Apr 17, 2023
It’s an exciting time to work in the funeral profession! In the 12 years I have covered the world of funeral homes as a writer, never before have there been so many important discussions taking place. The door has been flung wide open. New and different perspectives are now being shared in a variety of different formats. Blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and online communities have allowed funeral directors from across the globe to connect and inspire. Deathcare professionals are able to communicate with one another and with the public at large in ways they never could previously.
The buzz that’s in the air right now within the funeral service community is centered around the frank and open conversations that are taking place for the first time ever. Without a doubt, it takes a great deal of courage to give the world access into your life, to share your deeply held beliefs and to challenge long-established views. Yet, in recent years many funeral professionals have done just that, gaining a large following due to their willingness to impart their unique perspectives, insights, and approaches to death and mourning.
While some have used social media as a platform to share their outlook on mortuary work, others have made significant contributions to the funeral profession through writings, research, and public speaking. The common thread among them is a desire to lift the veil and show the world just how rewarding working in deathcare can truly be.
Here are 9 Inspiring Funeral Professionals Who Are Making A Difference
1. Todd Harra
Funeral directors who are gifted with the written word have the unique ability to draw from personal experiences while shedding light on issues other writers cannot tackle. Their prose resonates with a combination of memorable imagery and rich characterization. This is mainly because the funeral writer has the authority to address a wide range of subjects, both somber and humorous, from a perspective no other writer can offer.
One of the most prolific writers in the funeral profession today is Todd Harra. The Wilmington-based funeral director has published both fictional and non-fictional books centered around deathcare work. His writing has both demystified the funeral business to thousands of readers and introduced interesting, 3-dimensional mortician characters to the literary world. In his most recent book, Last Rites, Todd unpacks the history of the funeral service profession and explains why we bury our dead the way we do in a non-textbook type manner. His contributions to the field of literature have been significant and we look forward to discovering where his writing talent will lead him next.
“With all the unique people, scenarios, and emotions I (and funeral directors everywhere) deal with on a daily basis, I’m never at a loss for ideas,” Todd shared with ASD in an interview. “I am very careful to filter those ideas, and change them if necessary, because I’m certainly not out to profit from somebody else’s grief. But I love the profession because I’m meeting and interacting with different people and am in different places every single day. No two days are alike, and that fuels my imagination.”
Click here to visit Todd’s website.
2. Kari Northey
With nearly three decades of experience in the funeral profession, Kari Northey has become an influential resource for those wanting to learn about the many different aspects of working in deathcare. Her YouTube channel, Kari the Mortician, has more than 115k subscribers and over 900 well-produced videos covering every funeral-related subject you can imagine. Kari’s videos are uploaded weekly and receive thousands of views. In addition to her weekly videos, Kari also regularly holds live Q&A sessions on YouTube which give viewers a chance to see her react and respond to their questions in real-time. Her perspectives resonate with both her peers and those with a natural curiosity about the work of funeral directors.
Last year, we spotted Kari on an episode of TV game show, The Weakest Link in which she passed on an opportunity to poke fun at her profession and instead spoke passionately about how she loved helping families.
Kari seems especially driven to dispel common misconceptions and educate others about the real men and women behind the scenes at funeral homes. Her following has grown steadily over the past few years because she has built credibility as being a solid and reliable source of information. Kari does not embellish or over sensationalize – she speaks to her audience in a matter of fact way in an effort to shed light on topics that are largely misunderstood. Her candor and openness have made her both an inspirational figure and a helpful resource within the funeral service community.
Click here to visit Kari’s website.
3. & 4. Ryan Ballard and Brian Walters
I must confess, I am not a fan of podcasts personally – I tend to zone out and lose interest. This was the case with pretty much every funeral-related podcast that previously existed (including, I must admit, a podcast ASD once sponsored and I occasionally hosted!) However, the funeral directors behind Undertaking the Podcast have cracked the code and discovered a way to produce a podcast that consistently delivers interesting stories and captivating voices within the funeral service profession.
It is hard to believe the podcast’s creators and hosts, Ryan Ballard and Brian Waters, did not have previous experience working in radio or broadcast journalism. They both possess an innate ability to engage their listeners’ interest and to enliven a discussion with personality. Whether they are conducting an interview or simply chatting together, they always find a way to keep it fresh and interesting. This is especially impressive considering the podcast has more than 400 episodes to date, and is uploaded twice a week.
In episode #239 of the show, Ryan and Brian speak to ASD about our experiences answering calls during COVID. Click on the image above to listen or learn more.
By establishing Undertaking the Podcast and working diligently to consistently deliver engaging content, Ryan and Brian have created an influential platform for the exchange of ideas related to deathcare. They have also amplified the voices of other important figures within the funeral community by giving them an opportunity to come on the show and share their stories. The funeral service community is built around relationships and connections. What better example can you find of this than the fact that just about every person on our list has previously been featured on Undertaking the Podcast? It is always inspiring to see funeral professionals supporting one another so all can thrive.
Click here to visit the Undertaking the Podcast website.
5. Thomas Lynch
Thomas Lynch is perhaps the most well-known figure in the mortuary profession. No list of inspirational figures in the funeral business would be complete without him. Thomas gained recognition in the 1990s as an author and poet, then later as the subject of a revered documentary. He has written several books that explore the themes of death, grief, and mourning, including The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade which won the American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award.
In 2007, PBS produced an hour long television special called The Undertaking that focused on Thomas’ insightful and reverent approach to his work. Today, the documentary is considered by most funeral directors to be the most accurate and profound portrait of the funeral service profession ever committed to film. You can read comments on the YouTube page from funeral directors who say that watching Thomas and his family in the documentary inspired them to pursue a career in the mortuary science field. We can think of no better praise than this. Without question, Thomas’ work has had a significant impact on how we think about and approach death and dying.
