Most morticians learn their trade through the study of mortuary science, a field of study for which many colleges offer an undergraduate degree. Also known as funeral directors and undertakers, morticians must take classes that educate them both in the care of the dead, such as embalming and cremation, and in the organisation of funeral services.
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Anatomy and Physiology
One of the primary jobs of morticians is to physically prepare bodies for preburial viewing. This often requires putting bodies that have experienced significant damage into a pleasing condition, a skill that requires a basic knowledge of anatomy and physiological processes.
The body undergoes a number of physiological changes after death. A mortician should be aware of these changes and be well versed in the chemicals used to prepare the body for viewing and burial, subjects covered in "thanatochemistry," which means "chemistry of death."
Partially covered in thanatochemistry, embalming is the process by which decomposition is temporarily held off so that the body can be viewed before burial.
Before being viewed, most morticians attempt to make bodies appear more lifelike and attractive. This is done through the application of different kinds of beauty treatments, such as hairstyling, make-up, nail care and skin care.
Science of Cremation
Many morticians also offer cremation services, in which the body is burnt rather than buried. Classes on the science of cremation explain the processes by which bodies can be reduced to ashes, including the technical requirements for burning facilities and the environmental and health codes related to the process.
Morticians are often required to address one or more family members and friends of the deceased, laying out the options they face in the burying or cremation of their loved ones. This demands good communication skills, which can be learnt in public speaking classes.
Counselling/Psychology of Grief
Although not grief counsellors per se, morticians frequently come in contact with people in the process of grieving for the dead. It therefore behoves morticians to be familiar with the psychology of grief and to know how to best treat those undergoing this painful experience.
There are a number of laws that cover the procedure of burying a dead body, including where, when and how the body can be interred. Funeral law offers an overview of applicable state and federal laws related to the undertaking practice.
A good mortician is also a good business person. Classes in mortuary management offer an overview of good business practices in the trade, including marketing, sales and accounting.
Morticians are also often called upon to organise funeral services for the dead. These classes educate them in the history of the funeral and in the basic procedures common to services.
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