Being a Mortician
The word mortician brings what images to mind? The career of a
mortician is surprisingly different than it is portraied in movies and books.

Being a mortician is a very rewarding job both personal as well as psychological
to those with the temperament, training and discipline required to do the job
properly. In this paper I'll be reporting the requirements to become a
mortician, also called funeral director or undertaker, the duties the job
requires of you, and the outlook of this career in the future of the United

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To become a funeral director in the United States today isn't an easy
task. You need to be twenty-one, a high school graduate with some undergraduate
college work, as well as at least one year of professional training in mortuary
science, and completion of an apprenticeship. "Upon completing a state board
licensing exam, new funeral directors are qualified to join the staff of a
funeral home. In many states successful completion of a national examination
given by the National Conference of Examining boards will qualify you for
licensure"(IRN 10). In different states the undergraduate college credit varies
considerably, one-third of the states require one year; another third wants
two years; and the other third requires three years of credit(IRN 9). A
concentration of courses is also required in some of the states. You may need
to take 15 credits in natural science, 13 in social sciences, 13 in business, 14
in chemistry(IRN 10). In addition to your college work, you will need at least
50 credit hours of professional work in mortuary science. "There are about 40
schools of mortuary science officially recognized by the U.S. Department of
Education today"(Shipley 220). The curriculum generally consists of courses in:
"Embalming, Restorative Art, Chemistry, Microbiology, Pathology, Anatomy, Small
Business Management, Funeral Home management, Merchandising, Accounting, Funeral
Home Law, Computers, History and sociology of Funeral Service, Psychology of
Grief, Grief Counseling, oral and Written Communication, Funeral Service Law,
Business Law, and Ethics"(IRN 11).

Along with educational requirements you need to look at the personal
requirements it takes to be a funeral director. You have to be on call 24-hours
a day 7 days a week, death doesn't know any holidays. The people's needs come
before any of yours in this career. You'll need to work with others in a very
fragile condition, you'll have to be very patient with them. A lot of the time
the mourners will vent their pent up anger on the funeral director and will
blame you for their problems. Some of time you'll need to deal with religions
new to you and that seem strange, but you'll have to be understanding and
willing to let the mourners carry out their forms of burial and mourning. In
other words, can you handle a career that requires constant sensitivity to needs
and wants of other people?
One of the duties of a mortician is to embalm the corpse for show. "If
the body is not to be buried within twenty-four hours, most communities require
that it be embalmed"(IRN 6). After the body is brought to the funeral home, you
would see first of all that the body and hair are cleaned and washed for
embalming. A small incision is made at the base of the neck or in the groin to
secure access to a major artery or vein. "The object in embalming is to pump
our the body fluids, or blood, and to replace it with special long lasting
chemicals which will keep the body from decaying for a long period of time and
which will prevent it from further disease or decay, if death has been caused by
a specific infectious disease."(Lamers 420). Tubes are then inserted in the
artery or vein. The tube in this artery is connected to a mechanical pump that
injects a preservative and disinfectant solution into the blood system.(Lamers
426). The chemicals eventually push all the blood out of the system and take
its place in the circulatory system. "The final step is the completion of yet
another procedure to remove gases and liquids from the trunk organs and this
introduces yet another disinfectant chemical into the area"(IRN 7). If the body
is disfigured in any way you may be required to do some restorative procedures
on the body, using materials such as clay, cotton, plaster of Paris and wax
(Lamers 535). You would be required to fill in any open wounds left on the body
by law, but would use a picture of the deceased and try to make them appear as
life-like as possible for the showing (Shipley 201). "Most important, however,
are the tasks in which you guide, counsel and become involved in the needs of
the bereaved and the sensitive, effective manner in which you handle their
personal grief"(IRN 6). When the body has been embalmed and taken care of you
need to help the family choose a casket from the display room the they wish
there loved one be laid in(Shipley 178). "On the actual day of the funeral
service, you attend to the many, many ceremonial, logistical, and administrative
details which are required to make sure that the funeral service goes smoothly
and in strict accord with the wishes of the family or other survivors"(Lamers
541). "You should be prepared to suggest and arrange any type of funeral service,
sacred or secular, that will best meet the needs of the bereaved. Creative,
alternative ceremonies in keeping with the deceased's lifestyle can have special
significance and meaning to the family. For example, close friends and
relatives may be asked to participate in the service, or special poems or essays
especially dear to the deceased may be worked into the service"(IRN 8). After
the funeral you would assist the family in filing necessary claims for social
security, veteran's and union benefits and other forms of insurance. The major
portion of your time, however, will be spent trying to help the families work
through their grief. "Often families turn to you as funeral director as their
first and last source of information, and comfort. And often they expect you to
have all of the answers, solve all of their problems and meet their needs-
obviously an impossibility, but a duty which you should nevertheless recognize
and be prepared to fulfill to the best of your ability"(IRN 8). When everything
is done the body must be disposed of by either cremation or burial. Cremations
in the United States have risen in the last few years. The number of cremations
alone has risen 20% from last year in Minnesota alone(Encarta)."In 1993 a total
of 448,532 cremations were performed at 1058 different crematories"(Encarta).

One reason people are choosing cremations over burial is its much cheaper at
1000 dollars to as little as 500 dollars. They don't want to have to make there
family has such a big financial burden as in a burial. The cremation would
occur in a crematory where the casket and body would be incinerated to nothing
more than ashes that would be placed in an urn. When the urn has been filled
with the ashes it will weigh about 5-6 pounds and be about 200 cubic inches
around. Some people has asked to have there ashes spread over the sea or a
garden they always loved(Shipley 156). In some states they have cremation
gardens, which is just a garden kept by the funeral home where the ashes may be
put after the cremation.(Encarta). In a burial there will usually be a showing
inside the funeral home and a service read outside at the grave sight(Lamers
134). "It is customary for the family to leave with the casket still above
ground. When the mourners leaves, the funeral director ordinarily supervises
the lowering of the casket into the grave or burial vault"(IRN 6). Earth burial
is the most common means of final disposition in the world today(Lamers 96).

The outlook for funeral directors in the future is a good one. The
greatest need will be in suburban funeral homes, whose business is increasing
because of the growing shift of the population to the suburbs. Demand for
funeral services is expected to rise as the population grows, and with it the
number of deaths. An aging population is also expected to increase much fast
than the population as a whole. Deaths will also increase among the younger
population because of AIDS(CGP 3). Many funeral homes are businesses owned and
run by the same family for several generations. This field is not a closed
marker, however, more than 60 percent of those entering this work have no
background in the profession(CGP 3). The field is highly secure and recession
proof. Chances are that if you are temperamentally matched to the requirements
of the work and like your job, you will have few worries about security. Most
funeral directors stay with their employers for many years and there is
relatively little turnover in the field(IRN 12). The earnings as a funeral
director greatly depends on the area of the country in which you are employed,
the size of the funeral home at which you work and the number of cases handled.

Also, your salary will depend upon whether your community in unionized or
not(generally union contracts call for higher salaries and more generous
benefits)(IRN 20). Average salaries, including bonuses, for owner-managers are
about $60,000 annually. Midlevel managers averaged $40,000. Embalmers earn
average salaries of $30,000 and apprentices average $20,000(IRN 21).

In conclusion, the career as a mortician is very emotionally and
physically challenging, but is a very secure future. Chances are if you set out
to be a mortician and make it through the schooling you will find a secure job
someplace and be set for life.