As a current student or recent graduate from a mortuary science program, you'll be seeking work as a mortuary assistant to further your ultimate career goals. Almost all states require funeral directors to work as an assistant or apprentice, so chances are you'll have to complete at least a year of assisting before earning a license to work on your own. During your time as an assistant, you can expect to carry out many of the duties of a licensed funeral director, though you'll be supervised most of the time.
Participating in Funeral Services
The majority of a mortuary assistant's time is spent preparing for and participating in funeral services. From setting out floral arrangements and lighting candles to greeting and directing mourners, you'll be involved in virtually all aspects of a funeral from beginning to end. You might escort guests to the service upon arrival or provide them with information regarding donations. At the end of a service, you'll close the casket at the appropriate time, and may drive the hearse in the funeral procession to a cemetery for the graveside service. You may also be in charge of obtaining burial permits for the deceased, and may obtain important documents such as death certificates on behalf of the family.
Most states require funeral directors to have knowledge of embalming, even if they deal mostly in helping with funeral arrangements and the business end of things. Some states require assistants and apprentices to participate in a specific number of embalmings before they can become licensed or certified, according to the Colorado Funeral Directors Association. When working directly with the deceased, you'll be supervised at all times. You'll watch a licensed embalmer perform the process and eventually complete embalmings yourself. You may also assist in cremations as well as in dressing the body and beautifying the remains for visitation.
When someone dies, it's often an assistant's duty to pick up the remains from his place of passing or the coroner's office and bring the body to the mortuary. You generally have access to a company vehicle, such as a van or a hearse to perform removals. Upon arriving at the mortuary, you follow the protocol in place by your employer. This could include refrigerating remains or attending to them immediately through embalming or cremation under the supervision of a licensed director.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Since mortuaries are considered a highly professional setting, the people who own them typically keep their businesses clean and in top shape. As an assistant, you can expect to spend your down time cleaning up around the mortuary and making sure the vehicles are regularly serviced. You might vacuum carpets, dust, wash company cars and perform light landscaping work to make sure the outside of the mortuary looks as good as the inside.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Funeral Director
- Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority of British Columbia -- Role and Duty of an Apprentice in the Funeral Home
- National Funeral Directors Association: Licensing Boards and Requirements
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 -- Funeral Attendants
- O-Net OnLine: Summary Report for Funeral Attendants
- Colorado Funeral Directors Association: How to Apply for CFSB Certification
- Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images