Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Embalmer & Funeral Director, Artist/Creator
The funeral industry carries such a heavy weight on it’s shoulders. The primary focuses are to assist in making the grieving process as fluid as possible, enable loved ones to pay their respects properly and ensure suitable funerals and burials. Professionals in this industry are incredibly hard workers, able to withstand long hours and have an ability to turn their emotions off while accepting everyone else's. This comes with a strong passion for helping people.
Amanda Marie Eilis King is a licensed embalmer and funeral director in Connecticut who specializes in post-mortem reconstruction (for traumatic death). Currently, she is head of an embalming team for Carmon Community Funeral Homes, which have nine branches of funeral homes. Her strong moral and work ethics have carried her far, and her natural wisdom and thoughtfulness is what allows her to help those that are grieving. Amanda's role is very important, she completes the deceased's wishes and ensures that loved ones have the closure they need.
hour reconstruction laying on my table in front of me. There’s a parent that needs to see their child, or a husband needing to see his wife whole again - their need pushes me.”
Up until recently, the industry has been mainly run by men. Although it is still a male dominated industry, there has been a rapid increase in women professionals.
Traditionally funeral homes have been passed on through generations, and recently families are choosing to sell their parents’ legacies rather than run them. This is allowing for change and growth. Modern and new-wave ideas are being implemented, and lost traditional practices are coming back and becoming widely accepted again. King is a promoter of these practices. She wants see a revival...what were once common traditions in our country to come back. Amongst these are green burials, home funerals, death doulas and post mortem photography.
Her end goal is to be in the academic world and hopefully run a mortuary program that is up to date, and hands on. She states,
Much of mortuary schooling has not grown with the times. New approaches and ideas need to be taught. King would like to be amongst the pioneers trying to change this, in filling the void and closing the gap. Instead of using traditional makeup methods, King has been steering away from the heavy mortuary makeup look and focusing on airbrushing. Why? This creates a more natural look and the reaction from families is so rewarding. It covers everything. If there has been extreme trauma to a body, the airbrush cosmetic covers this and allows the family to avoid seeing it. Also, women naturally carry common characteristics of death industry professions, such as being compassionate and caring.
It is comforting for clients to know their loved ones are being cared for. All the deceased get bathed and properly dressed, even if they are being cremated. The photos sent in of them with their clothes and letters from their loved ones get tucked carefully in their hands. People want to know their loved ones are being taken care of, and looking their best, the way the deceased would desire. Amanda knows this, and puts the deceased first, with careful consideration, throughout.
Self care is very important. Here are some of King’s words of advice for people thinking about getting in the industry...
King joined a boxing gym as an apprentice. She says due to obesity the bodies are becoming heavier. You need to be able to smartly lift. It's a rigorous and physical job.
King is hoping with the shifting of the industry’s leading professionals being that of the younger generation that it becomes more progressive.
The language of the industry is being altered with millennials, women, and LGBTQIA. Not only are people promoting new thought, but it brings light to so many other issues. For example, in Illinois it is legal to change birth certificates to reflect one’s chosen gender. California passed the Atkins’ Gender Recognition Act. “The implementation of these laws represents California’s commitment to treating transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming residents with the dignity and respect they deserve,” - Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. It requires coroners and funeral directors to record a person’s gender identity, rather than anatomical sex on the death certificate. Second, if there's a dispute, a driver's license or passport will be sufficient legal documentation to trump family opinion. The mortuary industry has a lot of support for LGBTQIA people, and professionals are using their own personal advertising outlets through social media to stress a wide variety of issues and misconceptions.
Often people don’t think about the staff behind the scenes. King states..
In our American society people don’t talk about death until it happens, and when it does our emotions take over and it is incredibly hard to make decisions. Currently the industry is making strides in educating and easing the process. Hopefully, in coming years there will be a big shift in what we see. We need to allow ourselves to be comfortable with talking about death and listen to what the professionals have to say. This allows people to understand and cope better. We need to be able to talk about the end of life. King’s approach is about comfort and connection.
Through her training as a death doula, she heard an inspiring story of an individual taking their shoes off in a fit and walking away from a group of people. A person from the group that noticed this approached them, took off their own shoes, and merely walked alongside them in silence. They did not try to fix whatever problem this person had at hand, they were simply there for them so they didn't have to walk alone.