Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Funeral Director

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Character Occupation Thesaurus: Fumeral Director; Remember to give your character a job that will characterize them, deepening your story and the reader's connection to them.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: Funeral Director

Overview: Funeral directors oversee end-of-life preparations (either to pre-plan a funeral, or after death) and will have a variety of responsibilities including body pick-up, preparing legal documentation, working with surviving family members to arrange for funeral services (the burial and cremations arrangements, casket and flower arrangement options, music and slideshow options, attending to the obituary and creating pamphlets for the service, transportation, etc.). A director also coordinates with a church and minister (if used), volunteers, caterers, florists, and any other agencies required. They also oversee the funeral service itself, ensuring everything is run according to the wishes of the deceased and their family.

Often the funeral director will also prepare the body itself, attending to storage, embalming, body preparation (dressing and appearance), and cremation (if it is requested). If so, the director may be called an embalmer or mortician.

This profession requires a special sort of person, someone who is not only comfortable with death but also highly empathetic. They must have a strong work ethic and be able to handle long hours and an unfixed schedule. Death isn’t 9-5, and people working in this industry can receive call outs for body pickups at any time of the day or night, seven days a week.  Funeral directors often miss out on family outings, birthdays, and special events because duty calls, and so if they have a family, the support and understanding of its members regarding the job is imperative.

Necessary Training: Required education may vary depending on the state or location one practices in, so if this factors into your story in a real-world locale, do some research for that area. In general though,  most directors will have an associate degree in mortuary science, if not a batchlor’s degree. A funeral director also needs a license to practice in the state they work in. Directors must also be educated in the legal aspects of body preparation and follow strict guidelines and procedures, not only for the forms to be filled out (death certificates, etc.) but also in the case of chain of evidence situations so that any legal proceedings can move forward seamlessly.

Funeral directors also require “soft skills” to work well with those who have lost loved ones. To offer genuine support in a difficult time, a director should be compassionate, a good communicator, and have strong patience. Grieving people may struggle with decision-making and memory recall, or may change their minds frequently because they are in a very emotional state so being able to navigate this and remain calm and supportive is essential.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Basic first aid, blending in, empathy, exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, hospitality, multitasking, sculpting, sewing, talking with the dead, time management, cosmetology

Helpful Character Traits: calm, centered, courteous, diplomatic, disciplined, discreet, efficient, empathetic, focused, honorable, hospitable, independent, industrious, kind, mature, meticulous, nurturing, obedient, organized, patient, persuasive, professional, proper, responsible, spiritual, supportive

Sources of Friction: a difficult body collection (the body of a child, a loved-one, or someone who died in a very horrible manner, a person who is the same age or is similar on some way to the director), conflict between relatives over funeral arrangements, a break in the chain-of-custody, making preparations for those who have no one to make their arrangements, struggling to have a work-life balance, balancing the mental and emotional toll of one’s work, family members who are not understanding of the pressures of one’s work, social prejudices against one’s career, missing instructions or paperwork accompanying a body, theft of a body or items with the body (such as jewelry), employee misconduct, families who refuse to pay, problems during the funeral, misprints in a obituary or on a death certificate, being short-staffed, equipment malfunctions, a body being cremated by mistake

People They Might Interact With: grieving family members, church management, volunteers, pastors and ministers, florists, caterers, community hall organizers and staff, representatives from the military (the the deceased was in service) or a specific church organization (if one held a position within the organization) who play a role within the service, police investigators, coroners, repairmen, delivery people, employees

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: If a character is in this profession because it is a family business, they may feel it is an obligation career that holds them back from things they might find fulfilling (pursuing higher education, following a passion that requires time and energy they don’t have, giving back through volunteerism, etc.)
  • Love and Belonging: A character in this industry may struggle to find and maintain loving relationships due to the demands of the job and the stigma that comes with this type of work.
  • Safety and Security: A character could fine themselves caught up in a dangerous situation if they are working on a high-profile client (a criminal, a mobster, or a person of interest in a federal investigation).

Common Work-Related Settings: car accident, cheap motel, church, community center, construction site, courtroom, flower shop, funeral home, hospital (interior), hospital room, house fire, morgue, nursing home, parking garage, parking lot, police station, underpass, waiting room, wake

Twisting the Stereotype:

  • Morticians are often portrayed by men, so why not assign this profession to a woman?
  • Rather than dour and somber, show your mortician character as an extroverted, exuberant personality with a great sense of humor
  • People in this profession are very comfortable around death…but what if your character wasn’t? What emotional wound, fear, or reason could he or she have for being in this industry?

About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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9 Responses to Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Funeral Director

  1. Carol Baldwin says:

    Really appreciated this post since a mortician plays an important role in WIP. Local and historical information needs to be sought out too–practices vary from state to state. I recently met a woman whose mother was a mortician and she was convinced that every family would live in an apartment above the funeral home. She was surprised to find out that wasn’t the case for my character’s family in the 50’s in Charlotte, NC. Details count! I also liked what you included about character traits and flipping some of the stereotypes.

    • Yes, often if the Funeral Director owns the business, they live onsite, and it totally makes sense considering the hours. I don’t imagine it is an easy career, but in all the articles I read from directors, there is some incredible beauty and honesty in death too. It opened my eyes to the process of grief and how it can bring about a huge gift to those remaining: clarity about what is important.

  2. Pingback: Writing Links 2/12/18 – Where Genres Collide

  3. Maggie says:

    Thanks for posting this one. I’m interested in having a heroine as a funeral director. I know a female funeral director (lots of deaths in the family) and gotten to know her. She’s filled me in on quite a few details and is someone I’d love to base a character on because she did this while juggling a family.

    • I think it is an interesting occupation, especially for a female. There’s a book by Dan Wells called I Am Not a Serial Killer where the Mom & Aunt of the protag are funeral directors if you want some further research to look into. 😉

  4. Cynthia A Litchko says:

    Okay, I’m hooked but where can I buy the Occupation Thesaurus? I couldn’t find any links on this site and it wasn’t on Amazon.

  5. In the small town where I grew up, the undertaker family played a family of clowns at every holiday parade. Wonderful people!

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