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Death is inevitable. Try as we might to keep it at bay, the facts about life and its end are undeniable. While many of us are nervous about the thought of dying, there are a number of us who are comfortable with death. That's lucky, because funeral directors and embalmers are the people we turn to at the death of a loved one.

Embalmers are some of the most talented and special people employed in funeral services. They may work as funeral directors as well, but many focus specifically on the embalming and preparation of bodies. They are the ones who specifically prepare the remains of people who have died. They drain the bodies of fluids, and inject solutions to prevent the body's rapid decay. They dress the dead, and put on makeup, do their hair, and whatever else is needed to ready the body for visitation and burial. They treat the bodies with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Embalmers may meet with the relatives of the deceased to discuss clothing, hair, and makeup. They must be able to deal with highly emotional services, and be knowledgeable about legislation regarding what they can and cannot do when it comes to preparing and burying bodies. They must also work closely with the funeral director, medical doctors, and coroner to discuss any contagious diseases.

Embalmers must have a positive outlook towards mortality. Because they deal with dead people each and every day, they must be optimists who recognize the importance of the work they do. By treating the deceased and the family respectfully, and by creating a sensitive presentation of the body, the embalmer 's role is crucial in bringing healing and peace to those left behind.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Embalmers must be empathetic, sensitive, and calm. They should be flexible, have good manual dexterity, and be emotionally stable. It is important for embalmers to be both scientific and artistic, as well as have an optimistic or peaceful relationship with death and human mortality. Embalmers have a tendency to be methodical, enjoy working with rules, tools, and precise interments. Good communication skills are a must.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Meet with family, funeral director, and medical doctor to discuss needs of the deceased
  • Drain vital fluids from body
  • Preserve body by injecting germicidal solutions
  • Perform necessary restorative work to improve appearance (makeup and hair)
  • Dress deceased persons and place them in caskets
  • Maintain records and equipment
  • Supervise assistants
  • The typical day for an embalmer involves working closely with one or more bodies, readying them for burial. They must also order supplies, clean and repair equipment, and meet with other funeral home staff and family members to discuss plans and requests. They spend most of each day at work indoors, and don't have many opportunities for travel.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Embalmers work irregular hours, including weekends and evenings, at funeral homes. They work in clean, sterile environments, alongside assistants or alone. They may also complete administrative work in an office.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Embalmers can become funeral directors, makeup artists or cosmetologists. They can become counselors, and assist people in their grieving and bereavement process.

  Educational Paths  
Embalmers generally enter the field as apprentices to experienced embalmers. Once an established embalmer or funeral director takes the embalmer under their wing, the apprentice enters a program that covers both in-class and on-the-job training. This leads to certification in the trade, and can take about two years to complete.

Some embalmers enter the trade by taking college courses in funeral direction and/or embalming. After the training, certification and membership to an association may be required, depending on the region in which they practice. It is also a good idea to take college or university courses in psychology, theology, world religions, and sociology.

Licensing laws vary from State to State. Most states require the applicants to be 21 years old, have 2 years of formal education including studies in mortuary science. They must serve a 1-year apprenticeship and pass a qualifying examination. To be be an embalmer, you must be licensed in all states. Persons interested in a career as a funeral director or embalmer should contact their State licensing board for specific requirements.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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