Meet the goth morticians bringing death positivity to Tiktok

“I just wanna clear up all of that confusion because I know death is hard to understand.”

by Ashley Tan
10 December 2020, 2:06pm

After being let go from her internship due to the pandemic, Beckie-Ann Galentine travelled across the US to interview for jobs. As a pastime, she’d also tour cemeteries in the towns she visited and document them on TikTok, listing interesting facts and descriptions of the people buried in each. That was in April. “I had 43 followers and it didn’t matter,” she recalls. Fast forward a few months and Beckie-Ann now has 235,000 fans following her journey through the cemeteries of her newly adopted home state of Connecticut, where she’s found a full-time job as a mortician.

Beckie-Ann, better known online as @mybloodygalentine, is one of the biggest stars of Mortuary TikTok, the increasingly popular community that sees morticians and funeral directors serve up knowledge about all things death. From Victorian cemetery tours to industry Q&As to casket assembly demonstrations, this small but prolific community has captivated TikTok, with 70 million views on the #mortician tag. Aided by a boost in interest over Halloween, many users have stayed for the insightful and wide-ranging destigmatisation of a subject considered by much of Western society to be off-limits.

While some may seek out Mortuary TikTok content out of sheer curiosity, for others it provides an unexpectedly nurturing online space for processing the death of a loved one. In the comments the various morticians’ videos, it’s not unusual to see users openly discuss details of a funeral they attended. Morticians often try to explain why that was the case. “They share things with me that I didn’t expect — really intimate losses and stories,” Beckie-Ann says about her followers, some of whom even share their paranormal experiences. “I genuinely appreciate them feeling comfortable enough to tell their story of their loved one’s presence and not feel judged,” she says.

“I hear a lot of weird things that people are truly convinced happens in the funeral industry,” says Brenda, the mortician behind @mortedeanubis, on why she set up her account. Whereas creators like Beckie-Ann’s share historical cemetery content, Brenda dedicates hers to all kinds of questions from her 352,000 followers, drawing on her experience working at a funeral home in Texas. Some of the more bizarre questions she’s been asked include: Do you remove the organs? (No.) Are bodies held together by toothpicks? (Also no.) “People often confuse all angles of death workers and assume we do autopsies and such,” says Brenda. “I just wanna clear up all of that confusion because I know death is hard to understand.”

What is it about Mortuary TikTok that makes it so appealing? Such content “provides people with examples that they can share with others to be able to talk about death, dying and grief, which can open up conversations and support,” explains Dr Erica Borgstrom, Lecturer of End of Life Care and Medical Anthropology at the Open University. “Revealing what may otherwise be ‘hidden’ or relatively unknown by many can help take away fear about processes related to dying and death, enable people to know what to expect, and encourage them to think more practically about their own deaths (or those of people close to them),” she adds.

Eileen Hollis runs @hollisfuneralhome, an account for the family business she runs with her dad Charlie. Like Beckie-Ann, Eileen showcases historic cemeteries on her account, often posting videos where she cleans neglected tombstones — which she affectionately refers to as “giving them a haircut” — one of which went viral with 4.6m views. Her dad features in several videos too, explaining and demonstrating vintage funeral home apparatus such as Gleason cooling boards, on which decedents lay during the embalming process. Some of her other most popular clips feature Eileen assembling a cremation container and showing off her impressive collection of eye caps. “My family thinks it’s incredibly important to make informed decisions about your body not only in life but in death!” says Eileen.

By adding some joy to the topic of death, morticians hope their presence on TikTok can normalise discussions about the subject and dispel notions that it’s a macabre trade. But inevitably, most in Mortuary TikTok have had to defend themselves against accusations of being disrespectful to the dead. “For some people, talking about death is uncomfortable because it confronts them with mortality – either their own or of others close to them – which they may not wish to do or may make them anxious,” Dr Borgstrom says.

Unlike many online communities that can be echo chambers, morticians on TikTok regularly engage with such detractors as they seek to clear up misconceptions. In one video, Beckie-Ann responds to claims that filming and discussing Victorian-era graves is disrespectful by highlighting the fact that many of them have no family left to share their stories. She also points out that historically, many such cemeteries were recreational parks, and some of them even encourage sharing the history of those buried there. “Usually when I post an explanation, the person understands better and sees that this isn’t done for shock value or views,” Beckie-Ann says.

In the midst of a deadly global pandemic, morticians on the social media platform have also used cold hard evidence in the form of their client demographics to illustrate the lethality of the virus, and to debunk COVID-19 misinformation. In the same way doctors have gone viral for their tweets pleading with people to wear masks, Brenda sometimes films herself teary-eyed, beneath text that explains how she has been seeing more decedents who are younger than usual, with no underlying conditions. “Whether you believe it or not, I’m really busy, so if you wanna continue going to parties, I guess I’ll see you at work,” warns one of her no-nonsense captions.

The funeral industry is still one which is relatively male dominated and conservative, with research from Data USA showing that the workforce is 73% male with an average age of 48.1. Many are still unwilling to recognise social media as a viable form of advertising. Accordingly, Mortuary Tiktokers — overwhelmingly young womxn — are careful and protective of their professional reputation. For some, this might mean concealing information about themselves or their workplace. While Brenda’s employer was aware of her TikTok account and approved of it, she is nonetheless careful not to reveal where she works. Beckie-Ann kept her own account a complete secret at work — her coworkers only started finding out when she was contacted by news stations and online sources. Though she fortunately has their support, she has no plans to tell her boss about her popular social media presence.

For many creators in the community, it has been a positive experience both to share their knowledge and answer questions from interested and appreciative followers. “We have had a couple of followers pop by our funeral home just to come say hi and take a tour!” Eileen says. Several creators even have PO Boxes where followers have sent them fan mail and gifts. “My supporters are, for the overwhelming majority, really kind and understanding,” Beckie-Ann says. “I like to think I’ve eased some minds,” she adds, noting that, with posts in which she discusses her role as a mortician, people have been “thankful to see the care that happens when they are entirely unaware.”