Nathan Morris says he’s the last person you’d ever want to see.
“No one exactly high-fives the undertaker and says, ‘Hey man, thanks for taking care of the embalming!” Morris jokes.
The 37-year-old Owensboro, Kentucky native — who says if you’ve been there, you get a gold star — is a mortician, musician and owner of 10 funeral homes across two states. Morris is challenging stereotypes about what it means to work in the business of death — and garnering a 320,000-strong TikTok following along the way.
Morris’ success as a funeral business owner and mortician is due in part to mastery and commitment, but what makes him an anomaly is the candid way he discusses the day-to-day motions of his work — a schedule that the majority of the population wouldn’t understand. But Morris argues, why not share?
Morris is working with dead people and grief all long day, year-round. And yet, given the candidness and grace with which he discusses his line of work, if you weren’t listening closely enough, you might not even know what he does. Because here’s the truth, according to someone who knows: Death, an inevitability, doesn’t have to be so heavy.
“People — especially in this country — view death as almost voluntary,” Morris says. “We spend so much time and money to look younger, be younger, stay younger. But we will get old, and we will die. It’s going to happen to all of us. I’ve made it a point to tear back this curtain and show people how incredibly cared for they are.”
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‘I just loved learning about how things worked.’
Morris came into the funeral business in a roundabout way. He found his first calling when he developed a fascination with garbage trucks as a 7-year-old waiting for the school bus. “This garbage truck pulled up, and these two guys held onto the back, and they would jump off, run through a tiller, push it up against the truck, and pull a lever. I wanted to be the person who pulled the lever, he says.
Morris loved observing the truck and watching the seamless choreography as the two men jumped, pulled and lifted. Although his career took a different direction, it’s ultimately rooted in what first captured his attention: cause and effect.
“I just loved learning about how things worked. And I loved as a little boy looking at this guy with gloves on, and [when] he pulled this lever, it lifted something and created a different outcome,” Morris says.
The innate gravitation towards understanding how things work, especially systems that feel taboo or gatekept, is at the core of what drives Morris’ passion for his career, as well as a commitment to reinvent hundreds — debatably thousands — of years of tradition in an industry that’s not exactly built for change.
So, where did his zest for end-of-life care start? With love.
Morris married into the funeral home business. His wife Megan’s family had been operating a funeral home in Owensboro since 1902. Megan was the only one of her six siblings who wanted to stay in the business, and Morris quickly found a similar spark for the industry. The two set out to not only tend to the single location but also expand across Kentucky and Indiana (yes, funeral homes can be chains, too).
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Like anything, the path to mastery requires time, attention and commitment. Morris spent three years going on death calls every day, fully immersing himself in the operation and intricacies of the business.
“I wanted to be the most incredible undertaker so that when the time came for me to maybe one day train staff, I would know that what I was saying and teaching was true,” Morris says.
‘Everyone has been or is young — not everyone has been old.’
What started as a single, family-owned funeral home quickly grew into 10 over just five years, and Morris’ TikTok fame followed a similar trajectory.
While giving a tour of the funeral home in Owensboro to local high schoolers back in February, Morris gave the students a scenario: “I said, ‘You are now Mr. Smith, you’re 82 years old, and you just died.'” And the teens’ eyes are just massive because everyone has been or is young — but not everyone has been old,” Morris says. “But then I took them through the process of entering into our care and what happens behind the curtain, what would happen to them if they were Mr. Smith.”
The business’s social media manager got an excerpt of Morris’ lecture on film as he colloquially instructed the class on the biological inevitabilities of death. The whole scene, at a distance, looks and sounds like any other biology or anatomy class. “Everyone who passes away, you die with your mouth open — there’s no way around it,” Morris says in the video, followed by, “Is everyone good, honestly?” He proceeds to show the students, with care and honesty, how the mouth closes. “There’s nothing gross about it; there’s no blood,” Morris tells the class, “There’s nothing crazy. You’re probably making it more crazy than it is.”
The social media manager asked if she could post the video on TikTok.
Morris didn’t think much of it and said, “Sure, why not?”
But then views and followers came flooding in, people curious about who really takes care of us and our loved ones when we go.
That the video went viral isn’t much of a surprise. The inner workings of a system like this one, which is both mysterious and essential, are typically kept under lock and key. And when the door suddenly opens one day, exposing everything we don’t know, curiosity gets the best of us.
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The social impact has been powerful, Morris says, especially when followers tell him how they’ve altered their career paths to follow his lead.
There was one [follower] that was like ‘I was in nursing school but I dropped out, and now I am going to mortuary school because of you,'” Morris adds.
When you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, you rarely hear “mortician,” “funeral director” or “garbage man.” But maybe that’s the point: How can you know what you want to be when you don’t yet know how it works, let alone exists? Morris’ candid charm shines a light on the importance that it’s not what you do, but why you do it, and how it makes you feel.
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Like any career, Morris’ job comes with peaks and valleys. When the pandemic swept the nation and left millions grieving, Morris and his team went through some of their toughest days. “My mental health was shot during that time, and seeing the staff overwhelmed was awful,” he says.
Although he loves his job, there are dark days, and Morris believes it is crucial to have outlets for particularly rough patches, which for him, has always been music. As Morris went through the toughest period of his career thus far, he channeled that energy into making music, and the result was a record he says is his proudest yet, with his next tour date coming up in August. “The new album came about from being so put down by this pandemic, but in the end, it inspired this record.”
Compartmentalizing is sometimes necessary, but it doesn’t mean different pieces of life can’t, occasionally, come together in harmony. And when things seem heavy, sharing stories with his TikTok audience helps Morris rediscover his passion for creativity and makes his days brighter.
Nathan Morris is a funeral director, mortician, musician, TikTok star, and at his core, a creative. There is enough space, he says, to be many things — all you need to do is make the room. Morris’ day-to-day life is anything but conventional, but if there’s one thing he is sure of, it’s the power of letting your passions blend, the darks and the lights, to create a life that is honest and sweet.