What Can I Expect from Life as a Funeral Director?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Life as a funeral director can be busy and stressful, as this job requires a mix of customer service, on-call responsibilities, and the ability to deal with death and grief. Job responsibilities can vary depending on the size and organization of a funeral home. In some cases a funeral director may be a primary operator, handling arrangements, embalming, pickups, and other tasks. Others focus on helping customers and managing paperwork, leaving embalming and preparation to assistants and specialized staff.

A funeral director may be responsible for the embalming process of the deceased.
A funeral director may be responsible for the embalming process of the deceased.

One aspect of this job that can be difficult is the unpredictable hours. Historically, funeral directors often lived at the funeral home so they could be available at all times, although the advent of cell phones has made it more possible to maintain some distance from work. Customers may call at any hour for a pickup, or a hospital, coroner, or similar entity might call to request service. The funeral director needs to be prepared to pick up bodies and get them into storage quickly.

Funeral directors may sell caskets to families of someone who is deceased.
Funeral directors may sell caskets to families of someone who is deceased.

If the job includes embalming and related services, the funeral director prepares bodies, a process that includes washing them, applying makeup, and consulting with families to make sure the deceased appear as expected. Otherwise, it may be necessary to supervise assistants while they perform these tasks. In addition, funeral directors handle paperwork, supply ordering, payroll, and other business aspects to keep the facility running smoothly and functionally. They may also need to attend continuing education workshops, seminars, and related events to keep up with the field.

Interpersonal skills are an important part of life as a funeral director. Customers are met during a very difficult time in their lives, and sensitivity is required along with a knowledge of different cultural traditions and communities. Having connections and a respected reputation is critical, so life as a funeral director may include attending civic events, supporting community endeavors, and sponsoring organizations in need of assistance.

While funeral directors work with death, the job is not necessarily sad, although individual clients can be difficult to work with; life as a funeral director may involve dealing with infant deaths, for example, which can be traumatic for parents and family. Many people in this career enjoy the ability to provide services in a time of need, especially when these involve unusual or special arrangements to honor the deceased. Working with multiple staff members can help distribute the stress caused by high workloads and long on-call hours by ensuring that people get time off to decompress. Life as a funeral director may be rewarding for people who are well-suited to the work.

Funeral directors may officiate ceremonies at a cemetery.
Funeral directors may officiate ceremonies at a cemetery.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@umbra21 - I worked as an aid worker for a while and one thing I noticed was that you can get used to death, even if it doesn't seem like it. I always thought that anyone working in a funeral home must be strange (although my only real experience, outside of attending funerals, was the film "My Girl") because how else could they stand to be around dead bodies all day?

But you really do just get used to it. The human mind can accommodate things like that.

Having said that, however, some people will never get used to it, or will be so horrified by the first experience they will never go back. If you're hoping to work in a funeral home then you should definitely see if you can go about volunteering there first, or something, so that you can tell whether you'd make a good fit or not.


@pleonasm - The only thing I would be cautious about is that show tends to place people who work in funeral homes as being quite strange, and I think most of the time they are fairly ordinary people. I suspect very few people decide to become a funeral director, so much as they happen to get a job at one of the homes when they needed work and it goes on from there.

So the kinds of people in the industry will vary. It's not completely full of Addams family-style strange folk.


I wouldn't usually recommend a television show as the best way of finding out about a career, but you could do worse than watch a season of Six Feet Under if you are curious about the funeral directing business.

I know in some shows, like ones involving police and forensics, they tend to make the job a lot more glamorous than it actually is, but if anything they tried to take the opposite approach with Six Feet.

I don't have personal experience as a funeral director, of course, but I know the writers did their research and they certainly get into the day to day details of facial reconstruction and embalming in the show. It could be a good place to start your research.

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