Ask your high school counselor for information on mortuary science or check out your public and school library for useful books, magazines, and pamphlets. Local funeral homes are the most direct source of information. Arrange a visit with a funeral director and embalming staff to learn about the nature of the work and the importance and intricacies of funeral service. After becoming acquainted with local funeral homes, ask around to see if you can work part time, either handling clerical or custodial duties. Finally, visit the National Funeral Directors Association's Web site, http://www.nfda.org, for more career information.
Funeral directors are responsible for all the details related to the funeral ceremony and burial. The law regulates some of their tasks, such as compliance with sanitation and health-related standards. Other responsibilities are administrative and logistical, such as securing information and filing the death certificate. Finally, custom and practice dictate some tasks.
Directors handle all the paperwork that needs to be filed, such as the death certificate, obituary notices, and may even assist the family in applying for the transfer of insurance policies, pensions, or other funds.
They assist the family of the deceased in the choice of casket, type of funeral service, and preparation of the remains, which may be burial, cremation, or entombment. Part of the director's job is to be a caregiver and, at times, a counselor. They must deal respectfully and sympathetically with families of the deceased, guiding them through decisions they may not be prepared to make and taking great care that their wishes are carried out.
First, the funeral director arranges for the body to be transported to the funeral home. The director then makes complete arrangements for the funeral ceremony, determining first the place and time of the service. If there is to be a religious ceremony, it is the director's responsibility to contact the appropriate clergy. Directors oversee the selection and playing of music, notify pallbearers, and arrange the placement of the casket and floral displays in the viewing parlor or chapel. If a service is held in the funeral home, the director arranges seating for guests. After the service, the director organizes the procession of cars to the cemetery, or wherever arrangements have been made for the disposal of remains. Funeral directors may have to make arrangements for transporting a body to another state for burial.
Most directors are also trained, licensed, and practicing embalmers. Embalming is a required sanitary process done to the body within 24 hours of death to preserve the remains for burial services. If a body is not being autopsied, it is brought to a funeral home where it is washed with a germicidal soap. The body is placed in a lifelike position, and an incision is made in a major artery and vein where a tube pumps a preservative and disinfectant solution through the entire circulatory system. Circulation of the chemical solution eventually replaces all blood with the embalming fluid. In addition, embalmers remove all other gases and liquids from the body, replacing it with disinfectant chemicals for preservation.
The preparation of an autopsied body can be much more complex, depending on the condition of the deceased. The embalmer may repair disfigured parts of the body and improve the facial appearance, using wax, cotton, plaster of paris, and cosmetics. When the embalming process is complete, the body is dressed and put in a casket.
Mortuary science technicians assist directors and embalmers in the funeral home. They are usually involved in a training process that will ultimately lead to a job as a licensed funeral director, embalmer, or both. Technicians may assist in various phases of the embalming process. Since embalming fluids are available in different chemical compositions and color tints, learning the various formulas is one important part of the technician's job. The technician may also be responsible for helping in the application of cosmetics to the body to create a natural, lifelike appearance. It is important that they use the proper products and techniques for applying them, since the result must satisfy and comfort those who view the body. (In some funeral homes, a licensed cosmetologist called a mortuary cosmetologist may perform these cosmetic services.) After the cosmetic application is complete, the technician may assist with the dressing and placement of the body for the funeral service. Finally, the technician may be responsible for cleaning the embalming area and equipment in accordance with required standards of sanitation.
Funeral attendants perform duties related to the actual funeral service. They may prepare the casket for the service and transport it to the cemetery. They also assist in receiving and ushering mourners to their seats at the service, organizing and managing the funeral procession, or any other tasks that are necessary for the occasion.
Some funeral homes may employ funeral service managers, who oversee the general operations of a funeral home business. Their duties range from managing staff and financial resources to being responsible for public relations and marketing.