Funeral director

Funeral director

A funeral director (also known as a mortician or undertaker) is someone involved in the business of funeral rites. The job often entails the burial or cremation of the dead, as well as the planning and arrangement of the actual funeral ceremony.

In the United Kingdom, a funeral director is someone who directs the funeral, a mortician is someone who works in a mortuary, and an undertaker normally refers in modern times to the person who actually does the carrying (vehicularly or by hand) of the deceased. However, the word "undertaker" in the UK was the name given to members of other professions, e.g. cabinet makers or carpenters, who had the tools and skills to make coffins or caskets, and who therefore were able to "undertake" funerals as a part of their work. In modern times the term "undertaker" is seen as old-fashioned within the "Funeral Service", but is still the most commonly used term by many people.

Funeral directors are responsible for meeting with the family of the deceased to make arrangements for the funeral service. The director is also responsible for preparing the deceased for the service by means of embalming, dressing and casketing, and applying cosmetics. However, not all funeral directors are embalmers and vice versa. Many jurisdictions require separate licenses for funeral direction and embalming.


The modern profession of being a mortician started in England in the 1700s. Before it, officers of the College of Arms – a government heraldic authority – directed funerals. The family of the deceased had to contact a member of the College of Arms to manage the funeral. The family also had to hire and coordinate the efforts of others involved in the funeral, such as surgeons, plumbers, coffin makers, upholsterers, carpenters, tailors, drapers, and other contractors. Once the new profession was established, morticians would organize the entire arrangements of the funeral, and the family would only have to rely on them. The first mortician, according to Sir Anthony Wagner, was William Russel, a coffin maker who had set up the business as early as 1688.

Despite opposition from officers of the College of Arms, mortuary services continued to grow. From their origins as funeral organizers, they began to involve themselves in embalming, previously only a surgeon's job. In a book NEKPOKHAEIA: or The Art of Embalming, Thomas Greenhill, a London surgeon, argues that since the days of ancient Egypt embalming has been entrusted only to surgeons. He attacked the "ignorant undertakers", who had begun embalming several years prior. Morticians didn’t stop there. They took jobs from “Glovers, Milliners, Drapers, Wax Chandlers, Coffin-makers, Herald-painters, Surgeons, Apothecaries, and the like.”

Morticians have expanded further and have encroached on what used to be seen as the job of the clergy. Their job gradually grew to include more intensive involvement funeral service (rather than mere organization), and hiring ministers for families without church membership. They also worked at transferring the location of the funeral from the church to the funeral home, because there they could establish clear authority over the funeral service.

Most modern day funeral homes are run as family businesses. The majority of morticians work in these small, family-run funeral homes. The owner usually hires two or three other morticians to help him. Often, this hired help is in the family, perpetuating the family's ownership. Most funeral homes have one or more viewing rooms, a preparation room for embalming, a chapel, and a casket-selection room. They usually have a hearse for transportation of bodies, a flower car, and limousines. They also normally have choices of caskets and urns for families to purchase or rent. Evolution of the industry is continuing today. While most funeral homes are still operated by families, larger and more centralized organizations are coming to prominence. This shift towards larger and less personal organizations can largely be attributed to changing societal views toward the death process, such as the institutionalization of death.


In developed nations

In developed nations, professional morticians take care of society's dead. Although most funeral directors are well versed in different cultures’ burial rites, there are some things they do universally. They prepare the remains of the dead, they perform the ceremony that honors the dead according to the beliefs of the family, and they oversee the final disposition of the remains. Families of the deceased can either have the body buried or cremated, and it is the mortician's job to do either.


Most funeral directors are licensed embalmers, although the jobs might sometimes be split between two people. Embalming is simply the process in which the body is preserved. Modern embalming is commonly used in North America, but rare in Europe. It is the process of chemically treating a dead human body to prevent or inhibit the growth of micro organisms, to temporarily preserve and restore to a natural appearance. Preservation of the body is important if relatives are coming from far distances and the funeral takes place long after the death. Embalming is also useful when the body is needed as evidence in a criminal charge.

Modern methods of embalming allow for preservation of the body for over a year. While most cultures embalm using modern techniques, many cultures still embalm their dead by exposing the body to the sun and air in hot climates.

