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Women are changing the face of the funeral industry
Published Wednesday, January 2, 2019
by Stacy M. Brown, NNPA

Mention singer Monica Brown, and her hit songs like “The Boy is Mine” and “Miss Thang” might come to mind. For others, her stellar acting career with small and big roles in “New York Undercover,” “Living Single” and others also come to mind.

But, it’s Brown’s other profession that – until recently – received little fanfare. “When I’m there, I’m not ‘Monica the artist,’” Brown said on a recent broadcast of her reality show. “I’m a mortician.”

The 38-year-old Grammy and Billboard award winner is among a growing number of women who are beginning to overshadow the typical “man in the black suit” funeral director. “It’s far more than a job; it’s all-day, it’s emotional and it’s far more than you just go to work and come home and that’s it,” said Alyssa George, who just finished her internship on her way to becoming a funeral director.

George works under Patricia Marchesani, the funeral director, owner and supervisor at McCausland, Garrity, Marchesani in Glenolden, Pennsylvania. She’s one of several in Delaware County.

“I definitely think the profession is changing. It’s more female than it’s ever been, and I really can’t tell you why; maybe it’s because we didn’t have a way in earlier, but it seems like we’re doing a lot of good work now,” George said.

Funeral directors, also referred to as undertakers or morticians, help families plan funeral services. They then carry out those services. Most funeral directors are practicing embalmers, which means that they prepare and preserve the body before interment.

To become a funeral director, individuals need to complete a two- or four-year program in mortuary science. Typical courses include physiology, anatomy, embalming techniques, pathology, restorative art, accounting and client services.

All 50 states also require funeral directors to be licensed, which generally requires at least two years of education, one year of apprenticeship and a passing score on a state examination, according to study.com, which notes that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment to grow in the field by 7 percent through 2024.

Because funeral directors, whose median income is $48,490 annually, interact with the families of the deceased, it’s important that they are compassionate and empathetic. “You have to be able to put yourself out there and understand that you have to put other people’s needs before your own,” George said. “It’s not to be taken lightly where you can just jump into the profession just because it might be a steady career or a good job because there’s so much more.”

In a published interview earlier this year, Jan Smith, a funeral director in Indianapolis and a spokeswoman with the National Funeral Directors Association, said she’s been in the business 20 years and recalled that there were just a few women then.

“Today… more than 60 percent of students are female,” Smith said. “Women bring a level of compassion. For me to sit down with a mother who lost her child, I can connect on a different level than a man can, just being a mother myself,” she said.

Elizabeth Fournier of Cornerstone Funeral Services in Boring, Oregon, has served as the one-woman funeral service in that town for 13 years, although she started in the industry nearly 30 years ago.

“When I first stepped into this industry, I was a 22-year-old woman and no one else in the place resembled me. It was very uncommon to find a young woman in this profession as it was primarily men or sons of funeral home owners who followed in the footsteps of their father,” Fournier said.

“Our local mortuary college had nearly every seat filled by a female student. And it is the females who are getting a hold of me to apprentice or to learn from a woman who has been in this industry since the old-boy network,” she said.

The reason for the shift is because of where we are as a culture, Fournier continued. “I happen to be in Oregon where the cremation rate is 80 percent. This means a woman doesn’t have to go to school to become an embalmer; she can just meet with families and stay in the funeral home,” she said.

Further, Baby Boomers are gravitating away from traditional funerals, favoring cremations and celebrations of life, said Alison Johnston, CEO and co-founder of Ever Loved, a website where individuals can plan funerals and memorials. “This shifts the role of the funeral directors away from body preparation tasks like embalming, and more toward event planning and family support, two areas that women have traditionally gravitated toward.”

Finally, Pam Vetter said the days of expensive cookie-cutter rent-a-minister and insert-a-name funeral services are hopefully nearly over as families are demanding more personal, caring service from funeral homes.

“If funeral homes want to stay in business, they’ve realized that they need to diversify their staff. They’ve also realized that they’ve needed to diversify funeral service offerings by making the experience of saying farewell to a loved one both personal and honorable,” Vetter said.

Spending time with a family, listening to stories, playing favorite music, and adding an overall personal theme that connects to the deceased makes all the difference in the world to grieving families, she said.

“Families will remember a funeral service for decades to come because you never forget the day you say goodbye. The funeral service needs to be memorable and part of that effort is connecting with your families. That need is being met by bringing in and training a more diverse staff.”



The word is INTERMENT not internment.
Posted on January 15, 2019

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