School Interviews

With the amount of families we serve we are no longer able to answer school interviews. Here are some samples from interviews below that you are free to use as a resource for your school paper.

Sample Interview 1

These questions are answered by Funeral Director Amber Carvaly

1. How many years does it take to become a mortician?

This answer is State specific. You will need to research your State and find your licensing bureau and see what the requirements are in your state.

2. What kind of tasks do you do in your occupation?

A Funeral Director does many things. In California they are license to work with families, but not to embalm the dead. This is an important difference. In California they are allowed to do arrangements with the family, file the death certificate, dress the decedent should their funeral home wish them to help do this, set-up and run a funeral service.

3. How long have you been working as a mortician?

The women of Undertaking LA have all been directors for various amounts of time. Caitlin and Amber have been licensed for over 5 years. Susana has been directing for over a year now.

4. Do you recommend any good mortuary schools?

Mortuary school is a long long answer and again State specific. They work different than just going to a great university as the education you receive is both general, as you are meant to be able to pass the National Boards, and also tailored to your State’s requirements. I would suggest going to see a list of all the colleges that are available in the U.S.

5. What are the steps to becoming a mortician? Are they easy?

In general becoming a mortician can be as easy or as difficult as you would like it to be. If you want to be an embalmer you will have to go to school and complete your education there, and then pass the National Boards exams in Arts and Science. If you want to be a Funeral Director you can probably apply immediately and start working upon acceptance at a funeral home. While knowing the laws in your state are incredibly important, much of this work comes from learning on the job and getting practice.

6. Do all funeral homes work the same?

In theory yes. All Funeral Homes work the same. You do an arrangement with a family. Help them decide if they want a cremation or burial. File the paperwork necessary to complete the Death Certificate and obtain a Burial Permit. And then schedule a service.

7. Do you do your job the same way as other morticians, or do you do it the way you see fit?

There are many aspects of my job that I am legally required to abide by. This means that in many ways my job is identical to everyone else’s job. Undertaking LA is really no different than any other mortuary.

8. What do you do different than other funeral homes?

We encourage families to take time with the dead body while it is at home. We believe this helps with the grieving process and gives way to a better and healthier way to grieve.

Sample Interview 2

These questions are answered by Funeral Director Amber Carvaly

1.    Why did you decide to work in or around the death care industry? 

There is a super long answer to this and a shorter one. Which probably is the same idea for everyone. So, the more concise answer is that I wanted to be part of something greater than myself. I had worked with the homeless so I had been accustomed to dealing with emotionally difficult situations and people or human occurrences that make “normal” humans uncomfortable. I also had an idea that a dead body would not be something that would bother me. I guess I include that because everyone incessantly reminded me of this job factor as if I had no idea that would be in store for me  

2.    Why do we need funeral directors or funeral service professionals in this country?

Well asking me this is obviously going to get you a different response than other Directors. Because Undertaking LA has a sort of DIY vibe to it. However, what I think we are, are educators. I believe my families have the courage to do a lot of the heavy work on their own, but at the end of the day they do need me there to guide them. To tell them what is normal. What to expect. How to maneuver through this. We are the professionals and I believe that we are here to help people understand the process not just get them through it. And we really do have a wealth of knowledge under our belts. Not just emotional but government red tape horror! I can’t imagine any family filling out death certificate stuff while grieving. It’s horrible even when its not for you.

3.    What is the most rewarding aspects of being connected to the funeral service profession or death care industry?

A lot of this is thankless. That is the kindest most realistic thing I can tell you and your classmates. You are about to enter a profession where you are going to be an emotional punching bag. Seriously. Tell all of your classmates to get a therapist. I promise you’ll  need it. Because you are at times going to feel guilt over how things are going to go, when they go wrong (and they will sometimes). And you are also going to learn you can’t control grief. But there are bittersweet moments. Like when a mother hugs you, because you made the worst day in her life, a little easier to get through. You can’t change death. Or make it happy. But if you are gifted at human interaction you can make the transition from one life to the next a little easier.

4.    What is the biggest problem/challenge/issue in funeral service today?

Asking Undertaking LA, we are biased. One, we are anti-embalming. Is it the greatest issue? No, but it does represents this staunch refusal to change. Our industry is like a dinosaur. We seem to willfully ignore idea of evolution. This is a business. Yes. We allllll know that. But it is possible to still make money off of the change that Caitlin and I preach and want. Meaning even if we put the power back into our families hands there still has to be a way for us to make money and survive. I just don’t know how to get other directors to see that.