It is the embalmer's job to move the body to the mortuary where facilities will enable the embalming to take place conveniently. This is common in America, but in the UK and other countries, family members usually prefer the body to remain with them in their house. This is more difficult for the embalmer, because he will have to take all his equipment with him to the home of the deceased.

When embalmers take a body to the mortuary, the first thing they do is place it on the embalming table. They then make an assessment of the condition of the body. They position the hands of the deceased, and place the head on a block. Next they set the features. ‘Setting the features’ is the terminology for closing the eyes and the mouth. They wash the body thoroughly. They then begin the embalming process, which replaces the blood in a persons body with embalming fluid. During this process they work the fingers and other muscles to release any rigor mortis.

The next step in handling the body is dressing it. The embalmer has to be skilled at applying cosmetics. Cosmetics are used to restore the person to a life-like appearance, and to hide injuries or imperfections. The embalmer spreads a foundation cream over the face. The color depends on the natural complexion of the individual before death. Cream rouge is then applied over the cheek bones in a triangular area. The eyebrows and eyelashes are brushed to remove powder. Cosmetics are also applied to the arms and hands. The hair is dressed and the fingernails are trimmed.


“The proposal to adopt [cremation] in recent times originally proceeded mainly from Italy. Papers and monographs appeared commending the method as early as 1866.” Six years later, two practical experimenters, independently published the results of their cremation experiments. In 1873, Professor Brunetti of Padua displayed ashes, along with a model of his furnace, at the Great Exhibition at Vienna. In the autumn of 1874, the first European cremation outside of Italy took place in Breslau, Poland (in what was then the German Empire), followed by another in Dresden, Germany. In America, the first man to be cremated was the poor Austrian nobleman Baron de Palm, on December 6, 1876. The idea slowly caught on, but was resisted by the funeral industry which had built a highly profitable industry, and saw cremation as a threat. Cremation might have gained acceptance largely because it was viewed as a much simpler and less ostentatious (Prothero,1). Cremation might have been the modest alternative, but funeral directors soon began to see an economic opportunity, and began to incorporate cremations into the business, by featuring elaborate caskets and urns, floral arrangements, mausoleums, and even embalming. According to the National Funeral Directors Association website, 26% of all the America's dead in 2000 were cremated. According to the National Vital Statistics, the cremation rate in the United states will reach 51.12% by 2025 (United States).


The arrangement of funerals is one of the most important parts of a morticians job. The mortician must find out all the preferences of the family. Then he must arrange for the actual funeral ceremony. This includes scheduling the time for opening the grave, coordinating the efforts of grave diggers, giving various information about the coffin size and design to the coffin makers, and arranging for a burial service with the clergy of the deceased's family. They arrange for the transportation of the remains to the mortuary or funeral home, and from there to the crematorium or grave site. They must be aware of funeral rite for all the different cultures they might be providing services for. They comfort the family and friends of the dead during this process, and provide transportation for them during the ceremony.

Other responsibilities

Morticians are also in charge of the obituary and various legal paperwork. They prepare the obituaries if the family doesn’t write one, and give it to the local newspaper. They are responsible for submitting papers to the State so it can issue a formal death certificate. If the deceased was a veteran, they help family members apply for veteran's burial benefits. They are responsible for notifying the Social Security Administration of the death. They sometimes handle all other paperwork for the families, such as for the transfer of pensions, insurance policies, or annuities.

Organizations and licensing

In the UK many funeral directors belong to one of four professional organizations, the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), the British Institute of Funeral Directors (BIFD), the Society of Allied Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) or National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). The principle United States professional organizations in the field are the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association and the National Funeral Directors Association. The American Board of Funeral Service Education provides accreditation to postsecondary educational institutions offering programs in mortuary science or funeral services.

In the US, the individual states each have their own licensing regulations for funeral directors. Most require a combination of postsecondary education (typically an associate's degree), passage of a National Board Examination , passage of a state board examination, and one to two years' work as an apprentice.

Employment opportunities

Employment opportunities for funeral directors are expected to be good, particularly for those who also embalm. However, mortuary science graduates may have to relocate to find jobs.

See also


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