Click here to visit Thomas’ website.
6. Monica Torres
I’m just going to say it, because we all know it’s true. Monica Torres made embalming cool again. For the past decade, embalming has had a bad rap in the media and was rarely portrayed as anything but negative. Over the years, I have seen many opinion pieces that have taken a number of different shots at the practice of embalming, from exaggerating its threats to the environment to blaming it for our culture’s denial of death. Rarely do these critiques ever examine the other side of the argument – the undeniable fact that thousands of families chose to have their loved one embalmed because it brings them comfort and peace in their time of grief. The act of viewing a person’s body after their death has proven to be a very cathartic experience for many people.
Monica emerged into the spotlight after demonstrating her work and talent as a restorative artist. Her remarkable abilities have made her a leading expert in postmortem reconstructive care. Outside of the prep room, Monica has taken an active role in being an advocate for the practice of embalming and helping to educate those who share her passion through her trade embalming company, NXT Generation Mortuary Support. Monica has gained a following by being exceptionally talented at what she does while also making an effort to show the real people behind the scenes who do this important work. She has pioneered many groundbreaking techniques while keeping a wide-open door approach to her work, letting others into her world by sharing weekly embalming tips and videos online under her online handle, coldhandshosts. She has also endeavored to create more opportunities for women and minorities in the funeral profession while using her platform to shed light on important issues such as harassment and social barriers.
Monica is always careful to leave space for those with alternative viewpoints while never failing to stress the fact that embalming is an artform and should be respected as such. Take for example the video above that she recorded with home funeral advocate, Caitlin Doughty. You couldn’t have two more opposing approaches to funeral service. Yet, they find common ground in supporting grieving families in their different lines of work.
Monica is committed to helping others find success in the prep room, holding virtual classes, technical training and speaking engagements. She is a helpful resource, a skilled expert and a champion for embalming. Her impact has had an undeniable effect—I mean, who could have ever imagined an embalmer would be featured in a magazine like Popular Mechanics? We would argue she has single-handedly changed the conversation about post-mortem care in America.
Click here to visit Monica’s website.
7. Nathan Morris
There is more than one way to be a source of inspiration. You could hold a moving funeral service that helps someone pay meaningful tribute to their loved one. You could sing a song that deeply touches someone. You could write something that helps someone feel less alone. Nathan Morris has done all of these things. As a funeral director and owner, he manages 10 funeral home locations across Kentucky and Indiana. He is also a talented singer-songwriter who has amassed a fan base of more than a half million TikTok subscribers with his moving ballads and charismatic personality.
Nathan’s music has been described as a mix of pop and R&B, combining soulful melodies with heartfelt lyrics. He has worked as a “mortician by day, musician by night” for more than a decade, but his music career really took off after the pandemic when he used his experiences in funeral service as a source of inspiration for his songs. Many of the themes he wrote about resonated with the millions of people who were experiencing loss in their own lives. Nathan has been very open about his own personal struggles and how he has been able to channel them into his music. His TikTok videos are viewed by thousands of people and include a mixture of funeral and music related content.
“I meld the worlds of funerals and music because they go hand-in-hand,” he explains. “That may seem odd, but how do we celebrate when we’re attending a visitation or memorial? We play songs. Songs are what solidify particular moments in our lives. Where were you when you heard this song? Who were you with when you heard that song? You remember those things forever, and music helps bind it all together. I’m exposed to that reality every day, and that’s where these songs come from.”
Click here to visit Nathan’s website.
8. Todd Van Beck
As one of the most sought-after funeral speakers and instructors, Todd Van Beck, has built an impressive career educating others on the value of funerals. Todd has worked as a funeral director, embalmer and funeral service educator for many years, having recently served as the Dean of the College of Funeral Management at the University of Memphis. His extensive contributions to the funeral profession are significant, as demonstrated by his 50+ years of experience, authorship of four books, and publication of 400 professional articles. I remember when I first began writing for the funeral service community, stumbling upon one of his articles in ICCFA Magazine and being immediately drawn in to read his compelling words.
Todd’s presentation on the heritage of the funeral profession
Todd is an accomplished public speaker, having traveled across the United States and to other countries to share his experiences and knowledge. His expertise is unparalleled and have made him a preeminent authority on the history of the deathcare profession, funeral service ethics and funeral business best practices. Todd has taught generations of funeral directors and continues to inspire in multiple ways. Today, you can hear him regularly featured on podcasts sharing personal anecdotes about his life or discussing fascinating presidential funeral stories.
Click here to visit Todd’s website.
9. Eileen Hollis
However you feel about TikTok, whether you believe it’s the pinnacle of human achievement or the most awful thing ever created, we challenge you to watch a few videos on the Hollis Funeral Home account and not fall in love with Eileen Hollis. Go on and try it, we dare you. It’s impossible. She’s too darn likeable. With nearly a million followers on TikTok, it’s not hard to understand why so many people enjoy watching her content. Eileen’s goofball personality is irresistible. There is no doubt her videos are encouraging a generation of kids to consider a career in mortuary science by demonstrating how happy and fulfilled one can be working in this field.
Whether she is taking you on a tour of the funeral home basement, showing you her favorite prep room supplies, doing a dance routine while putting on PPE or interviewing her super-sweet father about his experiences working in the funeral home, Eileen’s vibrant personality shines through every video. It is clear she loves working in the funeral home and has a genuine passion for deathcare. The optimistic and uplifting energy she brings has been a source of inspiration for funeral directors, mortuary science students and many others across the world.
Click here to visit Eileen’s website.
What person do you think has made the biggest impact on the funeral profession? Are there any inspiring figures in deathcare we forgot to include? Share in the comments below.
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com