5.    What is the value of funeral service for a family who loses a loved one? How can we add more value?

The funeral service is one, for the family to say Goodbye. But it also functions as a way for them to begin a healthy grieving process, which is incredibly important to how they will spend the rest of their lives here. For me, I believe that having a greater involvement helps. I recently had a mother and the decedent’s friends wrap him in his shroud for his burial. I believe that humans are capable of great strengths, and while I think that we are a shoulder for them to cry on, we shouldn’t be a crutch. People have to have to do their own grief work. However as a disclaimer, I have done plenty of direct cremations, meaning no interaction with the death. So it’s important to know that this isn’t always right for everyone. But we need to offer services that allow the family to be involved because there are families that will want and need it.

6.    What is the future in funeral service going to be like for me, as a Millennial mortuary science student?

More technologically driven I’m sure. I already run most of my business through a phone and the Internet. All calls are forwarded to my phone. All paperwork is sent through email and signed and scanned and sent back. Even when I fax to my crematory it is via the Internet. So I see more of this for other homes as our economy forces us to be more creative to keep costs low for our families.

7.    What has been the hardest or scariest part about starting Undertaking LA?

I think that we have encountered the same issues that all start-ups have had. To be honest most everyone in the industry has been nice and welcoming of us. No hostility. I’ve had a couple of eye rolls and condescending comments but I think that all great ideas are apt to get that and I would be disappointed if we didn’t have any. But I suppose the hardest thing for me is running a business that is reliant on cooperation with other companies. If you want to start your own funeral and not take our hundreds of thousands in business loans, and that’s if you could get them, then you will have to partner or hire out certain services. This means you hire an Answering Service, a removal company, and you sign a third party contract for a crematory and storage facility. But you also have to manage employees who are not on your payroll. Meaning your brand is not their concern. This can be horribly difficult. If things go wrong, as a start-up you need them more than they need you. So you have to understand how to problem solve and talk to others in a way that hopefully resolves future issues, and also doesn’t make them want to stop working with you.

Sample Interview 3

These questions are answered by Funeral Director Amber Carvaly

1. What’s it actually like to be on this job?

a.    I think the best way to answer this is with a quick break down on what a mortician is. Technically this is an outdated term that no longer is applicable in the mortuary field today. Most people are licensed funeral directors, licensed embalmers, or both. In older times a mortician was an umbrella term for someone who did everything. This was easier when we lived in smaller communities; this type of do-it-all job more than likely still exists in other parts of the country. However, in Los Angeles and to a greater extent most of California we are usually separated into just one of the categories.

b.     It is not uncommon for many people to hold a dual license, but they usually just stick to one department. Almost all of my friends are licensed funeral directors, but they only embalm. This would make them Funeral Directors & Embalmers who function solely as embalmers. (If that doesn’t make sense we can talk more on it)

c.     I worked as an apprentice embalmer but I also have my license to be a Funeral Director. Previously, at my old job I was strictly an embalmer, but with my new job I will be a Funeral Director. Caitlin and I will not be offering embalming as part of our services.

d.     Being on the job as an embalmer is extremely labor intensive. You are on your feet all day and you have to do a lot of heavy lifting. You are also around a lot of chemicals, which do not smell particularly wonderful, and you are usually dressed from head to toe in a set of personal protective equipment (PPE), which look a lot like what a doctor would wear in surgery.

e.     I worked a fairly normal schedule. 8am to 5pm. I did various jobs such as filling out in-take forms when bodies come in, embalming, dressing, and casketing.

f.      On the next page I inserted a blank autopsy report that I pulled from the web to give a clearer example of what an “in-take” form looks like. When bodies come in the funeral home has to immediately document them and the status that body arrived in. The paperwork will come with me back upstairs and then I will wrap the body back up in the sheet it came and place it back in the refrigerator until it is ready for embalming or if there is no embalming, dressing and casketing.

g.     For the most part it was a very interesting job because you get to see something that not a lot of people are privy to.

h.     Funeral Directing is mostly doing a lot of paperwork. You have to fill out the Death Certificate. Get it signed by the doctor, and then sent to the Health Office. Then you get a Burial Permit. After that you help a family plan out what they want for their funeral and then return to help carry said plans out. Depending on the home a funeral director can also be in charge of picking up bodies as well as transferring bodies to cemeteries or airports if they are being sent out of state.

