The pursuit of a profession that deals with death is like any other career choice, arrived at with ease for some, strain for others.

Vicki Tanner, chief of the Interment Services Branch at Arlington National Cemetery, took the job as cemetery representative because it offered more responsibility than her clerical position.

Victor Forney, an autopsy technician in the D.C. Medical Examiners Office and aspiring funeral director, became interested in the field because his father was a part-time mortician but lacked formal training.

Bob Kalas is a third-generation funeral director. His grandfather opened Mattingly Funeral Home in the District about 40 years ago and then his father opened Kalas Funeral Home in Oxon Hill, Md., in 1973. "My grandparents lived in the funeral home. ... I have no recollection of ever being afraid of a funeral home. I worked there during summers of high school and college," he says. For him, the funeral business was a natural career option that he was glad to inherit.

Joseph Ambrose of Ambrose Funeral Home in Arbutus, Md., also came from a family that owned a funeral home, but he worked in other jobs before he decided the family business had been right for him all along.

John P. Chaplin, assistant general manager and funeral director of the Robert A. Pumphrey Funeral Home in Rockville and Bethesda, found his calling after an intense childhood experience. "Back in eighth grade, a good friend of mine died. He drowned in a swimming pool. Only thing I can think back on, I felt kind of helpless," Chaplin recalls. "I realize in hindsight that the funeral director was helping the family. It's still very vivid."