restorative art heads

I had a really good time talking to journalist Molly Fitzgerald
yesterday for a piece she is working on about the restorative art class assignment of modeling a clay head. The assignment is a standard in every mortuary science cirriculum I have looked into and I've swapped stories with many funeral directors over the years on their experience with modeling clay into a likeness of their choosing.
The idea is that this will teach students how to craft features of the face in the event that one of them is missing and needs to be put back on during the embalming process.
I found the exercise to be fun enough in that it was the only time I could use any sort of artistic expression during the entire year but I also found it very dispiriting. Restoring a face mangled by accident is absolutely valuable if it can be done not just well, but perfectly. The stakes are so high. Any misstep here will likely horrify the family. 
There is extreme competitiveness in the area of embalming and restorative art; I saw it when I worked in the back room and I felt it when I was in class. Everyone bragged about how quickly or how many bodies were embalmed, but very rarely did I see above average results.
The clay head assignment really showed this. The variation between good and so bad was extreme, with most falling toward the latter. 
It all seemed in service to a lie funeral service will still tell itself: that restorative art is the reason people have funerals at all. Constantly working toward gaining approval or a grade based on how well I told that lie wore me out so much so that I almost do not have the energy to teach people not to be so afraid of decay. But not quite. I still have my clay head, in a box in my closet. I think the time has come for me to pull her flawless face back out, scrape it off and mold myself something useful.