The first time Laura Fulcer had to confront death, at age 13, she broke out in hives on her way to the service. Three decades later, the Shawano, Wisconsin, funeral director spends her days—and nights and weekends and holidays—collecting bodies, embalming them and arranging their clothes, hair and makeup. "I didn't think in a million years this is what I'd be doing now," says Fulcer, who left a career in health insurance because she got tired of denying claims. "But now I can't see myself not doing it."
Darla Tripoli, 47. Mortuary Cosmetologist Since 2003
A former executive administrative assistant to the president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Society, Darla Tripoli got her funeral director’s license at 40. She has since carved out a successful freelance career as a mortuary cosmetologist and teacher, giving seminars as far away as Russia. “Airbrush cosmetics is huge now, and that’s my specialty,” she says.
Jacqueline Jones, 42. Funeral-Program Entrepreneur Since 2003
Jacqueline Jones brings a sense of meaning to the chaos of loss by helping families prepare the funeral programs—“booklets that chronicle the life of a loved one,” as she describes them—that are common in the African-American community. A call-center manager for AT&T, Jones, left her job in December 2010 and invested her life savings in her rapidly growing sideline business, Celebrate Your Life Custom Memorial Tributes, which she started in 2003. Clients sometimes invite Jones to attend the funeral for which she’s designed the program. She goes to three or four each month.
Rebekah Adams, whose Twitter bio describes her as a “vet, wife, mom, Star Wars and Twilight fan, conservative,” studied communications in college and did stints in the air force and the Minnesota Air National Guard between various sales and marketing positions. She decided to become a funeral director when her grandmother died and she found the ceremony lacking. “Nothing about it even vaguely reminded us of her,” she recalls.
Women now surpass men in mortuary school attendance, and in May 2011 MORE met with four students at the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service in Manhattan. From left: Amy Cunningham, 56; Cherice Phillips, 38; Dawn Carson, 43; and Maria Oquendo, 48—all of them career-changers working towards an associate degree in funeral service.
"Chemistry might be my demise!" jokes funeral school student Cherice Phillips. Students also take courses in anatomy, microbiology, pathology, accounting, law, business management, ethics and more. Then come national and state boards.
Students in Restorative Art I and II classes at the American Academy McAllister institute of Funeral Service learn color theory, cosmetology and how to deal with special problems caused by abrasions, burns, etc. They also craft wax models of ears, noses and other body parts. After graduation, Dawn Carson hopes to specialize in this area so she can "rebuild people."
“Every single body that comes in was a living, breathing human being that somebody cared about, which means I need to care about them, too,” says Jasmyn Du Bois, head embalmer at the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois, in Chicago. Before making her career change Du Bois worked in various corporate positions, hating the politics and what she calls “the mindless drudgery.” Here, surrounded by some 300 generous souls who've chosen to donate their bodies to science, Du Bois is finally at peace.
Read the complete feature on women in funeral service in the October MORE, on sale now. Or click here.