Mortuary sciences peaks student career interest

Isabelle Paley | The Chronicle 

As junior Ava Hartmann searched for a career, they found that becoming a mortician was anything but a dead end.

Mortuary science is the study of the deceased, specifically concentrating on the burial process. As a career, morticians prepare the deceased for their funerals in a process called embalming, as well as coordinating the cremation or burial process. 

Junior Ava Hartmann currently works at Mueller Funeral Home and is hoping to pursue a career in mortuary sciences after graduation. Though sometimes it is a vocation people may shy away from, Hartmann said that they find joy in mortuary sciences as it combines many of their interests. 

“I [enjoy] art and science as well as sociology or social work, but that didn’t fit for me,” Hartmann said. “I think that mortuary science combines all of that, while also helping people.” 

While working at the funeral home, Hartmann said they get to drive the hearse (the vehicle containing the coffin), help plan funerals, assist in embalming and aid in general housekeeping roles. Although Hartmann is not allowed to participate in the embalming process on their own, they said that they do appreciate being able to assist the lead mortician in making the dead look alive again. 

“Embalming in itself is an art,” Hartmann said. “Sometimes you have to do facial reconstruction, there’s makeup involved and you have to make sure the dead look rested and at peace to make everyone more comfortable.”  

It is uncommon for teenagers to receive an internship like Hartmann, as they are usually reserved for college students. Hartmann said that they were lucky they found someone willing to allow them to take such a position in the funeral home. Hartmann had previous connections to the funeral home through a local theater group that practiced there and continued to call and email the facility until they were offered a position in shadowing the lead mortician. They said that everyone at the funeral home is very accepting of their career path and ready to help in whatever way they can. 

“My [co-workers] honestly find it amusing, because how many 16-year-olds want to be a mortician?” Hartmann said. “They are all very patient with me because they are introducing me to some stuff that other people can’t stomach.” 

Hartmann’s job has allowed them to see new perspectives, not only on death, but on how death should be talked about. They said they know that “death is still scary,” but that avoiding the subject causes “more harm than good.” Hartmann believes that if death and dying are normalized, instead of “keeping it taboo,” then it won’t be such a frightening event in one person’s life.

They said they hope that, as they continue studying mortuary sciences, they can bring a more open and realistic light on the topic of death, as well as changing societal views on morticians.  

Pursuing higher education as a mortician can be a difficult endeavor, as not many schools offer such programs, so Hartmann said they feel that they are lucky to live in Ohio, a state with the first mortuary science school in the United States. They hope to go to the University of Cincinnati’s pre-mortuary science program, then to the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Sciences. Future morticians, similar to other professions in the medical field, are required to go through an apprenticeship or internship before they are considered fully trained. Hartmann enjoys learning from their job as it teaches them important lessons needed not only for their future career, but also daily life. 

“[My job] is just like any other customer service job, just in a different setting,” Hartmann said. “People think you’re working with the dead, but you’re also working with the living. It can be hard because people experience grief differently… but I just have to be extra patient.” 

Hartmann has had to learn to be very aware of the emotions of others, as those that they are working with are undergoing devastation. Since experiences in grief often vary from person to person, Hartmann said the customers all have different attitudes and behaviors when working on planning funerals.

“I’ve had to deal with some pretty angry people,” Hartmann said. “You just have to be extra patient because you do know what they’re going through.” 

Hartmann does still experience sadness from time to time when it comes to their job. The hardest job they had to complete was working with a child’s death, having to assist the mother in planning the funeral while she was in a very raw state of grief. Hartmann said that it is difficult to maintain a sense of professionalism while also being sympathetic. 

Even during tough situations such as that, the importance of the job is what Hartmann said keeps them so engaged. 

“You’re helping people get through one of the hardest times in their lives,” Hartmann said. “They just lost somebody, and it’s your responsibility to help them through that. You can’t bring a person back but you can make the experience of letting go a lot easier for them.”

Photo by the Chronicle Staff