Syracuse Undertaker goes viral on TikTok with honest videos about his life with dead people
A woman from central New York City has become a mini social media celebrity known as “The TikTok Undertaker” thanks to her very honest videos of living with dead people.
TikTok, a popular video-sharing platform, is perhaps best known for its 15-second dance crazes, glow tips from influencers, cooking tips, #wipeitdown memes, or clips of a skateboarder. drinking cranberry juice while vibrating on Fleetwood Mac’s âDreamsâ. âBut there’s also a fascinating world of niche communities like #DeathTok, where Eileen Hollis has gained nearly half a million followers who are interested in the macabre or just want to learn more about funeral services.
Hollis, 31, is a funeral director and embalmer at Hollis Funeral Home at 105 W. Genesee St. in Syracuse. Her father, Charlie Hollis, has owned the funeral home for four decades and still practices embalming.
“We are a team,” she said in an interview with syracuse.com | The Post-Standard.
Eileen Hollis built it TIC Tac then by answering questions such as “Are you to be buried in a coffin?” (No, bodies can be wrapped in cloth, but cemeteries can have their own rules) and “Are piercings removed?” (Only for cleaning during the embalming process, then returned unless the family wants to keep the jewelry). His video clips on how to plan for your eventual death, why you shouldn’t use mortuary makeup on the living, and an exhibit of a eco-friendly bamboo burial coffin have hundreds of thousands of views, likes and comments.
But Eileen never imagined getting into the family business growing up, dancing and attending Nottingham High School. She found that funeral directing had become natural to her while helping her father during the vacation from his previous job with the Syracuse School District and the Say Yes to Education program.
âI had to earn some money, so I started following my dad. I felt very comfortable talking to people, âshe recalls.
Hollis graduated from SUNY Brockport in 2011 with a BFA in dance, but returned to school to earn an associate degree in mortuary science from Hudson Valley Community College. She won the Restorative Art Graduate Student Award in 2016 and became a licensed funeral director a year later.
âI was so nervous to take the jump to mortuary school because I was very aware that it was a lifelong commitment,â she said.
This eventually suited her and she now plans to take over Hollis Funeral Home when her father retires. She and her husband will move upstairs, above the funeral home, to start their own family in the same place where she grew up.
Such a childhood might remind people of the 1991 movie “My Girl”, starring Anna Chlumsky as Vada Sultenfuss, the daughter of an undertaker (played by Dan Aykroyd). Some kids even teased young Eileen with references to âThe Addams Family,â calling her on Wednesday.
âSome kids in school used to go, like ‘da da da dum’ with the clichÃ©s,â she laughed. âI recently watched ‘My Girl’. I hadn’t seen him since college. I identify with Vada a lot when I was a child. Definitely the fact of sneaking into the funeral home and talking to her father from across the door to the embalming room. He never discouraged usâ¦ we were kind of the comedic relief there. (Sometimes) people come to me and tell me I remember when you kids came down and made us laugh.
His sense of humor and seriousness are two big reasons his TikTok videos are so popular. Sometimes she puts on makeup and hair herself, or Roller, or dance while the songs of Prince, Drake, Robyn, David Bowie, Taylor Dayne and the Beastie Boys play in the background. She even admits occasional feelings of “existential fear” and anxiety when she thinks about the people she loves dying one day.
Hollis began posting videos to social media last spring as a creative outlet during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, when she couldn’t see any friends. Other TikTok users started asking questions about the Covid-19 funeral, and as she answered them more general questions about funerals and mortuary services started to come in. She has since featured in People magazine, the New York Post, the Toronto sun, and the United Kingdom Daily mail.
There are questions about autopsies, embalming, hair care, eye caps, superstitions, refrigeration, next of kin, how to dress a body, rigor mortis (no, it does not break the bones of a body) and funeral processions. “What happens when you die when you have your period?” Someone asked once.
âI don’t think a question is too crazy. The goal now is to help people feel more comfortable in life in the face of death and to give them the tools, âshe explained. âIt has turned into a platform for death education and I am so grateful that I can help people know their options. “
She credits her father for giving her the freedom to try new things, and adds that she has also heard from people who are inspired to get into the funeral business.
At the same time, she is aware that some people might raise an eyebrow at a funeral director with hot pink hair and tattoos. Hollis explains that she “went into YOLO mode” after a friend died of Covid-19 on Christmas Day and dyed her hair.
âBecause you only live once,â Hollis said. “And my parents were cool with that, too.”
But Hollis still maintains the ultimate respect for the dead and their grieving loved ones. She will not show any of the bodies she is working on for three main reasons: First, it is illegal without permission from the families; two, she does not have the permission of the deceased; and third, she expects the online comments to most likely shame that person.
She also wants people to know that being an undertaker is not a “massive” business.
âI’m just a normal person who helps people,â Hollis said. âIt’s not that depressing. It’s nice to help people through one of the most difficult times of their lives. I don’t think the profession is sadder than being a doctor, nurse, lawyer, social workerâ¦ all those people who deal with really difficult situations. Some really difficult life situations.
Her goal is always to educate and comfort people: âI want people not to feel embarrassed when they are in line at a funeral service and question everything they are about to say when they greet a family. I just want people to get to a place where they can be there for their friends. Just be there and listen.
To see Hollis’ videos on TikTok, follow her on https://www.tiktok.com/@hollisfuneralhome.