By Melissa Jo, Funeral Director/Embalmer, Oyster Bay Funeral Home; Vice President, Nassau Suffolk Funeral Directors Association
Social media and funeral service—two worlds, I’m sure, no one ever thought would collide. Yet in 2024, “#mortician” is racking up over 1.8 million views on TikTok alone. It’s a topic of conversation quickly gaining popularity amongst our colleagues, and if we’re being honest… it’s not all positive. I know this firsthand, having recently attended a well-attended continuing education course on the topic of “Funeral-tainers.” If you’re unfamiliar with the made-up kitschy word coined by our industry, it’s a phrase used to describe the content creators contributing to popular social media platforms. Its utilization most commonly implies a rather suggestive undertone, suggesting these professionals are anything but.
It was an awkward two hours, considering I also go by @funeralbabe on TikTok. Being one of the most popular professionals on the app with over 900k followers, my phone continued to buzz with countless supportive messages from colleagues...sitting mere feet away.
Feeling misunderstood is something I have gotten used to, and I’m sure you can relate. As funeral directors, I think it’s fair to assume that the majority of the general public has little to no understanding of what we do. I would even go as far as saying that too many see no value. After all, we’re funeral directors—we’ve grown used to serving John Q. Public.
So why is it that those who understand so deeply are often the ones who are misunderstood?
Being a first-generation funeral director, it’s a question I have asked myself often. Having spent the past decade of my career learning how to navigate all that the textbooks didn’t teach, toying with different perceptions, digesting endless “a-ha” moments, and learning to accept reality. It was because of that, I quickly learned that nothing can hurt a gentle heart and a good soul more than living among those who don’t understand it. Therefore, a year after the height of the pandemic, funeralbabe was created—a personal page containing hundreds of videos, the bio reading “Life-Death-Funerals, Education-Comedy-Perspective.” I made it my mission to share my life as a funeral director with anyone willing to listen, and the results were astonishing—to say the least.
Yet, despite all the support, gratitude, and positivity that has come from it, there are still plenty who do not support me and other creators of the same kind. Having this firsthand experience, I have come to find that people judge others' actions based on their intentions. The implied theme is that these “funeral-tainers” use our commonly hidden and secretive industry for personal gain, such as likes and comments. Therefore, I too question their morals, as they question mine.
With the chances of death being 100 percent, I can confidently say that it is not our job to decide who can stomach reality. Should you take away someone’s right to decide what they're interested in, you destroy the freedom of thought. This shouldn’t be a new perspective to a funeral professional. Having to answer and thoroughly explain often sensitive topics to the families we serve can sometimes feel like constantly debunking myths and misconceptions that surround our work.
Every single day, I receive hundreds, if not thousands, of questions, comments, and personal messages. It’s a truthfully eye-opening reality on how long our society has suppressed the heavy and sensitive topic of death. This leads me to believe that perhaps funeral service on social media is more vital to our industry than not. Now more than ever, the public is finding interest and garnering a much greater understanding, not only of what we do but insight into the heavy topics of life, death, and grief.
However, like any other industry, there are bad apples in every bunch—funeral directors and “funeral-tainers” being no exception. Similar to what I was taught on the first day of my residency, “There is knowledge all around you. It is up to you to observe and learn from both the good and bad, for the good will encourage you, and the bad will motivate you.”
Based on my experience in the social media realm, the firsthand look into our not-so-secret world has shed a more positive outlook on funeral service and our profession than any other outlet thus far.