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What Is the Difference Between a Funeral Director and Embalmer?

An embalmer is responsible for dressing the deceased for wake and funeral services.
Most of an embalmer's duties are done behind the scenes.
The typical funeral director handles a variety of duties, including hearse driver.
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  • Written By: Cindy Quarters
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2014
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Ultimately, the main difference between a funeral director and embalmer is that the funeral director helps the family through the process of planning and carrying out the funeral, while the embalmer performs the physical preparation of the body for burial. Together, the funeral director and embalmer are usually able to take care of a body prior to burial and help the family through the funeral, seeing to it that final wishes are respected as much as possible. In smaller funeral homes the same person may perform both the jobs of the funeral director and embalmer, but in larger operations there may be several embalmers and a single funeral director. A funeral director is often the face of the funeral home that people typically see, while an embalmer works behind the scenes.

When a person has died, the embalmer prepares the body for burial. This typically includes a thorough cleansing with germicidal soap and replacing the person’s blood completely with embalming fluid, in order to preserve the body. He or she may also repair any disfiguring injuries, such as may have occurred in an accident, and will apply makeup to make the dead person appear almost alive.

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While the many tasks of the embalmer take place behind the scenes, the funeral director is very visible, meeting with the families and helping to plan the final arrangements. The funeral director provides guidance for a family who has lost a loved one, helping them to make decisions regarding the location of the funeral services, the type of services, and when to hold them. Together the funeral director and embalmer may offer assistance in dressing the deceased in preparation for burial and offering advice as to what jewelry or other items might be buried with the deceased, though usually the embalmer communicates through the director.

In addition to the jobs the funeral director and embalmer have in handling the deceased and all of the necessary funeral arrangements, the funeral director also handles a large amount of paperwork related to the death. The appropriate documents are submitted so that a death certificate can be issued, usually by the state or other locality in which the person resided. Funeral directors often help people that must deal with financial matters such as pensions and annuities, and directors may also offer advice on how to handle wills and documents the deceased may have left.

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