary college and how does one embalm a body. Lee also touches on pre-arranging funerals, the cost of cremation versus a regular funeral, how people can save money, selecting a funeral service provider and on how to have the perfect funeral. A lot of the information is for consumers, he said.
“I cover how to save money. When you think about it, people will go years without ever planning a funeral. And then when the time comes that they need to, they must do it fast.
And they need to do it during an emotional time,” Lee said. “By revealing these tools and techniques, people can be prepared for this emotional time.”
The book offers the consumers hope and confidence and helps them prepare for what to say and do when the time comes to plan a funeral.
“A funeral costs more than $7,000, not counting the plot. I offer tips and tricks of the trade,” he said. “I want them to think of this book as a friend to walk them through the process and give them inner strength.”
In his book, Lee also shares a few stories about ordinary lives with incredible ends, the ordinary ends of incredible lives, and days he wished he was somebody or something else, not a mortician.
“The final chapter is one that explains not just what you see, but touch, smell, hear,” he said.
For that reason, Lee said he includes a warning to all who read. If they are sensitive to reading about the disturbing things a mortician sees, they should not read that last chapter.
He included the chapter because he is often asked what his most-gross experience as a mortician is.
“I think it to be rather odd that one would ask such a question. I would caution you against asking any individual what was the most psychologically-damaging thing they have ever witnessed,” Lee said.
However, because he has been asked, he does share a few graphic examples in his book.
The chapter covers disturbing sights, foul odors and disgusting sounds.
“What I saw as a mortician, never really bothered me, or so I thought at the time,” Lee said.
“Sights were really the least of my worries. However, I now know that what I saw has seared its way into my memories.”
Lee has been traveling cross-country on a book tour off and on since October. He has talked at the University of Denver, Colorado College, and traveled to the Midwest and the Southwest on tours.
Lee is married to Jaymi Lee and has a 4-year-old son, Hayden.
When he is not traveling for his book, he enjoys golf, and also has been working on his second job — acting. He had a small role in Clint Eastwood’s movie “J. Edgar,” played small roles in “Bones” and “Rules of Engagement” and played a plaintiff in an episode of “America’s Court.”