The Morbid Truth About Working as a Mortician

Mortician facts include everything from how to use cotton to stop up leaks to just how dangerous and deadly embalming fluid really is. What do morticians do? Well, in the case of alternative mortician and YouTuber Caitlin Doughty, she wants you to know all about death, dying, and the home funeral. DIY funerals are on the rise along with cremation.

If you’re looking for mortician job information, you might like to watch Yolanda perform an actual embalming before you ask for that application. One of many truths about funeral homes and jobs in the industry? It’s certainly not a profession for the faint of heart or emotionally unstable.

The average mortician job description includes washing bodies, disinfecting them, removing fluids, and then replacing them with preservative chemicals. There’s application of makeup, repairing damage, and rustling up a mustache after you accidentally pull off the original one.

What’s it like to work at a funeral home? Well, if you’ve got a sense of humor and love what you do, you can meet others like you at Dead Meet, an online dating site for those in the death industry (including taxidermists!).

Before you pursue that music career or become a lawyer like your mom has always wanted, you might consider some funeral director facts like those below.

It’s Hard to Break Into the Death Industry

Being entrusted with the body and last wishes of a deceased person is a hard won profession. People look for experience and community reputation. Alexandra Mosca is a funeral director and mortician. Her memoir Grave Undertakings is a fascinating look into the profession. Mosca talks about how toughit is to break in. “There’s just not a lot of openings in the death industry. To outsiders it may appear that funeral homes are looking to welcome new hires with open arms. But as any funeral director will tell you, getting a job is the hardest part. It is not unheard of for young people looking to serve an apprenticeship, which is a requirement to receive your necessary license to work in the field, to offer to work for free. And free often isn’t too far from the starting salary.”

Airbrushing Is the Preferred Way to Apply Makeup to the Dead

Embalmer Jamie Reed not only removes fluids from the deceased, she also applies makeup to create that “just sleeping” look. One of her tried and trusted tips is the use of the airbrush.  

“Applying makeup on a body is different than putting it on living skin. I have used regular cosmetics for embalmed bodies, but the skin is so firm, there’s no way to work in your foundation. Using an airbrush gets you streak-free, nice coverage.”

Abraham Lincoln Gave a Boost to the Embalming Trade
In order for Lincoln’s body to be preserved for the journey from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, IL, and for public viewing, embalming was essential. The details of his embalming fascinated the general public and helped make it a popular practice.
Sometimes You Rip Off a Guy’s Mustache and Have to Find a New One

During a Reddit AMA with a mortician, he revealed that he once accidentally ripped off a guy’s mustache. “I had this guy to prep one time. He had an intubater? [sic] tube down his throat and was taped on his face. One piece of tape was across his mustache. When I took the tape off, most of his mustache came with it. So I shaved it. The wife was pissed. Super pissed. Threatened to sue and everything else. She said we had better fix it.  

So what am I to do? I went to a costume shop and bought a pack of fake mustaches. We had a picture of him, but none of these mustaches was working. I picked the best possible match and put it on him. We then call her to come look. We were nervous as shit because believe me when I tell you that it looked completely ridiculous. It was bad. So she comes in and absolutely loves it! I couldn’t believe it. She then turned super sweet and hugged me. At the graveside service I kept thinking that one day this man could be disinterred for whatever reason and they’re gonna find a skeleton with a mustache.”

Embalmers Are Responsible for Many Body Preparation Tasks
Embalmers are expected to wash the body and disinfect it. They then replace bodily fluids with preserving agents; wash and style the hair if requested; and restore any facial, neck, or hand damage, depending on how much skin is exposed.

The embalmer also works closely with the funeral director to meet the family’s expectations. Sometimes the embalmer is also the funeral director.

