“I just do them. That’s all I know.” That’s how Joe Vitacco describes his life work. Vitacco is one of the last of Chicago’s freelance embalmers. He still works out of his trunk, driving from funeral home to funeral home, performing three embalmings a day, every day of the year. While most embalmers don’t make the twenty-year mark, Joe just keeps at it. Over his career of forty-one years, the bodies have piled up. Joe estimates he has embalmed 40,000 bodies. Here is the story of just one.

Recorded in Chicago, IL. Premiered March 11, 2004, on All Things Considered.

This documentary comes from Sound Portraits Productions, a mission-driven independent production company that was created by Dave Isay in 1994. Sound Portraits was the predecessor to StoryCorps and was dedicated to telling stories that brought neglected American voices to a national audience.