2.     Where are the best places to get this education/training?

I attended Cypress College. Most funeral directors and embalmers you meet will have gone to this specific school. There are only two in California, Cypress and American Rivers.

However, you do not need to attend mortuary school to be a licensed funeral director. These are the following requirements:

1.     Be 18 or older.

2.     Possess an Associate in Arts or Associate in Science degree, or equivalent.

3.     Have committed no acts or crimes constituting grounds for denial of licensure under Section 480 of the Business and Professions Code.

Here is a link to the college sites and licensing page for reference in case you want to check it out

3.     How do you deal with late night work?

Most homes deal with late night work the same way. We have a central answering system. The operator picks up and will transfer your call to a director or take a message. The call will be forwarded to our cell phone and we can answer it or call back in the morning.

Homes that do not have a central answering system will rotate the task of being “on the phones”. And you literally take the phone with you everywhere you go and wake up at anytime of the night that someone calls. This way they are always available to do a body pick-up if they need to.

Caitlin and I are advocating for home funerals. Which, if it becomes a well-received idea in the community will help alleviate the 2am wake-up calls. We promote the idea that an expected death is in actuality not an emergency and that you can keep the body at home for at least a few days when kept cool. However, it will take a lot of public education because we do stress that this is something that families should be prepared to do when the time occurs.

4.     How often do you take breaks?

I think if you asked any funeral director/embalmer they would say “never”. But, realistically there is always a way to make time to take a short ten minute break, plus we get a lunch break just like anybody else that works a normal 9-5 job.

5.     What skills or personality skills are essential for this job?

a.     Empathy is the number one skill someone should have to do this well. You are constantly dealing with all sorts of personalities, from grieving families to your own coworkers. Having an understanding of how humans deal with stress and sadness is key. Without it, one would take everything personally and probably burn out pretty quickly.

b.     If you are an embalmer, the ability to stand on your feet for long hours is essential. People don’t really think about that when they think of embalmers, just sort of bloody stereotypes. But in reality, it’s a really strenuous and tiring job. I wore two sets of gloves to protect my fingers and it was incredible painful at the end of a shift because the force of the elasticity would squeeze my hand together and I was constantly working against that to hold it open when using my tools.

c.     I guess being ‘ok’ with dead people should be on this list. It’s really hard because I sort of view that as just a basic human skill-set we should all possess. But, I guess one should have a strong stomach because there are some things that can be particularly unsavory and not everyone will be able to look at it. It just all seems incredibly normal to me. I don’t mean to say that things don’t smell bad or don’t make me sad. It’s just a part of life and it has to be dealt with.  

6.     What has been your strangest case?

I think I know what you are asking. However, I hate to tell you I’ve never seen anything super strange. I once saw a body that had been completely burned all the way down to his ankles. That was a pretty bizarre thing to see because, well because the body was completely burned to the bone almost. But to be honest most of the “strange” cases are really cases that make me horribly sad for the human that lived that way at the end. Many of our senior citizens come in with gaping bedsores from sitting in a bed all day waiting for someone to turn them. Seriously, if you want to do something good in life, volunteer to help at homes and be the person that helps move them in their beds. Its heart breaking. I have seen holes in bodies I could stick my fist in. No one should live that way.

7.     Do you enjoy receiving extraordinary cases?

I guess I would get excited about unusual cases. It was fascinating to watch my supervisor use her skills to sew people together. She was incredible at putting skulls back together. I mean, seriously, it’s an art.

8.    Are there any health risks involved?

a.     I think that the answer to this question is “there are no proven side effects or hazards to working in this field.”

b.     However, no way working around all that formaldehyde doesn’t affect your health. My nose was constantly runny. And let me tell you, it is NOT fun trying to wipe it when you are in your PPE’s and have a facemask on. I’d manage to hit myself in the face and get the runniness to stop and then five minutes later it would run again.

c.     My eyes constantly burned from the fumes as well. Plus when you embalm an autopsy case the chemicals used are even stronger than the regularly used ones. It was really bad. The other girls I worked with seemed fine, so maybe I’m just a baby?

d.     I’ve also been told that Funeral Directors run the risk of skin cancer since they are outside all the time. Seems like sunscreen and big hats would help.

