As a guardian of the dead, Jan Field travels the world to disaster scenes, organising DNA for identification purposes and talking to grieving, angry families.
She was there after the Bali bombings, ensuring the victims' bodies were treated with respect and dignity; she helped Scotland Yard in Thailand deal with British families searching for loved ones missing after the 2004 tsunami; and she set up DNA facilities on the killing fields of the Balkans where the unearthing of dozens of mass graves shocked the world.
The tiny Colo Vale woman doesn't flinch when reflecting on the enormity of her work as a disaster responder travelling the world to assist in crisis situations.
If her job as the director of Blake Emergency Services Australasia, a company that specialises in disaster response, has taught her anything, it's that life is short.
Since the age of five, Field has wanted to work with the dead. Her mother, horrified and embarrassed by the idea, would clip her daughter over the head whenever she mentioned it.
"You mean a nurse," her mother would correct.
But Field's interest never waned and even after giving birth to her own daughter at the age of 17, she knew what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. However, it took 12 months for her to crack into the male-dominated funeral services industry.
"I eventually got a job babysitting the phones," she says. "Then, one day, one of the owners was preparing an electrocuted body and I wandered down the back. When they found out that I really wanted to learn how to do it, that I was interested, they were happy, because they didn't like doing it themselves. They put me through an embalming course and I went from there."
Field, at the age of 22, became only the second female embalmer in the country.
Her mother, who had died a few years before, never learnt of her daughter's career in the funeral industry.
"In a way, my mother's death made me even more determined to get into the industry, because I didn't have someone in my head telling me that I couldn't to it all the time," Field says.
"There was no one telling me that it was a terrible, horrible job."
On the day of this interview with the Mercury at her Southern Highland's property, Field has "stolen" her two young grandchildren for the week, stopping often to give one of them a "Nana hug". It's the normalcy of life that can sometimes throw her - the switch that happens from tragedy to ordinary.
One day she'll be in Africa preparing fragmented body parts after a plane crash and a day or two later she'll be on "poop patrol" sitting on her toilet floor, reading a story to one of her grandsons.
"It's those types of things that keep me grounded," she says. "But the transition back to normal life can take a bit of adjusting."
Field's second marriage is to funeral director Warwick Hansen OAM. The couple married in 2004 in Bosnia, where one of Field's close friends, an anthropologist, works.
Field's job can take her away from home for months at a stretch, working sometimes in hot, Third World countries, where standards and protocol can be vastly different.
Field spent four months in Bali after the bombings in 2002 and when she arrived the first thing she did was set about making sure the bodies of every victim were shown respect.
"They are maybe Third World, but we're not," says Field. "We have a protocol. We know not to stack bodies on top of one another. That's something I won't accept."
She says Bali was just the same as every other disaster scene; the only difference was many of the dead were Australian.
"In our industry, we see death every day. The hardest thing to deal with in a crisis is seeing it en masse," Field says.
"In Bali, every casket came home with an Aussie flag on it. I guess that made it a bit more real for me."
On her return from Bali, Hansen, believing he was helping her, had left a copy of a newspaper article publishing the bombing victims' names and faces on the kitchen table.
"As soon as I walked in and saw it, I screwed it up and threw it in the trash," Field says. "I didn't want to see it. I didn't want to see those perfect faces, because it made it too real. They weren't perfect when I looked after them. What I saw in Bali was not those people. I didn't want to see the pretty faces, I didn't want to think back to the names."
Field says the dead are treated the same, no matter which country they come from, the colour of their skin or the money they made in life.
"We do the best we can for everyone," she says. "Each person gets the same treatment."
Field's first disaster-response job was in Bosnia in 2000. Employed by the International Commission on Missing Persons for 10 months, she helped establish DNA facilities and set up morgues across the country in the aftermath of an ethnic cleansing campaign in which 8000 men went missing.
"One of the morgues I was working in had the remains of 4000 men," she says. "They had been murdered, most of them shot, and there were many, many mass graves around the country. It was just horrendous and at times daunting. Part of our job was to retrieve family references for identification purposes."
She says it was a lesson in life about what's important and what's not.
"When I got back from Bosnia, I was working in a funeral home and there were two men arguing about whose job it was to fill up the hearse," she says.
Most of Field's work is at aeroplane crashes in Africa, so she rarely works with full human remains.
Her first air crash was in Nigeria in 2004. She has now attended nine air disasters, each resulting in 150 deaths on average.
"When we arrive at the scene, the government, military and police will have already started bringing in the deceased," she says. "We're always going to be a day behind. Our job is to facilitate autopsies, DNA identification and dealing with the families who turn up en masse."
Most of the grieving families will then be sent home to wait the four to eight weeks for the DNA identification results, Field says.
Dealing with death, she has learnt not to be "fluffy" with families during the initial contact.
"You've got to be factual because they're in shock," she says.
"As horrible as that sounds, you have to tell it like it is. Once you start talking fluff, you'll then have to follow up with another lie and another one after that. I leave the fluff till later on."
When she's not at a crisis, Field teaches embalming techniques, including airbrush cosmetics, at the University of South Australia.
"When you work in a mortuary, you deal with tragedy every day," she says. "People die from car accidents, suicides, murders, and their families want to see them, so we learn early on how to put bits and pieces back together. Obviously, when someone has died from a lot of trauma, there may need to be a lot of restorative work."
In Australia, every body left unrefrigerated for longer than eight hours must be embalmed.
"Embalming is like a blood transfusion," Field explains. "Fluid is pushed out through the arterial system and drained out through the veinal system. The blood is then replaced by preservatives."
She points out that the bodies of public figures such as North Korea's Kim Jong-il, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Zedong are regularly topped up with preservatives and kept in a controlled environment to keep them looking good.