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Mortuary business is booming, attracting new kind of workers

Posted at 1:05 PM, Dec 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 16:34:49-05

CYPRESS, Calif. -- It’s Friday the 13th and finals week at Cypress College in Southern California.

A chilling combination for some, but for other students it’s just another day at school.

They’re studying for a career that’s not for everybody – but a career that will eventually impact just about everyone.

These students are prepping for their final exams in mortuary science, a degree where they can make a living while dealing with death.

“This is from what I’ve learned is a gasket casket,” said Karla Ruiz, a Cypress College mortuary science student.

Ruiz has a goal of advancing her career from a local morgue to national security.

“I’m really into watching a bunch of CIA stuff or like crime stuff,” she said. “So, I want to find something that can open the door for that.”

Cypress College is one of about 60 colleges across the country that offer this kind of end-of-life education. It may seem like a grim career choice, but the mortuary science industry is now attracting different kind of demographics.

“As far as male female it’s certainly changed,” said Damon de la Cruz, Cypress College mortuary science assistant professor. “It wouldn’t be hard for us to see in a graduating class of 20 something like three males and 17 females. It’s really shifted in that direction.”

It’s a direction where there’s now a growing demand for qualified workers.

“There’s not enough students to meet the demand of the community,” de la Cruz said. “As result of that many of our students are placed or they get hired before they even graduate.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual wage for morticians, undertakers and funeral directors is more than $52,000 a year. Funeral service managers can make closer to $80,000.

“I’ve been in this industry for a long time and I’ve had many opportunities presented to me to where I’ve grown, been able to afford a house, and be able to live comfortably in southern California,” said Harbor Lawn Mortuary funeral director Michael Roudebush.

Roudebush has hired several Cypress College students through the years. He says a career in mortuary science can be financially rewarding but also emotionally draining

“Empathetic and compassionate people are what we’re always looking for,” Roudebush said. “We are people too and we’ve been through what the families have been through. We all experience loss.”

Back on the college campus, students like Ruiz are gaining an understanding of death that they can use for a lifetime. She says that after studying death, she now appreciates life more.

“Ever since doing this I’m closer to my family,” she said. “I actually want to go home and hang out with them.”

A celebration of life that comes from knowing exactly what others have lost.