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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Physiotherapists to the dearly departed

By Jack Kazmierski
Special to The Toronto Sun

It's not a career most of us aspire to while in high school, and you might be hesitant to talk about your job on a first date, but if you can handle the work, a career as a mortician has its rewards.

"Generally people who have had an experience with death in their immediate family get into this line of work," explains Jeff Caldwell, program co-ordinator, Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning -- the only English-speaking school to offer a program for this profession.

"That's the time they have been forced to go into a funeral home, experience the type of services provided by the funeral home staff, and have made a decision that this is something they could see themselves doing. A lot of times they see themselves making a difference at a time of need."

Those who get into the business thinking it's a great way to get rich quick will be disappointed. In Ontario, licensed morticians, or funeral directors (see side-bar), make an average of $32,000 a year.

If you're looking at making money in this business, you'll need to get into a management or ownership position. Some funeral home owners can bring home more than $500,000 a year.

But before you quit your day job for a career serving the dearly departed, make sure you understand what the job entails.

"First of all, there's a lot of lifting involved," Caldwell says. "When you go to a place of death, you're the individual who has to transfer that body onto your stretcher, and to the funeral home."

At the scene of an accident or at a suicide, however, more than a strong body is necessary to get the job done. Emotional fortitude and the ability to hold down lunch may also be required.
In Ontario, the only English-speaking school to offer a program for funeral directors is the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.
A licensed funeral director is trained to deal with the grieving family as well as do all the work behind the scenes preparing the body.
A non-embalming license is also available for people with specific religious or ethnic restrictions.
"A lot of people find it very comforting to know that the person with whom they sat down and made funeral arrangements is going to be the same person who will be doing the actual physical preparation of that body," Caldwell says.
To become a licensed funeral director, you'll have to complete a two-year program. Year one is full-time with students attending class 25 hours a week.
After completing the first two semesters, students begin their internship placement -- 365 days, which according to provincial regulations, must be spent working full-time at a funeral home within Ontario.
The second year is accomplished through correspondence courses since students are still working full-time at a funeral home.
Cost: $2,400 for first year; $900 for second year; $1000 for books and supplies.

After you get the body to the preparation room at the funeral home, you'll have to undress it, place it on a special stainless steel or porcelain table equipped with troughs on the side (more lifting) and wash it with a disinfectant soap.

All of the orifices, including the eyes, nose and mouth, have disinfectant sprayed into them. This is part of the embalming process.

"What we're trying to do by embalming the body is disinfect it internally and externally, to temporarily preserve it," Caldwell explains. "It also makes it a safe environment for others to be around. Since family members sometimes come up to the casket, lean over and kiss the deceased, we want to make sure there are no harmful bacteria on the body."

Next, you'll prepare an embalming solution mixed with tints, which is used to bring back some of the body's natural colour.

"We access a major artery and a major vein, in most cases it's the carotid artery and the jugular vein, found right beside each other in the neck," Caldwell says.

A small incision is made, the artery and vein are raised through the skin, the solution is pumped into the artery, and the blood is displaced and comes out through the jugular vein.

(Jack Kazmierski ( is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor.)

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