Embalmer & Funeral Director, Artist/Creator
Some of the most important occupations in the world are often undermined. For years, the funeral industry has increasingly gained an unnecessary stigma from the general public. There is a disconnect of being able to converse about the event of death and all that surrounds it. The industry has often been misconstrued and carries with its identity an array of misconceptions. We are in a day of age where new waves of thought are being valued, listened and accepted. As with many industries, it will take time for our culture to allow ourselves to be forward thinking and accept innovative practices.
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.
What drives her?
Ensuring that families are able to say goodbye to their loved ones in the best way possible. There is a large disconnect of people understanding what can and cannot happen when someone dies. King listens to what families want and ensures that people know their options. You must be educated and thoughtful.
“Being able to give someone the goodbye they need by seeing their loved one for one last time, is what always pushes me when I have an 18 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.
“The reason why I support green burials is that the family is often very involved through the entire process and you see this in home funerals too. People get creative, they are part of the process, it is in their own hands.”
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,
“Burnout is real and schools don't adequately prepare people to go out in the real world.”
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.
“At least 60% of mortuary students are women. A lot of young women. All the hip makeup trends are following with them and airbrush is one of them. It covers everything. In the next 10 to 15 years it's gonna be a very different look in our industry with it being dominated by women.”
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.
The industry is incredibly stressful, carries very long hours and has less compensation than you’d imagine, considering the amount of work. To be in this industry, you must be passionate. It is very important to have outlets where you can destress. King is also a professional visual artist. Currently her primary focus is in the funeral industry but she spends her spare time printmaking.
“But it’s the ultimate and most honorable art experience putting back together someone’s loved one so they can say goodbye.”
Self care is very important. Here are some of King’s words of advice for people thinking about getting in the industry...
“Go to a gym!”
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.
“Reach out and find a mentor. Find an apprenticeship that is a GOOD fit, shadow people and shop around to find the right one. Making connections in this industry is very important.
Be honest with yourself. If you're not happy you're gonna get burned out really quick. This industry isn’t for everyone and to ensure longevity in the profession always listen to yourself and recognize where you seem fit."
King is hoping with the shifting of the industry’s leading professionals being that of the younger generation that it becomes more progressive.
“We are on the cusp of seeing a change and I hope it continues.”
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.
“A lot of the young women are trying to make death a talking point. You see a lot of social media platforms popping up and some people are using them to spread a more positive attitude on death and dying - I am rooting for all of them.”
Often people don’t think about the staff behind the scenes. King states..
“A week goes by in a minute for people grieving, which is part of the disconnect.”
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.
“I want to take off my shoes and walk alongside every family I have the honor to serve. Even with being in the shadows and likely someone they will never meet, that is what I am intending to do for them when I embalm and prepare their loved ones for them. To be there, quietly alongside them in their grief."
Q + A with Amanda King
Q: What is Moxxi to you?
A: "Now I only connect it to your coffee (haha), I see pinup girls, which I kind of love.” When King first started painting murals, she would look up vintage pinup girls and put clothing on them based on what the mural was. She loves, appreciates and is attracted to the powerful confident poses. She thinks it is important that women portray strength and it is important for her to also. “There is something about pinup poses that flood out confidence."
Q: Do you drink coffee?
A: "I drink like 8 cups a day haha! I bring a mug to drink in the car going to work and often I have coffee for lunch when we are running around busy preparing decedents.” She drinks coffee with cream and sugar and on the rare occasion she goes out for one, she gets a Mocha Latte."
Q: What do you love about coffee?
A: “I like the taste, it makes me feel full. I love to drink Hazelnut coffee and I don't know if it's because of the taste or if it's what my dad drank; I think it's subliminal because it reminds me of him."
Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: ""When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and I could say, "I used everything that you gave me." -Erma Bombeck
King says that this quote pushes her to find ways to use her talents. She is so grateful that her art background can be used to help families heal in times of grief. This drives her. Being able to restore and present the deceased for those that need to see them in order to start healing."
Q: Do you have mentors? Who are they?
A: "If I didn't have them I don't know if I would last in this industry. They are an outlet that I also need just as much as the art.”
● Martha Thayer - Former Program Director at ACC, where King went to mortuary school. King says she values her so much, as Thayer is always open to new ideas and perspectives, as much as she relishes the history of their industry, and is constantly supportive of all her endeavors and opportunities.
● "Kelsi Mathews" - King interned under her, and says together, her, Mathews, and Thayer together are a triad. Mathews developed, created, and owns her own funeral home and crematory in Broomfield, Colorado