When it comes to choosing careers, most young people do not dream of becoming a funeral director or licensed embalmer. On the contrary, working as a funeral director or licensed embalmer is professionally and personally rewarding. What’s more, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the funeral service worker sector is projected to grow at a healthy four percent between 2018 and 2028, adding 2,000 additional workers to the current roster of 53,000.

Experienced funeral director and licensed embalmer Henry Vinson states that due to the aversion to dying and death in our culture, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation regarding what funeral directors and embalmers do. The vital role they play in the end-of-life process; especially when it comes to ensuring that grieving and bereaved family members and friends know and feel that their deceased loved one has been treated with the utmost care and respect.

For this reason, both funeral directors and embalmers must be highly trained and skilled, and follow an academic and professional development path that typically requires a degree in Mortuary Science, followed by an apprenticeship that can last anywhere from one to three years. In addition, funeral directors and embalmers must be licensed in their respective state, and meet ongoing continuing educational requirements to maintain their license in good standing.

Job Duties of a Funeral Director

Funeral directors (who are also referred to as morticians and undertakers) are responsible for ensuring that funerals are appropriate and proper, as well as legally compliant and meet all requisite rules and guidelines. Key duties include communicating compassionately and effectively with family members of the deceased to determine key details such as dates, times and locations of memorial services, wakes and burials. Funeral directors are also responsible for preparing and placing obituary notices in newspapers, facilitating the services of pallbearers and clergy (or other appropriate spiritual or religious official), and providing transportation for the deceased, mourners and flowers.  

Commented Henry Vinson, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mortuary Science: funeral directors must engage grieving and bereaved family members at a traumatic time, and for many of them it is the worst time of their life — such as in the aftermath of the death of a child. For this reason, a deep and abiding sense of compassion, patience and understanding are absolutely critical. In this respect, being a funeral director is not a job, but a calling.

Job Duties of an Embalmer

Many (though not all) funeral directors are also licensed embalmers. These essential — and largely unheralded — professionals are responsible for properly washing and disinfecting the bodies of the deceased in order to slow down decomposition, as well as to prevent infection. Embalmers also replace the deceased’s bodily fluids and gases with preserving agents, and apply makeup, wash hair, and carry out other esthetic tasks to give the deceased a natural, peaceful appearance.

Commented Henry Vinson, who is a member of the Ohio Embalmers Association: embalmers must be very detail-oriented and have excellent time and task management skills. They must also have strong communication skills, since they need to work closely with funeral directors to ensure that the family’s wishes are completely and properly carried out. It is a difficult job, but also a very important one.

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