9.  Do you have to travel often?

At my old job I never traveled. We were a high-volume mortuary so I never had to do pick-ups because we had a service that did that for us. However my friends who work at other mortuaries drive all over southern California for either services or picking up a body. I know that at Rose-Hills the director or embalmers will have whole shifts devoted to just driving. I lived a relatively pampered life as far as mortuary jobs go.

10.  Are there any paid vacations?

Again, this varies from home to home. I worked for a large corporation so we had all the standards. We could earn up to a weeks paid vacation each year

11.  Are there any health benefits?

I had standard health benefits. However, I do not believe that all homes offer this. But as far as direct benefits to your health, I don’t think there are any.

12.  What’s your yearly salary?

Not a lot. Everyone seems to have this bizarre idea that we make tons of money.  I made about $15 an hour before taxes. When you times that by 8 hours a day, but minus taxes, and then minus whatever you pay in for healthcare, it’s maybe $80 a day. If I complete my apprenticeship I think I could earn up to $20-$25 and hour.

13.  What is the outlook for jobs in this field in the future?

I guess I’m not sure. When you look up reports it says that it’s a growing field. But, to be honest I am not so sure that’s true. I think the industry feels society’s need to cut costs, and I do not believe that they do a thorough job educating the public on why funerals are legitimately important. If people do not find value in them, then they will be less likely to spend money. So, even if we find that there will be a larger number of deaths because of the population increase, there will still be less money going into the industry, which means that there will not be a wealth/surplus amount of jobs available. It will just mean more work for the amount that is already in the industry presently.

14. At the end of the day what do you take pride in the most?

For me personally, I take pride in my constant motivation to make the world a little better. Even if it means, just making death a little less bad. I am very realistic about this. Nothing will ever take the pain away. But, I suppose for me, what I am attempting to do is create a job function that I guess I could call “death therapy”. I like that I can be here for my friends and family and bring them comfort during a difficult time. I dressed my grandfather for his funeral, my childhood friend’s mother, and an old friend who died at a way way too early age.

To me, this is a privilege. And I suppose it’s why you won’t find me giving too many fun “ghoulish” answers. I take pride in the fact that I see the dead as the last artifact of the living. They should be treasured, not thrown away. And, I want others to see it that way too. I am very lucky to work with Caitlin because with her I will get the opportunity to try to make that happen.

Sample Interview 4

 Answered by Service Director Susana Alba

What are some of your favorite parts of being a funeral professional?

My favorite part about being a funeral professional is giving back to the community. Helping those who are truly in need while going through a death.

What types of family or religious funeral customs have you participated in that are diverse from your personal/family experience?

Raised as a Mexican Catholic, our custom are strict and traditional. We pray night and day. We mourn in silence. I have served many families with different backgrounds and different religious practices. One that does always stand out is a Buddhist family i served about a year back. They sung, burned incense, they offered food/money to the decedent to take during their voyage in the afterlife. Right before leaving the funeral service, they have a bucket full of water in which every person washes hands and face, to cleanse any "bad spirit" the decedent could have left behind. To me, their religious funeral practice is beautiful, and very much the opposite of what my family practices. The one thing all funeral customs have alike- is praising and loving the person who has passed.

What advice would you give to someone considering this profession?

My advice is to work very hard. Treat every family and decedent as if they were a part of you. Pour your heart out to those you serve.

How would you describe your job? Be as detailed as possible. My job consist of receiving the initial phone call once death has occurred. Speaking to the family as to what they envision their service to be. Whether they would like to take care of the decedent at home and have a home funeral, or whether we will be picking up the decedent and taking him to our crematory. We then set an appointment to make the arrangements. Once the cremation takes place the family picks up remains. We also provide simple memorial services in which we Direct. Or interment at Joshua Tree.

Do you run your funeral home more focused on business or families?

A good funeral home has to run on both. Our business relies on families so if we do not take good care of them we lose our business. Our current business comes from positive online reviews from our families saying how loved and well taken care of they felt.

How would you define Alternative Death Care?

I think that Alternative Death Care is really a misnomer and wouldn't really say that is what we do. To me we provide the same Death Care as everyone else. We only encourage the family to take a little more time with the body at home. Green burials are the norm to Jewish and Muslim faith, as well as the bathing and shrouding. I would encourage not using Alternative as a word to anyone and everyone as it sets the idea that this is somehow different than the norm, when in reality embalming is the odd practice.

About how many families do you serve every month?

This answer is unfortunately private.

When you tell people about your work, generally how do they react?

