I am a mortician, funeral director, undertaker, embalmer, death practitioner... whatever you want to call me. I did an AMA a couple years ago that was pretty successful, so I thought it might be time to do another one, and see what other weird questions you guys can come up with.

I have been licensed for about 6 years, and am currently working at a funeral home in a small town in the US, where we serve several rural communities. I have also worked in a large metro area, and a medium-sized town. I am now or have previously been responsible for pretty much every aspect of funeral service, with the exception of ownership. I started out washing hearses and answering phones. I've operated a crematory. I do paperwork. I file death certificates. I embalm. I cosmetize. I arrange and direct funerals. And sometimes, when we're slow, I waste time on reddit. I will do my best to answer your questions truthfully and honestly. I would like to remain anonymous, so I will not give any more specific information about myself personally, or my geographic location.

proof - embalming machine with my username and date

EDIT: Excellent questions! However, I just took a death call, so I have to actually do some work. I'll try to be back later for more!

Comments: 122 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

MeSoKornee26 karma

Why does working with dead people not phase you like others?

Do you follow the Walking Dead TV series?

IAMaMorticianAMA37 karma

I can't say that it doesn't phase me. It does affect me quite a bit, but I continue to do it because I know that not everyone can, but somebody has do. Most of the families I serve are grateful for the work I do, which makes my job very rewarding. Seeing a dead body is usually not disturbing to me simply because you just get used to it over time. Although, there are some things that I just can't unsee. For example, any traumatic or untimely deaths will always be hard for me to deal with. But I carry on, because it's my job.

And, no, I don't follow the Walking Dead. Only because I don't watch that much TV. I do enjoy zombie movies, and other zombie-related things.

beepbeepimajeep522 karma

What is the age of the youngest person you had to prepare for a funeral?

IAMaMorticianAMA48 karma

Stillborns. The funeral homes where I have worked generally provide their services for these families for free or for very low cost. Generally we cremate their little bodies. There's also a wonderful organization that I've worked with called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep that takes photos of the baby before the cremation occurs.

a_guile22 karma

Would you rather embalm 100 duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?

IAMaMorticianAMA42 karma

Horse-sized duck. Duck-sized horses would have very tiny circulatory systems, which would make my job difficult.

dirkybird19 karma


IAMaMorticianAMA30 karma

One of the cemeteries in the city where I grew up has a mausoleum, and my friend and I were curious about why you couldn't smell the bodies rotting. So we did a little internet research that eventually led us to a page with information about the embalming process. He was thoroughly creeped out, but I was fascinated and entirely convinced that I could do that. The more that I read about the job and everything else that is involved (organization and planning of services, helping families through their time of need, community involvement, etc), the more I realized that I really wanted to be a mortician.

cedricsb3318 karma

What kind of credentials did you have to attain this career?

IAMaMorticianAMA22 karma

Most states require either an associates or a bachelors degree in mortuary science. Also, all states (except Colorado, I think?) require a license of some kind. You usually have to pass the National Board Exam, and a state-specific board exam, and complete and internship in order to obtain a license.

frozzymm18 karma

What is the most difficult part of your job?

IAMaMorticianAMA61 karma

My life is pretty much my job. I am on call every other night, and every other weekend. Death does not happen during business hours exclusively, and it does not occur at a steady pace. Sometimes, if we're busy, I just have to work. It doesn't matter who is on call, or what plans I have made in my personal life. Also, nobody cares that I may have only gotten two hours of sleep last night. I still have to give 100% to the families I'm working with. They only get one chance to have a meaningful service, and that can be a big responsibility when you're sleep deprived, over-worked and stressed out.

GhoulehGirl18 karma

Which is more difficult, dealing with deceased or the deceased's family?

IAMaMorticianAMA26 karma

That really depends. Some bodies require a LOT of work (autopsies, traumatic deaths, people who were on medications which made them either very edematous or emaciated), where as others are pretty much text-book embalming cases that you're finished with in an hour. Just like some families are gracious and wonderful to work with, and some are... not. Sometimes I can get roped into a middle of a family dispute that has been raging for longer than I've been alive. The (living) people that I work with are always under a great deal of stress, and that can really bring out the worst in a person. So, funeral directors can be at the front lines for a lot of anger, regret, or bitterness. I've learned to swallow it, remind myself over and over that people are generally good, and it is my job to help these people, no matter what.

Just_here_to_educate15 karma

What do you do to make bodies presentable when there has been significant trauma to one's face? For instance, if someone suffered a gunshot wound and the family wanted an open casket? In what types of cases have you had to draw the line and tell the family "I'm sorry, we just won't be able to fix this?" What about drownings, etc? Decomp cases? How much can you cosmetically fix? Thanks for your AMA :)

IAMaMorticianAMA24 karma

There is a lot that we can suture, rebuild with wax or cover with cosmetics. I've literally put somebody's skull back together, like a jigsaw puzzle. When I was done, it was obvious that the individual's body had experienced a very traumatic injury, but was recognizable. And that was what the family needed to find some closure. I have also heard of other morticians who have covered the body with a sheet, with just the arm and hand exposed, so the family can at least hold the deceased's hand one more time.

I have never not allowed a family to view a body. I don't think I have the right to make that decision for anyone else. In certain circumstances, I can tell them gently that I believe it may do them more harm the good to view the remains. This is only in extreme circumstances where the body is beyond recognition due to trauma or extreme decomposition.

