How do I become a mortician?
First, are you sure you want to be a mortician? I don’t mean to be condescending– heck, I’m a mortician! The job can be an incredibly rewarding, but there are a bunch of downsides that are almost never discussed. For example: the long hours, the low starting pay, the emotional burden, the disappearance of stable jobs in the industry.
Here is an article I wrote called I Can’t Encourage You to Become a Mortician that is the right place to start in answering these questions for yourself.
If after reading, you are still interested in the traditional funeral industry, it might be time to consider going to mortuary school. My partner Amber wrote up an excellent description of the textbooks you’ll need and the topics you’ll cover in mortuary school: A Brief Introduction to Mortuary School.
Requirements to become licensed as a mortician or funeral director or embalmer vary wildly from state to state, country to country. Montana will look different from Auckland, Toronto will look different from Brighton. When it comes down to it, your greatest ally to find a mortuary school in your area is good ol’ Google.
How do I get started in the alternative death “industry”?
Maybe you don’t want to become an embalmer, you just want to help families care for their dead. Maybe you don’t want to sell burial vaults, you just want to bury a person three feet down in a simple shroud. If this sounds like you, you might be a better fit for the burgeoning alternative funeral industry.
Well, “industry” is too strong a word. There aren’t many jobs and careers in this space yet. Here is an Ask a Mortician video I made EASY STEPS to becoming an Alternative Mortician! that goes deeper to explain what I mean.
You can help families from outside the funeral industry as a death doula or midwife, or from inside the funeral industry as a licensed funeral director. I’m going to link articles written by two of our members, one is Cassandra Yonder, a doula/midwife (The Precious Time Present With the Dead Body), and one is Nora Menkin, a licensed director and funeral home manager (Washing Kathryn, Touching Death).
What you’ll see from these pieces is that there are many ways to skin a cat (good lord, no one actually skin a cat!). That is to say, there are many ways to be an ally to the cause of family-centered death care, both in and outside the industry.
How do I know if working in death is for me?
This is an important question. You don’t want to spend two years (or more) in mortuary school if it turns out the sight of dead bodies makes you faint.
One option to see if you can handle being around the dead & dying is to volunteer at a hospice in your area. Here is a story from one deathling who took the plunge: My Journey as a Hospice Care Volunteer
It’s not easy to find work in the death industry with zero experience, but it’s not impossible. Try doing a simple Google search with the key terms “funeral home”+”(your city)”+”jobs”, to see what is available. You may find that working in a funeral home is incredible, or you may find it just isn’t right for you.
Can I work for or intern with your funeral home?
We are unbelievably flattered by the outpouring of support and interest in working with us.
At this time, however, we are not hiring or accepting any volunteers.
It is important to realize that if you want to learn the ropes of the funeral industry, Undertaking LA might not be the best fit. We do everything any normal funeral home does, but have an incredibly unique operating style.
What are the steps to become a death doula?
A death doula or midwife is a person who (much like a birth doula brings a baby into the world) accompanies a person out of the world. They may be there for the actual dying process, or they may come in specifically to help the family care for the body at home.
The role of home funeral guides (death midwives, death doulas, etc) is unlegislated and there is no national certifying board. Therefore there is no official “certification.”
There are, however, trainings to understand the laws and be comfortable caring for the body. Friend of the Order Evi Numan describes her death midwife training here: Death Brought Us Together
If you decide you are interested in trainings, here are some options.
Our funeral home, Undertaking LA occasionally offers home death care workshops. To be notified of future workshops visit the Undertaking LA website. You can also read more about the workshops in Taking Care Of The Dead At Home, And Other Matters Of Mortality.
If you can’t attend any workshop in person, Cassandra Yonder has a Virtual School for Community Deathcaring.
Our friends at the National Home Funeral Alliance can help you find a teacher with their Directory of Home Funeral Teachers.