Hanna a licensed funeral director, embalmer at just nineteen years old

At nineteen years old, Ellisha Hanna is a licensed funeral director and embalmer.

Hanna became interested in the funeral industry after losing her uncle, Tito Davis, to gun violence in 2016.

“During the viewing of his body, I wondered what the process of preparing his body was like. How did they fix the bullet wound and how did they make him look like he was sleeping? So, I asked Mr. Llewellyn Astwood Jr. of Demeritte’s Funeral Home for a job and as I learned by watching the embalmers, I saw how they transformed people,” said Hanna.

It was her experience working there that made Hanna realize her career choice.

Even though she knew she wanted to work with deceased bodies, she decided to enroll in Florida Memorial University to study business administration.

“I have a love for business. Mortuary school was a shorter program, so I decided I could’ve done that after I was done studying business,” said Hanna. “However, I didn’t have the drive or passion to pursue that degree. I realized that mortuary science was my calling, so I withdrew and applied to Gupton Jones College of Funeral Service.”

After she completed the 18-month associate of science program, she had all the skills necessary to immediately start working at a funeral home.

“They taught us how to handle every aspect of funeral preparation and embalming process.”

An advantage that Hanna had is that her professors worked as funeral directors, so she learned “how to handle real-life situations and how to react when certain things don’t go the right way,” she said.

Becoming a licensed funeral director requires a multi-disciplinarian approach. 

“I took classes such as mortuary and business law, pathology, microbiology, embalming, restorative art, psychology, and funeral home management,” said Hanna.

“My favorite class was restorative art because I was so interested in how makeup can be used to restore features. I also enjoyed pathology because I was also curious of how people died without asking them. Psychology taught me how to react to individuals when grieving and how to comfort them using nonverbal and verbal communication. Funeral home management taught me how to run the office.”

Hanna has this message for those who think her career choice is strange, “Someone has to do it, but it’s not as bad as people make it seem.”

Although she enjoys some aspects of preparing a body for burial that some people find repulsive, such as embalming, Hanna finds joy in “seeing somebody smile because their parent looks amazing, or transforming a body in death to look better after a tragic accident”.

Hanna said that she is more afraid of those who are living than the dead. 

“These individuals are just waiting to transfer to their next phase of life.”

She returned home from school and briefly worked at a local funeral home before deciding to return to the United States, Miami specifically, where she will work.

Although she is grateful for the opportunity she has had to work in Nassau, she wants to branch out and learn more, so that she can gain the experience needed to run her own funeral home in the future.

“I’ve faced many challenges as a 19-year-old woman in the funeral home industry in The Bahamas. I’ve been told I should be a lady attendant and not a funeral director. I should wear skirts and dresses instead of pants. I should be doing office work and not embalming bodies,” said Hanna.

She has decided, however, to let those words motivate her to continue to pursue her passion in hopes that her love for the field will take her to the top.

Her long-term plans include creating a non-profit organization for girls who are interested in mortuary science that will provide scholarships, housing accommodations and an opportunity to work in the funeral home she hopes to own and operate one day.

“With mortuary science being a male-dominated field in The Bahamas, I’m advocating for women that we can be just as good as a man or even better,” said Hanna.

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