To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, ‘…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.’ Not to argue with Mr. Franklin, but there are many ways to avoid the tax man, while death will eventually come for everyone.
Which is why a career in the funeral industry is a sure thing.
A funeral director’s job description comprises one or multiple tasks, depending on what type of funeral director you decide to become. You may be called on to remove bodies from their place of death, embalm the body, arrange the details of the funeral, dress and apply cosmetics and/or be in charge of the actual funeral.
But not all funeral directors do all the dirty work. If you are in charge, you can hire people to perform each one of these scary-sounding tasks, but if you want to work for yourself, it’s best to have the schooling and background to do it all.
But before you go all Six Feet Under, you’ll need a funeral director’s license.
According to the California Funeral Directors Association, to become a funeral director in California, you must be at least 18 years of age, have an Associates of Arts/Science degree or the equivalent of 60 accredited college units, have a record free of certain crimes, and pass the licensing exam. The exam is tough. (Full disclosure: long ago this writer was a funeral director, took the test and passed the first time.) But it’s required in pretty much every state if you want to be a funeral director.
You can take certain courses in college or attend funeral directors trade school such as the Cypress College Department of Mortuary Science if you want to learn all the skills needed to run your own funeral home.
You don’t have to know how to embalm or be a makeup artist for the dead if you’re working for someone else, but you do have to have compassion, tact, and empathy. And a sense of humor doesn’t hurt. You will be dealing with sad, sad people so you’ll want to be the type of person who can lend a shoulder to cry on.
You might also want to work for a cremation society, which is like being a grief counselor. Someone else will collect the body, all you have to do is counsel the family, handle the arrangements, and collect the fee. If you don’t want to get a degree and you still have a morbid curiosity about working with the dead, you can still prepare bodies for viewings, drive a hearse or limousine or work in a crematorium.
Camille Gardener of Oceanside went to college in Philadelphia to become a full-on mortician and moved back to California to look for work. Within two weeks she had four job offers.
“I knew how to do it all and I loved what I studied,” she said. “I embalmed and did the makeup but I really love people. Living ones, so I let someone else handle those jobs and ran the office. It can get pretty grim and sad, but someone has to do this job and that someone is me.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor states that the call for funeral directors is still good at about 18% (average) and the pay is in the $50,000 range.
The funeral industry is a somber workplace so if you have facial tattoos, giant ear talons, nose piercings or purple hair, you might not be a fit in this industry. True, the client is dead, but someone else is paying the tab. This business is still very conservative, not matter what you see on TV.
“When I go out to clubs and people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I’m a funeral director they’re really surprised,” said Gardener. “I’m a typical blond California girl and yet Monday through Friday I wear a suit to work and hold the hands of people who have lost loved ones. It’s a strange career choice I guess, but it’s better than anything I can think of.”