(Written by Lori McCormick)
My father passed away a few months ago. Sitting in the funeral home’s office waiting to meet our Funeral Director, Erin Arteaga, I couldn’t help but think of the career path this person might have taken. There is a certain set of skills needed to become a Funeral Director, not just academically, but in personality and I noticed withing moments, that Erin possessed these skills and more. It was apparent that she loves her line of work.
My career counseling background and curiosity got the best of me, I had to ask. I explained to Erin that I work with high school and college-aged students helping them navigate college and career paths and was curious to know how she ended up as a Funeral Director. Living in the Bay Area most of my students plan on majoring in Engineering, Business, or something in the Sciences. Never once have I had a student say they wanted to become a Funeral Director.
Here is Erin's story about how she became a Funeral Director:
There were a few things that led me in this direction at a young age. I was curious about death and what happens to our bodies after we die. When I was about six, I found a dead mouse, put it in a bucket, climbed a tree that was close to my house, hid it on the roof and would visit it daily to examine the progression of decomposition over time.
Then, I became fascinated with the spiritual part of death and the different rites and rituals surrounding funerals. My grandpop passed away when I was 11 and I was extremely close to him. He insisted on not having a funeral because he didn’t want the financial burden on my grandma. As a result, I was in a raw, perpetual state of grief for years.
When I was 16, I looked up the Occupational Handbook online and researched the statistics on this occupation: job duties, educational requirements, average salary and I decided right then I was going to be a Mortician. In California, you don’t have to attend a Mortuary College or be licensed to work as a Funeral Director but I decided to go to Mortuary Science school anyway. Most states have one or two 2-year Associate programs and some have a 4-year Bachelor’s program. I attended a 2-year program and then got an undergrad in Business Administration and, later, an MBA.
Interesting note: The “final” for my Mortuary College Grief Counseling class was to create a Memorial Service for someone we had lost. Of course, I chose my grandpop. Completing that final allowed me to let go of a decade of grief and made me convinced of the power in helping people say goodbye the way they need to.
Funny note: after completing college, when I got my first job in the industry at a Funeral Home, I had not yet ever been to a funeral in my personal life.
In addition to a degree (which is not a requirement in California), there are also several licenses that may be obtained in this state:
Funeral Director’s License
Cemetery Manager’s License
Crematory Manager’s License
Life Insurance to write prearrangements
My advice for any student trying to figure out what is their calling is to trust your intuition and listen to your heart. You never know what path your life will take you until you start to trust your instincts.