Belgian funeral director becomes social media star on TikTok
Chelsea, a Brussels funeral director, doesn't like the dull image of her profession. Just before the summer, she jumped on the bandwagon of #deathtok, a movement that wants to tackle the taboo of death on social media. She has millions of views on her TikTok videos now. "I think I'm the only Belgian who does this," she says.
The 29-year-old, who prefers not to use her family name, has been sharing short videos about her job on TikTok for two months. She shows how she hangs bouquets, folds obituaries or sets up the hearses in the shop where she works. This is not advertising, she emphasises, which is why she doesn't even want the exact municipality of the business where she is working to be made public. Her intention is just to give the general public insight into her daily work.
She gets a striking number of views from it: a video in which she attaches pillows in a coffin has been viewed nearly 4 million times. A video in which she pours someone's ashes into an urn almost three million times. Another 1.9 million people watched a video in which she constructs a casket for a baby. "It's exploded, but TikTok remains a bit of a mystery. I don't know why some videos get so much watched and others don't," she says.
Chelsea explains that she started doing her videos because she regularly got questions about what she did in her job.
“People don’t really know that much about funeral directors because the profession usually stays within the same families,” she says. “I didn't really know what it meant before I started my education. I was a beautician but had been toying with the idea of face painting corpses for some time. And yet I didn't know where to find the necessary information about that.”
“During the lockdown, I saw a vacancy at the mortuary of a hospital. I then enrolled in a course in Uccle and that's how I came to do an internship in the business where I still work today. Through Instagram, I showed my friends how I put together bouquets or prepare chests. It was purely educational. At the end of May, I also tried that once via TikTok and then it exploded.”
She admits that she has no idea why this online fascination with the work of funeral directors has developed. “Even before covid, death was talked about more and more openly,” she says. “I don't know anyone else who does it in Belgium, at least not via TikTok. I would like it if it continues so that people see the profession evolve with it. I try not to dress in black or stand seriously in a corner, because that's just the image that people have had of us for years. We are people like everyone else, I want to show that. And if you don't like my videos, you don't have to watch them. You can just ignore them.”
Chelsea explains that her followers are mostly women and predominantly from Belgium, France and Italy. “I never know the real reason why someone follows me because via TikTok you cannot send private messages to strangers. It sometimes happens that people contact me via Instagram. For example, I know that someone recently enrolled in funeral director training after seeing my videos.”
“Death is a delicate subject. Nobody likes to talk about it, you don't really want to get to that point, and you don't want to think about how it happens. However, the more we talk about it, the better we understand it and the less afraid we should be about it. I try to show it all a bit more lightly, so that it might be easier to accept. We're all going to experience it, so you have to talk about it. And I get more positive reactions than negative ones,” Chelsea considers.
© BELGA PHOTO (BAS BOGAERTS) Graves decorated with flowers at a cemetery in Mariakerke on the day before All Saints' Day