What Is a Mortician in a Morgue?

Helping the family select a coffin comes with the job.

Helping the family select a coffin comes with the job.

Morticians also go by other names, such as "undertaker" or "funeral director." Under any name, their job includes arranging funerals, preparing bodies, and consulting with families about their needs and wishes. The mortician also arranges funeral transportation -- those long lines of limos that sometimes tie up traffic. If they enter a morgue, it's usually to pick up a body for preparation.

Work Environment

More than 90 percent of morticians work in funeral homes or crematories, though some have a morgue attached. As a mortician, you deal with families in grief, and it's often stressful. You often have to get a funeral ready to go with three days' notice, or even 24 hours. You may have to schedule and arrange multiple funerals on one day. Embalming and working with dead bodies may also stress you out until you get used to them.

Paperwork

In addition to all the typical forms and files of a small business, you have to deal with paperwork unique to the dead. The deceased's family have to formally register the death, contact Social Security and insurers, and so on. Part of your job is to issue a Statement of Death confirming that someone has passed on. The family can use this to apply for Social Security benefits, or to request an official death certificate.

Qualifications

There are actually degrees in mortuary science, and you need one -- at least an associate's degree, and many funeral homes prefer a bachelor's degree. As of 2012, only nine of the 57 mortuary science programs offer a BS. Classes cover such areas as ethics, grief counseling, funeral service and business law. Some programs teach embalming. Then comes a one- to three-year apprenticeship, after which you can apply for a state license. No matter which state you practice in, you have to be licensed.

The Funny Side

Despite the stress and the grim work, funeral work has its bizarre side. Mortician Caitlin Doughy has a YouTube series where she discusses death and decomposition and odd facts: gas building up in corpses can explode coffins, for instance. In one episode, she answered a fan's question by baking a chocolate cake with cremains. Doughty says that her goal isn't comedy as much as helping people deal with their denial of death.

 

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

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