What is it like to work as a funeral director?
It would take days for me to fully explain the intricacies of this career. Suffice it to say, this work is not for everyone. It takes enormous commitment and dedication. The hours are long and –contrary to public opinion — the pay is low.
Do you actually embalm bodies?
I have embalmed hundreds, if not thousands of bodies over the course of my career. At present, I primarily arrange funerals with families and guide them through the funeral process. I am there for them throughout the visitation period and with them the day of the funeral. However, I was called out of embalming retirement two years ago, by special request. That was quite a story which I will eventually write about.
Do you ever get squeamish?
Not at this stage in my career. I’ve just about seen it all.
What do you think is the best way to help people at the time of mourning? How can one best help them through it?
Listen to them. I’ve learned that people who have just lost a loved one need to talk about that person and what he or she meant. They often talk about the last experience they had together, as well as the details of the death and sometimes the illness that preceded it. They often tell these stories again and again to work through and try to make sense of what has happened. As funeral directors and friends, we need to be an available and caring ear.
How did you get into the profession? What attracted you?
By accident! I took a job in a funeral home the summer between high school and college. Working there piqued my interest. My plan was to get licensed as a funeral director, but continue with my dream of becoming a writer.
How did you make the transition from funeral director to writer?
As I mentioned, my life plan was always to be a writer and that’s what I was educated for. Still, it was my work as a funeral director and within the industry that gave me so much to write about.
Would you recommend this field to other women?
In good conscience, I would not. That said, I firmly believe that if someone is determined to forge a career in a certain field (even one in which job opportunities are extremely limited), they will find a way.
How can those interested in a career as a funeral director learn more about what to expect?
In addition to reading my memoir –Grave Undertakings– they can talk to established funeral directors in their area about the job market and what to expect.
Should they also contact the mortuary schools?
Only to find out the cost of tuition! The schools need to turn a profit in order to operate and so may paint a rosier picture of funeral service than what exists.
Alexandra Kathryn Mosca has had a long and noteworthy career in funeral service. Over the years, she has branched out into acting, modeling and writing. Today, hers is one of the most recognized names in the funeral industry. She has become a role model for the many women looking to forge a career in funeral service and for them her memoir — Grave Undertakings — is a “must read.”
While many have tried to emulate Alexandra over the years, she remains an original, continuing to inspire through example and to chronicle the industry in her articles.
This recent piece on Ranker, titled “The Morbid Truth About Working as a Mortician” was called to my attention. Apart from the redundant terms funeral director/mortician (an antiquated term, as well), the author is on the mark in titling item #1 It’s Hard to Break Into the Death Industry. A couple of my colleagues came up with a list of the closed funeral home sin the NYC/LI area, and there were many. I feel for the young people who spend a considerable sum of money to attend mortuary school, only to learn that jobs are few and far between.
The media is full of hype these days about the changing face of funeral service. While articles about green burials, home funerals or no funerals at all, proliferate, this is not the reality. Funerals matter and this book makes that case. A “must read” for anyone interested in a career as a funeral director. The author cites John F. Kennedy’s funeral, which –for those who remember or have seen the footage–spoke volumes about the need for ceremony. An article about this book appears in the March issue of American Funeral Director. Here’s a link to Amazon.
This photo, and its blurb, sparked this blog post. These days, so many newcomers to the funeral industry have declared themselves “experts.” A troubling –and embarrassing development–to true, bonafide industry insiders. They will tell you that the traditional funeral is dead, if you will pardon the pun, and that “green” is the way to go. And some of the more extreme bloggers will even try to convince you that “death is cool” (Seriously!?) I am here to assure you that despite such postings, the traditional funeral –with its comforting rites and rituals–is alive and well.
The March issue of American Funeral Director contains my long and eagerly-awaited profile of Charles S. Salomon. He is a most interesting person whose career as a funeral director has been one that most people only dream about. In his 50 years as a funeral director, he’s handled the funerals of many prominent New Yorkers including Leonard Bernstein, Senators Frank Lautenberg and Jacob Javits, Marvin Hamlisch, Lee Strasberg, Jerry Ohrbach, Sol Hurok, General David Sarnoff, William Paley, restaurateur Peter Kriendler, the owner of Manhattan’s ’21’ and Edward I. Koch (my favorite funeral ever). Yet, what impressed me most was his humility and deep commitment to funeral service. He is the sort of director from which we all can learn and aspire to be like