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The science of preparing the dead

There is a gentle, reverent silence in a funeral home as loved ones mourn and prepare to bid farewell to their dearly departed.

Working behind the scenes, funeral directors organize every facet of the service, ensuring the family receives a beautiful, final ceremony.

The few students who major in pre-mortuary science through the University face a difficult, but rewarding career path.

There are no actual pre-mortuary courses offered on campus, said academic adviser Chris Schaefer. Undergraduates interested in entering the field complete 60 hours of pre-requisite general education courses on campus before completing their studies through the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science.

Most students who become pre-mortuary are former biology majors, Schaefer said.

Upon completing his education, mortuary studies student Antonio Green will take over his family’s funeral home in Detroit, becoming the fourth generation in the business.

“Whenever people hear me talk about mortuary science or dealing with death, they’re mostly surprised,” Green said. “It’s always been natural to me. I grew up around it.”

Green graduated from the University with a degree in both interpersonal communication and aviation studies in 2005.

Green said he had a hard time finding a job in aviation after Sept. 11. He went back to school for a degree in mortuary science.

“It is a good major to have under my belt,” Green said.

Funeral Director Stephen Dunn, of Dunn Funeral Homes, said that opening one’s own funeral home is a costly struggle. Dunn said students who graduate with a mortuary degree often start out working for someone else’s funeral home, most of which are family owned.

This can be a trying experience, Dunn said.

“In my experience, old owners of funeral homes think they’re absolutely God,” he said. “You will be treated like a second-class citizen.”

Although it can be difficult, funeral directing has its rewards.

“I enjoy dealing with the families, and I take great pride in the embalming aspect of my work,” Dunn said.

Duties of a funeral director include writing obituary notices, arranging for pallbearers, a hearse and clergy; decorating service sites and, in some cases, embalming the deceased. They are licensed by the state after passing an exam and serving a one-year apprenticeship under the direction of an experienced funeral director, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Web site. Funeral directors earn an average of $45,960 a year.

Dunn believes there is a shortage of funeral directors because of the time it consumes.

“It’s working 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and a lot of people don’t want to do that today,” Dunn said.

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