Beckwith believes the Holy Ghost and spirits surround us. Not human spirits, but good or evil spirits that can control you and sometimes cause you to do wrong.

When it is time to meet the family with the complaint, he knows a mother inside the conference room is unhappy with how her son looked in the open casket in the viewing room. The body has been taken back to the make-ready room for a touch-up. He decides to first check on the body.

Beckwith's cousin, Michael Beckwith, head of the new Golden Gate home in Tallulah, Louisiana, is at work on an older male inside a casket. This is the problem corpse. Michael steps back to show Beckwith the face. The man is dressed in a suit. His lips are cracked and large. Michael hands over an enlarged photo of the man in life. The corpse looks nothing like the man in the photograph. "What people don't realize is it doesn't take long for a body to change," Beckwith says, looking from the photo to the corpse.

Beckwith Jr. applies final touches to a body, striving to make everything perfect, his funeral home’s goal.
Mark Graham
Beckwith Jr. applies final touches to a body, striving to make everything perfect, his funeral home’s goal.
The Beckwith family photo on a company car license plate.
Mark Graham
The Beckwith family photo on a company car license plate.


Video Extra: John Beckwith Jr. and Golden Gate Funeral Home's staff at work during a funeral.

Web Extra: Take a look inside Golden Gate Funeral Home's morgue.

Michael returns to the task. He cuts away fat from behind the lip and cheek with surgical scissors. He pulls out the pieces and puts them in a ziplock bag stuffed with other foreign-looking clippings. "It's like liposuction, but here we put it in a bag," Beckwith says. Then the bag gets hidden somewhere inside the casket because he feels it's immoral to throw away body parts. Michael thinks he needs about 20 minutes to fix up the body. So Beckwith leaves to introduce himself to the upset mother.

He opens the door to another conference room and sees three people seated around a small round table. The older woman in an African-style long gown and short haircut speaks first. Her granddaughter is supposed to be bringing the flowers to put on top of the casket, but she hasn't yet arrived. The funeral home had set up the casket in the viewing room without any flowers. "I didn't want the casket to be naked there," she says. She's clearly frustrated.

Beckwith gets down on one knee beside her, and as they look over the paperwork together, rests his hand on her shoulder. The woman mistakes this gesture for him assuming she can't read the document by herself. "It's my job to walk you through it," he explains.

Beckwith says they will put a spread on the casket for now, and when her granddaughter arrives they will swap it out, for no extra charge, and asks her if that will be all right. Yes, but what about his looks? She wants Beckwith to do something about his lips and cheeks that are too large, and his skin that is too dark.

"I don't want to be difficult, but I'm just trying to..."

Beckwith is standing now and rests his hand on her shoulder. "You have a beautiful spirit," he says. "You're definitely not difficult. Yes, ma'am."

She wrinkles her eyebrows and smiles.

"I'm an old lady, and I don't have it together," she says. Her tone has changed.

Beckwith says he's going to replace the white shirt, which he understands had some makeup smudges. He'll lighten him up a bit too. "He was dark, but he wasn't that dark," she says.

"Yes, ma'am, and thank you for putting your trust in us."

He is now taking long, purposeful strides back to the morgue. "Funeral business," he says, punching in the code to the morgue. "Got to love it." As he approaches Michael, he says, "Let's see how Mike's coming along. See if he's going to make me look like a hero!"

The body is looking better, but Michael is still at work.

Beckwith seems to get lost in an anxious thought as he watches Michael work. He forgets his posture, and his face shows distress.

"If it's not perfect," he says, "it really bothers me."

Beckwith gets some other men on staff to help him lift the body for the final touches. He has two men grab the corpse by the arms and pull him up. He fits two Styrofoam blocks under his back to prop him higher. The body has slid down too far. Michael wraps his finger tips under the jowls and pulls the body toward him. Beckwith adjusts the pillow so it looks soft. Beckwith grabs a lint brush and rubs down the jacket. "You all see anything?" he says, stepping back from the casket with the lint brush in his hand. "It needs to be perfect when we bring it back out." Beckwith points with his free hand to the body's middle. "Clasp his hands."

On the third try, Michael gets them to stay together, one hand resting over the other. "Let's roll him out," somebody says.

As it turns out, there's a reason the mother thought her son looked different in the casket than in life. The son died while he was incarcerated, and the mother hadn't seen him for a long time. This revelation makes Beckwith feel better about the original work, but it doesn't affect how he treats the family.

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