From preparing the deceased for burial to counseling bereaved family members in their time of need, morticians -- also known as funeral directors or undertakers -- are involved in every aspect of what happens to a person after death. While the responsibilities vary slightly from one funeral home to another, the primary duties of all funeral directors are the same. If you have the desire to help others and perhaps a keen interest in the macabre, a career as a mortician could be for you. However, it is important to note that many funeral homes are family-owned, so finding a job may be difficult.
Preparing the Remains
As a mortician, part of your job will be to prepare the deceased for burial, usually by either embalming or cremation, depending on the wishes of the deceased. If they are embalmed and especially if there is a viewing, also called a wake, you will be responsible for dressing them, arranging them in the casket, and doing their hair and makeup. Mortuary makeup is designed to help recreate the appearance both men and women had in life and is thicker in texture than the makeup many women wear every day. If the deceased are cremated, you will place their ashes in a container -- from an urn to a plain cardboard box -- according to the wishes of the family.
Being a funeral director involves providing immediate counseling to families during the early stages of grief. Oftentimes, you will be one of the first people a family has contact with after a loved one has passed, and you must be prepared to serve as a shoulder to cry on in their time of need. Many mortuary science programs include courses in psychology and bereavement to prepare you for the difficult task of helping families cope with their grief during the funeral planning process.
One of the biggest responsibilities you will have as a mortician will be helping families make arrangements for their loved ones' funeral services. This includes everything from helping them choose a casket or urn to picking out floral arrangements for the memorial service. You will help them choose the dates and times for viewings, memorial services and burials. You might contact clergy members on their behalf and arrange for pallbearers to carry the casket. Additionally, you will decorate and organize the funeral site before guests arrive and clean up after they depart. While hearses may not be the most fashionable vehicles on the road, you will use one to transport the deceased from his place of passing or the coroner's office, to the funeral home, to the church or chapel, then to the cemetery for burial or entombment.
To ease the burden from the shoulders of family members, funeral directors often deal with all of the paperwork involved when someone dies. This includes filling out and submitting papers to state officials in order to obtain a death certificate, as well as arranging for an obituary in the local paper. You might contact insurance companies and the Social Security Administration to notify them of a person's death. It is important to get all the information in the paperwork correct the first time around -- even the smallest typo in a name or address can cause problems, and getting errors fixed afterward is not an easy feat.