Coming of Age in a Funeral Home

Sheri Booker talks about how her work changed her outlook on life

November 30, 2014

Sheri Booker was terrified when she first started working at the Wylie Funeral Home at the age of 15. She was still grieving the death of a beloved aunt, and took the job in the hopes of finding a sense of closure. After preparing her first client — a suicide victim with a gunshot wound to the head — something changed. As morbid as it may sound, she was hooked.

Booker spent nine years working as a mortician’s assistant in West Baltimore, in a neighborhood that was plagued by gangs and drugs. She says that life in the inner-city was a far cry from her relatively peaceful upbringing in northeast Baltimore.

“I was fascinated with this world and these people, and I wanted to know what went on in their community,” Booker says. “This was just like this other life that I felt like I was living.”

Working at the Wylie Funeral Home gave Booker an up-close view of the gang violence that ravaged the neighborhood. She says that the steady flow of young male victims always left her deeply unsettled.

“There were a lot of homicides,” she says. “Young men that I should have been dating, here they [were] lying in a casket in front of me.”

At times, Booker had trouble keeping her personal and professional life separate, like when she found out a young man she'd been dating was dealing drugs. After that, she says, she was haunted by the thought of finding him in a casket in her funeral home.

“Looking back I think that was tough,” Booker says. “Just looking back [and] thinking of all the things that I saw, and all of the people we had to bury.”