Slothlord3713 karma

Have you ever found yourself singing why you work? If so, what do you sing?

IAMaMorticianAMA51 karma

I actually really like to sing, so I sing a lot. I sing along with the congregational hymns during the service. Also, I always play music on my ipod or listen to the radio when I'm embalming. One time I could only get the classic rock station, and started singing along to Bon Jovi "Shot through the heart, and you're to blame. Myrtle, you give love a bad name!" Dead ladies don't appreciate my humor.

Duster7213 karma

What's something about dead bodies that would surprise most people?

IAMaMorticianAMA21 karma

Hair and nails don't grow after your dead. That's a myth. And rigor mortis does not set in immediately, and it is not permanent.

zeroego12 karma

I would like to be buried without a casket. Just want to let my body "return to the earth" I suppose. Is that legal? Do bodies HAVE TO be embalmed/casketed?

IAMaMorticianAMA24 karma

There are no laws that require embalming or a casket. However, most funeral homes and some state laws require a body to be embalmed if there is going to be a public viewing. Also, most cemeteries require an outer burial container or vault. The reason for this is so that the grave doesn't settle or collapse over time. There are some places that are allowing for a "green" burial, where a body is placed directly into the ground without a casket or a vault.

Mondonodo10 karma

Are you a "morbid" person, or do people describe you like that?

IAMaMorticianAMA17 karma

I can have a morbid sense of humor sometimes, and a strange outlook on life. But outside of work, I'm not death-obsessed or anything.

TheFuckMuppet10 karma

Because you are around death a lot, do you find yourself unfazed when hearing about death, or is it the opposite?

IAMaMorticianAMA16 karma

Any of us (myself and all of my loved ones included) could die at any moment, and that makes me appreciate every moment I do have.

ciaomeridian10 karma

Have you ever had a family member or friend end up on your table? (I hope not but for the sake of interesting quesitons!)

IAMaMorticianAMA21 karma

Not a close family member or friend, thankfully. However, working in a small town means that I on occasion know the deceased. It's actually helpful, in a way. When I know what they looked like in life, it's easier for me to accurately set their facial features.

twogunsalute9 karma

Does it pay well? Is it not depressing? Which character from Six Feet Under are you most like? In the UK the cost of funerals is rising rapidly and starting to become quite a problem. Is it the same in the US?

IAMaMorticianAMA23 karma

I live comfortably. I'm not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. Funeral costs are rising, but not anymore rapidly than any other industry (from my experience, anyway). There are more affordable options out there now than there were 50 years ago, and the cost of a funeral varies greatly depending on the choices that are made. So long as families spend accordingly, most people are able to pay their bill. There is assistance locally for anyone who qualifies.

And if I were a character from Six Feet Under, I am definitely a little bit Rico and a little bit David. With some Claire thrown in there (just 'cause I happen to be a female).

twoterribleterriers9 karma

How would I go about getting a job at an establishment like yours. Especially if I have no credentials?

IAMaMorticianAMA15 karma

You would need an education in mortuary science (usually an associates or bachelor's degree, depending on where you live). Then, usually you need to complete and internship to obtain your license. So, basically, you have to GET credentials. If you just want to work at a funeral home, though, you could always apply for an administrative position, or see if they're looking for anyone to wash cars and mow the lawn.

Duster726 karma

Did you go into the business by choice?

IAMaMorticianAMA15 karma

Yes, I did. I have wanted to be a funeral director since I was in high school. It was not in my family, and I did not know any funeral directors. It started as a morbid curiosity/google search, and turned into my calling.

Duster729 karma

Are you happy with your choice?

IAMaMorticianAMA15 karma

I love my job, and I can't imagine doing anything else. It's fascinating to me. No two days are ever the same. It's also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.

emjaybe5 karma

What would you like to happen to your body when you pass away (ie. Cremation vs Burial vs other options)?

IAMaMorticianAMA15 karma

I don't care what happens to me, because I'll be dead. I want my family to decide what they think will be best for them. However, after witnessing the cremation process, I can't imagine that happening to the body of anyone that I love. I know full well that they are dead, an can no long experience anything. It's still just very unsettling to me.

NaomiMustard5 karma

Was there ever a moment during your career where you thought 'holy crap this is too much' and wanted to walk out? If so what were the circumstances?

Also I want to know what is in your makeup kit that you use for the bodies.

IAMaMorticianAMA15 karma

Yes, but that was honestly caused by a shitty employer who had unrealistic expectations of me, and took too many vacations and left me to manage all the calls with little or no help. I'm now happily employed at a different funeral home, and I know that I have made the right decisions in my life.

Mortuary cosmetics tend to be a little more opaque than stuff you can buy over the counter. A lot of it also tends to have more of a pink or rosy tint, because when blood is no longer circulating through a body, it loses that vibrant pink color. We also use wax to fill in wounds or rebuild features that were damaged. And a lot of the time we do use regular makeup that you can buy at the store. There's a few shades of lipstick and blush that I love and look good on little old ladies and old dudes.

id10t_pen152 karma

Any creepy/paranormal stories?

IAMaMorticianAMA27 karma

Nah. That shit ain't real.

...but if it were, and you were a ghost, would you honestly hang out at the funeral home? Probably not.

thelastsuspected-38 karma

Do you ever get sexually aroused by your job?

IAMaMorticianAMA17 karma