There’s a Dating Site for People Who Work in the Death Industry
Carla Valentine created Dead Meet, a dating and networking site for everyone from gravediggers to medical historians. The site has 5,000 members.
A Hearse Carrying a Corpse Can't Use the Carpool Lane
A hearse carrying only the driver and the corpse cannot use the HOV lane. Highway patrol considers the body cargo.
Alternative Morticians Are Becoming Mainstream
Ranker Videov
Caitlin Doughty is an alternative mortician in Los Angeles, dedicated to educating the public about death and everything involved with it. She has written two books and has a YouTube channel where she answers all kinds of questions about embalming, coffins vs. caskets, and what to wear to a funeral, among other topics. She is a home funeral and natural burial advocate.
The Average Embalmer Makes $45K Annually
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for an embalmer is $45,000. Depending on experience, an embalmer can expect to make anywhere from $27,000 to $64,000.
Cremation Is on the Rise

Cremation rates have doubled in the past 15 years. People are choosing cremation due to cost and religious and personal preference.  

States with the highest rates of cremation are Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, and Maine. The lowest rates of cremations were in Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Utah.

The national median cost of a cremation is $6,078.

Approximately 86% of US Funeral Homes Are Privately Owned
The funeral business tends to be a family business or handed down to trusted individuals with years of shared experience. That leaves just 14% owned by publicly traded corporations. Service Corporation International owns 12% of the publicly traded funeral homes. Carriage Services, Inc. and StoneMor Partners own the remaining 1%.
The Median Cost of a Burial Is $7,181
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the cost for a funeral requiring a vault ran around $8,508. Those costs don’t include the cemetery plot, headstone or marker, flowers, or obituary placement charges.
There’s a Men of Mortuaries Calendar
Like many people who work in the death industry, Ken McKenzie has a sense of humor. Not only does he spend a lot of time informing people about death and demystifying it, he also finds the time to write books and create projects to benefit charities. KAMM Cares raises funds for breast cancer research and one of its projects is a “Men of Mortuaries” calendar, featuring hunky, shirtless morticians posing in cemeteries.
You Can Rent a Casket
The body is placed inside a thick cardboard container inside of the rented casket for the funeral or memorial service. The cardboard container is then removed from the casket before burial or cremation.
Some Body Parts Swell to Twice Their Size If Not Properly Drained
Mortician Caleb Wilde explains why morticians sometimes need to use cotton during the embalming process: “When the body begins to decompose, certain areas known to have heavy concentrations of bacteria often swell to more than twice their normal size. Undertakers have to work fast to drain the bodies of all fluids, and they pack all of the body’s openings with cotton to prevent leakage.” 
Sometimes You’re Asked Offensive Questions
Mortician Ken McKenzie said  the strangest question he was ever asked was, “I want you to remove his gold teeth, because I know what you’re going to do with them.” McKenzie was horrified. “What am I going to do with them? Go into Kevin’s Jewelers? It’s asked more often than you’d think. We usually say you have to get your family dentist, and only once in all those years did the dentist show up – and he couldn’t get them out! It was gross. And the dentist’s bill was about $800. I just would be embarrassed to ask that, wouldn’t you?”
Being a Successful Waiter Qualifies You on Some Levels to Be a Good Funeral Director
According to one mortician, the jobs are similar. “It’s funny. I was a waiter for many years in my younger days. I always say, if you can be a successful waiter, you can be a successful funeral director. They are similar in many ways. They both wait on families and provide what should be excellent customer service. The only difference is that one puts a pizza in the oven and the other puts a body in the oven.”
You Have to Be in a Good Place Emotionally to Work in the Death Industry
Because you are dealing with bodily fluids, infectious disease, child deaths, and traumatic injuries, it’s essential that you are a stable person. The stress of the job is not for everyone. Empathy is part of the job and grieving people react to things differently. That’s why many in the death industry see their profession as a calling.
You Develop a Healthy Relationship with Death

Most people feel a lot like Woody Allen about death. It’s just not something they prefer. But funeral directors and morticians deal with death every day, giving them a unique and intense perspective. Said funeral director Caleb Wilde:

“When I was a child, I’d lay in bed and imagine myself dying at a young age. I imagined Death as a Monster. That fear, though, has dissipated as I’ve both worked around Death and I’ve grown to be comfortable with my own mortality and the mortality of those I love. 

Perhaps there’s no greater freedom than to live life with a healthy relationship with Death. That healthy relationship allows you embracing each moment, realizing that we are not promised tomorrow. This good relationship with Death has been given to me by the funeral profession.”