Though many find talking about death taboo, there’s also an increasing demand for more workers in death care. From the funeral profession to caring for those in the final stages of their lives, there’s a surprisingly large variety of jobs that deal with death, dead bodies, or funerals.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- 1. Funeral Director
- 2. Embalmer
- 3. Thanatologist
- 4. Death Doula
- 5. Funeral or Memorial Celebrant
- 6. More Jobs
These jobs don’t have to be morbid or sad. For many called to this field, caring for the dead and those nearing their final moments is a beautiful invitation to live life to the fullest.
Whether you’ve been called to one of these professions or you’re simply curious, here’s a complete list of jobs that deal with death and the dead. Far from morbid, these are fulfilling, exciting, and innovative careers that truly make a difference.
1. Funeral Director
The most well-known job that deals with death is a funeral director. Also called mortician or undertaker, this is the professional who assists families with making final arrangements for their loved ones after death.
Funeral directors or undertakers help families with administrative tasks like filing for the death certificate, planning the funeral, and making burial or cremation arrangements. Many funeral directors are also embalmers, meaning they’re trained to oversee all tasks carried out in funeral homes.
Becoming a funeral director is no simple process. This is a highly skilled and trained position, requiring years of education, job experience, and state certifications. But helping families through the darkest moments of their life is what calls so many to this profession.
Many embalmers are also funeral directors, but sometimes this is its own position within a funeral home. An embalmer is someone who is legally certified to embalm bodies or preserve them prior to burial.
Embalming is a meticulous process, involving an understanding of chemistry and anatomy. Embalmers also handle the casketing or preparing the body for the casket. They might also apply makeup or clothing to the body to prepare it for viewing.
A thanatologist is someone who studies death and dying. This is a unique psychological topic, and many social scientists of psychologists specialize in this unique area.
For those drawn to academics, death, and culture, thanatology may be an intriguing field. The term itself comes from thanos, the Greek word for death. From understanding death throughout history, modern times, and various cultures, these individuals truly come to terms with every area of mortality.
4. Death Doula
A death doula, like a birth doula, is someone who helps individuals through one of life’s biggest transitions. Though these professionals need no formal certifications or education, most death doulas undergo rigorous training and study to prepare for their role.
Death doulas are those who guide individuals through death and dying. Whether someone was diagnosed with a terminal illness, wants to get their affairs in order, or simply has a lot of fear around dying, a death doula is there to help with every step.
If you’re wondering how to become a death doula, the process has no single path. But those who are called to this practice feel very connected to their role as the navigator between life and death.
5. Funeral or Memorial Celebrant
A celebrant is someone who leads a funeral or memorial service. Though funerals can be led by funeral directors or even close family, it’s helpful to have someone who is experienced with these events leading the procession. Most celebrants are non-religious, and they focus on spirituality and legacy from a secular point of view.
That being said, some funeral or memorial celebrants are associated with specific religions. In Christianity, it’s common for clergy members to act as celebrants within their congregation. Most celebrants have experience with public speaking, grief, and cultural practices around death.
6. Funeral Cosmetologist
For families that wish to view their loved ones’ bodies, it’s common for makeup and hairstyles to be applied after the embalming process. While this is usually done by the funeral director or embalmer, there are also funeral cosmetologists who are tasked with this step.
These cosmetologists are makeup artists who are skilled in the application of makeup to the dead. They usually take additional classes or work classes to ensure everyone looks their best when they’re laid to rest.
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7. Crematorium Technician
More and more families are choosing cremation over burials, and this is only expected to grow in popularity since it’s a simpler, more affordable choice. A crematorium technician is someone who operates the crematorium, or the large incinerator that cremates dead bodies.
Aside from overseeing the cremation process, crematorium technicians often perform many tasks similar to funeral directors. They also assist families with making decisions about how to handle the ashes of their loved ones, whether they choose an urn or another option. Like funeral directors, crematorium technicians undergo state testing and education.
8. Forensic Pathologist
This is a role you’ve likely seen played out on the big and small screens in true crime films and TV. A forensic pathologist is someone who is involved in criminal cases, helping determine the cause of death and manner of death.
Forensic pathologists are skilled, trained physicians. Unlike a family doctor, they’ve received special training in pathology to help with these legal cases. Beyond working with bodies, many also take action in the courtroom to present findings.
A coroner is someone who examines dead bodies. They’re the public officials who determine the cause of death, and they’re typically employed by the county or state.
Most coroners get a degree in criminology, and they may also work as a physician to ensure they’re prepared for the more complex aspects of this process. Some are also familiar with legal matters, especially those that assist with criminal cases.
10. Cemetery Worker
Cemeteries also play an important role in death and dying. Though they have fewer hands-on interactions with the family, they assist with arranging final resting places. They also might organize burial services and graveside memorials.
The most skilled aspect of being a cemetery worker is related to the maintenance of the cemetery itself. Not only do they mark out and dig graves, but they also need to maintain headstones and green spaces for families.
11. Grief Counselor
Feelings of grief are complex and challenging, and many consult grief counselors to work through these emotions. Also known as a bereavement counselor, these are usually individuals who work directly with families after losing a loved one.
Grief counselors can come from all backgrounds, but most are trained therapists or psychologists that specialize in the unique challenges of grief. These professionals can be found anywhere, but they’re typically associated with funeral homes, hospitals, and hospice.
12. Hospice Doctor, Nurse, or Aide
The doctors, nurses, and aides who work in hospice often get an intimate glimpse at death on a daily basis. Though these healthcare professionals work with the living, they are specially equipped to handle those who are in the final stages of their lives.
While doctors and nurses take care of medical treatment in these final weeks and days, aids cover all of the small things. From preparing meals to offering emotional comfort, these selfless individuals aren’t afraid to be there for their patients during this transition.
13. Obituary Writer
Writing an obituary that captures someone’s legacy is no easy task. While many families write obituaries for loved ones themselves, others seek help for this process.
A skilled obituary writer is familiar with the unique guidelines, formatting, and etiquette of writing an obituary. Beyond this, they’re excellent at asking the right questions from family members to discover what makes each individual life unique. An obituary is part of someone’s legacy, so it’s not to be overlooked.
14. Product Sales
Last but not least, there is one final element of the death care industry that’s often forgotten: product sales and development. There are a number of helpful, innovative products in this industry like urns, caskets, flowers, and even memorial diamonds or stones.
All of these products need to be developed, designed, and marketed to both funeral homes and families. Those that work in these industries are constantly designing new ways for families to honor their loved ones, which is highly important work.
Understanding the Death Care Industry
The careers around death, dying, and everything in between are often hidden from public view. Though many are aware that these jobs exist, they aren’t regularly talked about. This makes it harder for young people and students to determine if these paths are right for them, and it also leads to unnecessary confusion and mystery.
In reality, the death care industry is a vast place full of skilled, intelligent, and compassionate workers of all backgrounds. From funeral directors to obituary writers, these people have chosen to work in a “taboo” field to help those currently experiencing loss. Not only do these roles all deserve to be appreciated, but they should also be recognized every day.