I do not talk about my work much with people. I am incredibly incredibly private and pick and choose any word I use on social media very carefully. I do not want to sensationalize what I do and I act always as if my families can read or hear anything I say. However, when my families meet me they are always shocked to see a young girl doing this job and are always incredibly curious as to how I picked this field. In public I mostly tell people I wait tables as I don't enjoy the slew of usually quite inappropriate questions that follow.

Why did you choose to go into this field? Both broadly the funeral business and more specifically the alternative funeral home.

This is a very unexciting answer. I had a friend that was a mortician and I thought that it would be something I am good at. I started my own funeral home because I disliked the callous attitude of my coworkers at my old job and disliked how confusing they made everything for families. So again, I defer to not liking to use the word alternative here, as it distances us from mainstream mortuaries, as what we really do is offer transparent and easy to understand prices, as well as a working knowledge of what you can and cannot do within the confines of the law, as well as encouraging people to sit with the body at home for a few hours or days after they have died.

Are you happy with the work you do?

I feel good that I can do a job that makes me feel like I am contributing rather than taking from society.

What are the challenges of your job? The easier parts?

The challenges I face is the difficulty of accepting time. In some occasions, an arrangement, burial, cremation will be simple and quick. Other times, it can become very long or complex depending on the circumstance. I wouldn't necessarily say our job is easy. We just do our absolute best in any situation we are faced with.

What kind of education did you need for the job?

Amber went to mortuary school but realistically to do what I do on a daily basis, I learned from hands on experience. Susana: I did not go to mortuary school. I did work in two of California's biggest know mortuaries. I worked very hard to learn every aspect of what a funeral establishment consists of.

Sample Interview 5

Do you feel the green funeral is a trend, or something that will stick around? Why
I definitely think they are trending, but they are not a trend. The consumer has to be educated on why they are better however the funeral industry has no real motivation to do this because they take more time and make less money. Because people do not look into death care the same way they look into, say organic food, there will never be any reason for the industry to convince people that this is better for the planet. The industry is a business and it would be counter productive for them to sell you on something that makes them less money.

Approximately how many green funerals have you seen in the last year?

We have done under ten in the last year but we are also a tiny tiny home

Is it becoming more common?

Woodlawn in Santa Monica just created a space for green funerals which is a good sign. However there are only three places in California to have a green funeral so it makes it different to sell them to people.

What are some of the most common reasons people would choose a green funeral over a "traditional" burial?

The most common reason is simply wishing to adhere to the idea of ashes to ashes... People want to naturally go back to where we came from rather than being pickled and placed in a box. We are becoming more health conscious and care more about the planet so it is natural we would want our death to be that way too.

How invasive is embalming?

Incredibly!! Aside from the fact that your artery is opened up and used as a feeding tube for formaldehyde, a common practice that is left out of the embalming discussion is the part where your lower intestines, bowels, bladder, etc are essentially suction cleaned to get all the bacteria out. This is necessary to help keep the body from decomposing quick since embalming fluid only hits the vascular system.

Do you have to be embalmed? If so why?

In the state of California there is NO law that requires you to be embalmed. It is just sold to people that you ought to be for public safety and health.

Are there any green ways of preservation?

There are green chemicals you can use to embalm a body but I am not familiar with them as I haven't used them so I couldn't really give you a good synopsis on it.

Is cremation considered green?

It is green in terms of using less space, materials, etc. I am not sure what the carbon foot prints are when laid side by side but I am certain that it is a little better and cost $1000 versus $7000+. However it would ultimately be a misconception to say that cremation is green in any real sense of the word, I believe I read something that said that one cremation equals a 400 mile car trip or something like that, so that doesn’t sound super great to me.

Do they push one type of funeral more than another in mortuary school?

They definitely push traditional funerals and embalming in mortuary school

Is there anything you find particularly special about green funerals?

I think green burials are really lovely. They seem to have a more intimate vibe. The graves are hand dug which is an incredible task and is better for the surrounding flora and fauna. Often the family will help bury the decedent and in green cemeteries they seem to be more willing to allow the family to stay and do this. Whereas in a normal cemetery you would almost never see this because machinery is used to close the grave.

What are some misconceptions about green funerals?

The greatest misconception is that they are somehow vastly different that a normal funeral. I get a lot of questions about what they are like and how people want to know every detail. Really the easiest thing is to say they are identical except: no embalming, biodegradable casket or shroud, hand dug grave, and no casket vault.