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Although funeral practices differ markedly among the many diverse cultures and religions in the United States, most have important similarities to taking the deceased to a mortuary, preparing the remains, performing a ceremony to honor the deceased and address the spiritual needs of the family, and appropriately disposing of the remains.
Also known as morticians or undertakers, funeral directors provide these services for the family of the deceased. While this profession is not for everyone, funeral directors take enormous satisfaction in their ability to provide well-organized, appropriate services and to console grieving family members and friends.
Funeral directors coordinate and carry out the logistics of funerals. They discuss with the family of the deceased to decide how the funeral will be performed, who will officiate (clergy members or other persons), and what options are available for final disposition of the remains. In cases where the deceased leaves detailed instructions for his or her own funeral, funeral directors and the family take care of any remaining logistical concerns (arranging for a hearse to transport the body to the funeral home or mortuary, and setting the dates, times, and location of services and burial, etc.).
Funeral directors’ other responsibilities include preparing obituary notices and distributing them to newspapers, arranging for clergy and pallbearers, scheduling the opening and closing of a grave with a representative of the cemetery, preparing and decorating the sites of all services, and ensuring transportation for the remains, mourners, and flowers between sites. Funeral directors also oversee preparation and transportation of remains for out-of-state burials.
Embalming is another task generally handled by funeral directors, most of whom are trained, licensed, and practicing embalmers. Some large funeral homes employ two or more embalmers, plus several apprentices. Refrigeration or embalming, a sanitary and cosmetic process by which a body is preserved and prepared for interment which is required by most states if more than 24 hours pass between death and interment.
Embalmers begin by cleaning the body with germicidal soap and replacing the blood with embalming fluid to preserve the tissues. In cases where there was disfiguration or maiming, an embalmer may use materials like clay, cotton, plaster of paris, and wax to reshape or reconstruct the body. To give the body a natural appearance, they also may apply cosmetics. Finally, they dress the body and place it in a casket. Funeral directors and embalmers keep embalming reports, itemized lists of clothing and valuables accompanying the body, and other relevant records.
Depending on the family’s wishes, funeral services may be held in a home, place of worship, funeral home, or at the gravesite or crematory. While some services are nonreligious, many reflect the family’s beliefs. Funeral directors must therefore be aware of funeral and burial customs for many faiths, ethnic groups, and fraternal organizations. Some religions, for instance, discourage their members from having the bodies of the deceased embalmed or cremated.
Although entombment does take place, burial in a casket is the most prevalent funeral practice in the United States. Cremation, the incineration of a body in a special furnace, has gained popularity in recent years, partially because it often costs less.
Convenience is another advantage: memorial services can take place anywhere, at any time, even months later in order for all relatives and friends to be able to attend.
Even when cremation takes place, many families still choose to hold memorial services. In reality, there need not be any difference between a funeral service that precedes a cremation and one that precedes a burial.
Cremated remains are generally put in an urn, a type of permanent receptacle, and then given a final resting place. The family may bury the urn, place it in a mausoleum or columbarium, or have it interred in a cemetery urn garden.
One service that funeral directors increasingly provide is that of prearranged funerals. Many people desire the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their wishes will be taken care of in a way that will satisfy the person and the family members and friends.
Aside from these types of services, funeral directors also take care of paperwork involved with a person’s death. States rely on funeral directors to file the appropriate forms so that they can issue a formal certificate of death.
In some cases, funeral directors assist family members with further formalities: they may help in requesting veterans’ burial benefits, informing the Social Security Administration of the death, or applying for the transfer of any pensions, insurance policies, or annuities on behalf of survivors.
The majority of funeral homes are small, family businesses where the funeral director is either an owner-operator or an employee. Consequently, the businesses’ prosperity depends directly on funeral directors. Part of running a successful funeral home involves effective and efficient customer service, and funeral directors do their best to cultivate a friendly environment for their employees and a compassionate demeanor towards the families. More and more funeral directors are extending their traditional roles by offering aftercare services or support group activities to assist individuals adapt to life following a death.
Administrative duties of funeral directors include keeping records of expenses, purchases, and services provided; preparing and sending invoices; preparing and submitting reports for unemployment insurance; preparing Federal, State, and local tax forms; and preparing itemized bills for customers. Computers, used for billing, bookkeeping, and marketing, are becoming increasingly important for funeral directors. Some correspond through the Internet with clients who are preplanning their funerals, and many use the Internet to develop electronic obituaries and guestbooks.
As for physical facilities, most funeral homes have a chapel, at least one viewing room, a casket-selection room, and a preparation room. Many have also added a crematory. Most funeral homes offer a selection of caskets and urns for families to purchase or rent. Funeral homes generally have a hearse, a flower car, limousines, and, occasionally, an ambulance.
(Reprinted with attribution from: http://www.careeroverview.com/funeral-director-careers.html)