For a truly unusual career - train to be an undertaker

Here in the West, our attitude towards death, burial and the symbolism of the rites involved is totally dissimilar to those in Asia, Africa and many other countries, perhaps influenced over hundreds of years by Christianity. In Tibet, bodies are simply broken up and placed on a hillside to be returned to the wheel of nature through consumption by vultures and other creatures, while in India they are taken to a funeral ghat next to a holy river and burned in full sight of relatives and friends, again returning the bodies to nature.

In first world countries, it’s very different and much more expensive, with funeral parlours run as small businesses providing the necessities for a ‘Christian’ burial along with the services necessary to make the dead person look as if they are just sleeping. The job of undertaker, nowadays usually known as ‘Funeral Director’ is to establish the needs of grieving families and reconcile them with financial realities in as compassionate a manner as possible. The position has changed much over the years; in earlier times the undertaker was often responsible for embalming the corpse, with nowadays a specialist embalmer usually employed within the business.

become a funeral director
Tasks, often on a 24/7 basis as people tend to die at all hours of the day or night, will include the removal of the deceased to the funeral parlour, the making of funeral arrangements with a church, chapel, crematorium or temple, supervising the embalming process according to the wishes of the bereaved, undertaking all legal requirements involved, ordering transport for the bereaved to the funeral and arranging for death certificates and insurance claims and liaising with clergy regarding the funeral service. Relieving the burdens of bereavement is an undertaker’s main task.

Compassion and broadmindedness including an understanding of the burial rituals and customs of all religions and sects are essential qualities, as are strong communications skills. Management and organisational skills are equally important as the funeral director needs to work with a number of sub-contractors as well as with the local authority. He or she will also need to be naturally dignified and able to deal with extreme distress both at the time of death and at the viewing of the embalmed corpse in its coffin, whatever the age groups, ethnic or social backgrounds of the bereaved.

Although a formal degree is often not required, a high school background in biology and science may be considered useful, as are basic business and bookkeeping skills, as many funeral directors run their own small businesses, often along with members of their family. If embalming is to be part of the job, various colleges offer courses in mortuary science, anatomy and the embalming process itself. Courses in the legal and ethical aspects of this unusual career and grief counselling are often requirements, and a year’s apprenticeship is usually required. Average salaries at entry level hover around ($30,000) £20,000 and rise to ($60,000) £40,000 or more, dependent on the small business’s turnover and location.

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