Syracuse mortician goes viral on TikTok with sincere movies about her life with lifeless individuals
A Central New York woman has become a mini-celebrity known as the “TikTok Undertaker” on social media thanks to her very honest videos of living with the dead.
TikTok, a popular video-sharing platform, may be best known for 15-second dance madness, glow tips from influencers, food hacks, #wipeitdown memes, or clips of a skateboarding guy drinking cranberry juice while too Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” vibrates. ”But there’s also a fascinating world of niche communities like #DeathTok, where Eileen Hollis has nearly half a million followers interested in the macabre or simply wanting to learn more about funeral services.
Hollis, 31, is a funeral director and embalmer at the Hollis Funeral Home at 105 W. Genesee St., Syracuse. Her father Charlie Hollis has owned the funeral home for four decades and is still doing embalming.
“We are a team,” she said in an interview with syracuse.com | The post standard.
Eileen Hollis built her TikTok by answering questions like “Do you have to be buried in a coffin?” (No, corpses can be wrapped in cloth, but cemeteries may have their own rules) and “Are piercings removed?” (Only to be cleaned during embalming and then put back unless the family wishes to keep the jewelry). Her video clips on how to make plans for your eventual death, why you shouldn’t use corpse make-up for the living, and an eco-friendly bamboo funeral box exhibit have hundreds of thousands of views, likes, and comments.
But Eileen could never have imagined joining the family business while growing up, dancing and attending Nottingham High School. She discovered funeral directors came naturally to her when she helped her father during a vacation break from her previous job for the Syracuse City School District and the Say Yes to Education program.
“I had to make some money so I started tailing my father. I just felt very comfortable talking to people, ”she recalls.
Hollis graduated from SUNY Brockport with a BFA in dance in 2011, but went back to school for an associate degree in mortuary science from Hudson Valley Community College. She won the graduate student award in restorative arts in 2016 and became a fully licensed undertaker a year later.
“I was so nervous about making the morgue because I was very aware that it was a lifelong commitment,” she said.
It was a good fit, and now she plans to take over the Hollis Funeral Home when her father retires. She and her husband will be moving in upstairs above the funeral home to raise their own family where she grew up.
Such a childhood might remind people of the 1991 movie “My Girl”, in which Anna Chlumsky stars as Vada Sultenfuss, the daughter of an undertaker (played by Dan Aykroyd). Some children even teased young Eileen with references to “The Addams Family” and called her on Wednesday.
“Some kids at school used to take ‘there, there, there’ ‘with the snapshots,” she said with a laugh. “I saw ‘My Girl’ recently. I hadn’t seen it since middle school. As a child, I have a lot to do with Vada. Definitely sneaking around the funeral home and talking to her father across the door to the embalming room. He never discouraged us … we were kind of weird relief down there. (Sometimes) people come up to me and say to me, I remember when you kids came down and made us laugh. “
Their humor and seriousness are two big reasons their TikTok videos are so popular. Sometimes she does her own makeup and hair, or skates or dances while songs by Prince, Drake, Robyn, David Bowie, Taylor Dayne and the Beastie Boys play in the background. She even admits that she occasionally experiences feelings of “existential fear” and anxiety when she thinks about the fact that people she loves will one day die.
Hollis began posting videos on social media last spring as a creative outlet in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic when she couldn’t see friends. Other TikTok users started asking questions about Covid-19 funerals, and as she answered them, more general questions came up about funerals and burials. She has since been featured on People magazine, the New York Post, the Toronto Sun and the UK Daily Mail.
There are questions about autopsies, embalming, hair care, eye caps, superstition, refrigeration, closest relative, how to dress a corpse, rigor mortis (no, it doesn’t break bones in a corpse), and funeral procession. “What if you die when you have your period?” someone asked.
“I don’t think every question is too crazy. The whole goal now is to help people feel more comfortable about life with death and to give them the tools, ”she explained. “It has evolved into a death education platform and I am so grateful that I can help people learn about their options.”
She credits her father for giving her the freedom to try new things, and adds that she also heard from people who were inspired to get into the funeral business.
At the same time, she is aware that some people at a funeral home with pink hair and tattoos raise their eyebrows. Hollis explains that she “went into YOLO mode” after a friend died of Covid-19 on Christmas Day and dyed her hair.
“Because you only live once,” said Hollis. “And my parents were cool with it too.”
But Hollis always maintains ultimate respect for the dead and their grieving loved ones. She won’t show any of the bodies she’s working on for three main reasons: first, it’s illegal without the families’ permission; second, she does not have the dead man’s permission; and third, she expects that online comments would most likely physically embarrass that person.
She also wants people to know that being an undertaker is not a “gruesome” business.
“I’m just a normal person helping people,” said Hollis. “It’s not that depressing. It’s nice to help people in one of their hardest times in life. I don’t think the job is sadder than being a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a social worker … all these people who deal with really difficult situations. Some really rough life situations. “
Her goal is always to inform and comfort people: “I want people not to feel uncomfortable standing in line at a funeral service and questioning everything they say when they greet a family. I just want people to come to a place where they can be there for their friends. Just be there and listen. “
To see Hollis’ videos on TikTok, follow her at https://www.tiktok.com/@hollisfuneralhome.