What is the Difference Between a Mortuary and a Funeral Home?

When faced with the unforeseen passing of a loved one, many families are unsure who to turn to or what steps to take next. It can be confusing to understand how to prepare the decedent for burial or cremation while also navigating your grief. Knowing the difference between a mortuary vs funeral home can help you and your family to better move through these already trying times and ensure that your loved one is memorialized with respect and care.

Mortuary vs Funeral Home: What Is the Difference?

When it comes to end-of-life planning and navigating the process of preparing a decedent for burial or cremation, there can be a lot of stress and confusion. One of the most common causes of confusion has to do with simple terminology. Many are not sure as to what the difference is between a mortuary or morgue and a funeral home, if any at all. Because of this confusion, it can be difficult to understand which is the right choice when planning a funeral for a loved one.

While there is often overlap between the two, in this guide, we'll explain the most important differences between a mortuary and a funeral home. By learning about both types of end-of-life service care providers, you'll be able to better understand which service is right for you and your loved ones. Especially when it's your first time planning a funeral, having this basic knowledge can save you a lot of time and frustration when making arrangements.

What Is a Mortuary? 

A mortuary (sometimes referred to as a morgue) is a service provider offering embalming and on-site cremation to families of a recently-deceased person. A morgue is commonly associated with medical centers or hospitals, where morgues are storage spaces for bodies until they are claimed or redirected. However, morgues can also be full-service businesses that help families after the death of a loved one, despite their main focus being preparing the body after death.

Sometimes morgues, mortuaries, or businesses with the word "mortuary" in the title also offer a small viewing space for families or simple, affordable funeral services. This can be a great option if you are planning a service on a budget or if your loved one requested a small memorial. It's always important to check with each individual provider, however, as not every mortuary offers such services. Generally speaking, they are more focused on handling the remains.

When Do You Need a Mortuary?

If you are on a tight budget or you wish to purchase your own memorial products (such as an urn or casket) through a third-party provider, a mortuary may be an appropriate choice for you. If you do not need to host a large viewing or funeral service, a mortuary may be the right choice for you. Additionally, a mortuary may be suitable if you already have access to grief counseling and emotional support, such as through your employer, family doctor, or health care services.

Because mortuaries are focused more on preparing the body for burial or cremation, if you're familiar with the process involved with planning a funeral or feel more comfortable hosting or making arrangements yourself, you can comfortably utilize the service of a mortuary. When you need the additional guidance of a funeral director (for example, if this is your first time planning a funeral or you are looking for a full-service memorial), then a mortuary is not recommended.

What Is a Funeral Home?

While funeral homes also offer mortuary services such as embalming, funeral homes place their primary focus on offering full memorial services. Many funeral homes have their own memorial parks, and you will also be able to purchase any required burial products directly. Funeral homes are also concerned with caring for the bereaved family. Licensed funeral directors are trained in grief counseling, which comes as a great comfort to those who access their services.

It's important to note that, while it is becoming more common to offer cremation, funeral homes traditionally offer only burial services. When seeking a funeral home provider, if your loved one has requested their body be cremated, you will need to check with each individual provider to determine whether they are able to offer you this service. Additionally, some funeral homes may be able to offer greener burial solutions, if that is a requirement you have.

When Do You Need a Funeral Home?

You should consider using a funeral home if you require emotional support or grief counseling in the wake of a loved one's death. If you need assistance in regards to making burial arrangements, or planning the funeral or memorial itself, a funeral director will be able to guide you through it all. If you feel you will need external guidance or support at any stage of this process, working alongside a funeral director at a funeral home will be your best choice.

Additionally, if you need an event space to host the funeral, a funeral home is better suited to provide this amenity. Funeral homes specialize in taking care of memorialization and healing experiences, so they have access to top providers for memorial products, cemeteries, and memorial parks, as well as any other third-party services you may need to plan a thoughtful funeral. This can take a tremendous amount of stress out of the funeral process for you.

Other Major Differences Between Mortuaries and Funeral Homes

One major difference you will see between mortuaries and funeral homes is their appearance. Because funeral homes are designed with the bereaved family in mind, they are usually calm, quiet spaces with peaceful or beautiful surroundings. Some even include spacious memorial parks. Mortuaries, on the other hand, are primarily focused on preparing the dead for their final resting place, so they are not typically designed to comfort the bereaved.

Another difference you may find between a mortuary and a funeral home is the price. Because a funeral home is a full-service provider, their services typically come at a higher price point (with some flexibility depending on the client's budget). Mortuary services, on the other hand, are usually less expensive, as they generally offer only basic burial or cremation services and not funeral planning.

Viewings and Memorial Products at Mortuaries vs Funeral Homes

If you wish to host a viewing either before or during the funeral, a funeral home can comfortably host large groups and coordinate with the family's requests.
While some mortuaries do offer viewing spaces, they are generally significantly smaller than what is available at funeral homes. Depending on the size of function you're needing to host, a mortuary's viewing space may be inappropriate for your family.

Additionally, when it comes to purchasing memorial products like flowers, urns, and caskets, funeral homes are able to provide you with many options. Mortuaries do not typically offer memorial items, although they occasionally may have options for caskets or urns. You are always welcome to purchase memorial products from a third-party provider of your choosing, however, going through a funeral home can absolutely simplify this process.

Which Choice Is Best for You?

When it comes to handling a death in the family, it's important to consider both how you wish to honor and celebrate the life and how you wish to care for the physical remains. Both mortuaries and funeral homes are suitable choices for handling remains (i.e. taking care of burials, entombments, and inurnments). However, funeral homes are better suited to families requiring more comprehensive funeral services, including memorial products and access to cemeteries.

At the end of the day, it's up to you to decide what type of service provider makes the most sense for your family's needs. Finding closure, renewal, and togetherness is as essential to funeral planning as choosing whether to have your loved one buried or cremated, so it's essential that you also explore the healing and memorial services offered by a provider. Don't discount the impact that emotional support and grief counseling can have during this time.

Mortuary vs Funeral Home: The Bottom Line

Now that you're armed with basic knowledge around what to expect from each type of business, you can feel more confident finding an appropriate fit for your family's needs. We've outlined the major differences between mortuaries and funeral homes here, however, this may not always be clean cut. There are now many businesses that offer hybrid services, so it's important to explore a provider's website or speak with a representative for more details on what they offer.

Planning a funeral for the death of a loved one doesn't have to be complicated or stressful. With gentle guidance from the right professionals, you'll have help at every turn. At Sunset Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary in Apple Valley, CA, we take pride in helping our clients honor the lives of their loved ones, plan memorial services, and experience healing. Visit Sunset Hills today to take a visual tour of our facility and have your end-of-life care questions answered.