Delgado A-Z: Funeral Services Program

By: Dee Shedrick
Most of us have heard the saying that funerals are for the living, not the dead. There is a psychological benefit to having closure as part of the healing process that most people need to experience when grieving over the loss of a loved one. Therefore, there will always be a need for funeral directors/embalmers. Someone has to be trained on the treatment, handling and disposition of the deceased. Someone has to be knowledgeable about the laws and legal needs of a bereaved family. Since 1978, the Funeral Service Education program at Delgado Community College has given many students across Louisiana an associate of applied science degree and is accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE). Currently, Delgado’s program is the only one in the state since Southern University at Shreveport discontinued its program in 2010 because of decreased enrollment and low passing rates on national board exams. The Funeral Service Education program prepares students in all aspects of funeral services, including funeral service counseling, funeral home management and various embalming techniques.
A sample of a funeral home's showroom where students practice their sellling skills

Although there will always be a need for funerals and funeral professionals, the traditional funeral has become the non-traditional funeral. Traditional funerals involve the embalming, the dressing, the casketing, the wake or visitation, the funeral and the burial. The industry has seen a slump in business because people are doing more cremating and green burials. However, statistics show that over the next 10 to 15 years, there will be a larger demand for funeral service professionals and traditional funerals again as one of the largest generations, the baby boomers, begin to die.

Everyone isn’t cut out to be in the funeral industry. Individuals must possess certain personality traits to be in the business. Funeral professionals are compassionate, self-motivated and detailed multi-taskers. “You must be willing to go over and beyond the norm,” said David A. Coughran, program director of funeral service education at Delgado. “It’s a service industry. And it is still one of the few conservative very personal oriented professions. You must have good communication skills and be willing to work long hours and be on call--and a big one is being able to handle stress. If you are just looking for a job, funeral service is not for you. You have to be passionate about it.” A funeral director/embalmer should also be an open-minded, diverse person, being able to interact with people from all major religious and ethnic subcultures.
Casket displayed outside of the student classroom in the funeral services department

“Most of our students are adults. Very rarely do we get students right out of high school because it does take a maturity level,” said Coughran. People who usually enter the funeral service program are looking for a second career. Most people believe that students entering the program come from a family that owns a funeral home, but that is not the case anymore. In addition to students not having a funeral background, the largest percentage of enrollment has changed from men to women. “In the past, the profession was purposefully dominated by men. The older funeral homes were very resistant and reluctant to bring women in,” said Coughran. He believes that in many cases women may make better funeral directors because women are more nurturing and that is exactly what Delgado graduate and funeral director Meagan Compeaux loves about her career.  "Although it may be tough and very emotional, I really enjoy meeting with families and helping them when they are most vulnerable," said Compeaux, who has worked with Lake Lawn Funeral Home and Cemeteries since her internship began in 2008.

Delgado’s two-year program admits one class of 13 students per year in the fall semester at the City Park Campus. After students have completed pre-requisites, which could take five semesters, they submit an application to be selected into the program. If they make the first round, then individual interviews are conducted with each prospective student. They must also complete a paid internship at a funeral home, which sometimes is really challenging to acquire. Upon graduation, they must pass a 300-question state board exam to be certified. The exam covers arts (funeral home management, business law, mortuary law, accounting, computer application and communications) and sciences (microbiology, pathology, restorative art and embalming). Restorative art focuses on cosmetics and lighting for presentation, as well as reconstruction of a nose, ear or eyes on decedents damaged by trauma; therefore, a student must know the muscles of the face and the head because reconstruction may involve lifting, lowering or moving parts of a face from one side to another. Once student candidates successfully pass their practical and theory board exams, they are trained to work as either an embalmer, who prepares remains for visitation at funerals, or a funeral director, who makes the funeral arrangements, or both. 
1982 Graduate Claude Wayne Demby Joined His Father After Graduation At Demby And Son Funeral Home

Compeaux started her career as an embalmer before she became a funeral director by picking up the remains of deceased individuals from residential and nursing homes and prepping the remains before embalming. A typical day for her starts at 8:30 a.m. and involves calling at least one to two families a day to plan the funeral of their loved ones. Business varies day-to-day from filling out paperwork, ordering flowers and obtaining clergy. Compeaux says that the holidays and winter months seem to be busier than the summer months, but she usually always has a lot of running around to do. "I recommend Delgado for anyone considering this program, but it will be extremely challenging. Everything will have to be put on the back burner--socially and professionally. You have to be really dedicated because this is a very serious job," she said. 

Death anxiety survey, conducted by funeral service education students:
•         87 percent of females and 83 percent of males say that funeral services are for the living.
•         39 percent of females and 26 percent of males worry about death being painful.
•         32 percent of females and 13 percent of males are uneasy around dead bodies.
•         53 percent of females and 32 percent of males are most afraid to die.
•         42 percent of females and 26 percent of males are afraid of dying in an accident.
•         68 percent of females and 30 percent of males think there is an afterlife.
•         19 percent of females and 22 percent of males are uncomfortable at a funeral.
•         Six percent of females and four percent of males are uneasy when talking about death.
•         71 percent of females and 52 percent of males prefer cremation over burial.
•         23 percent of females and 43 percent of males prefer a burial.

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