By AMY BOARD HIGGS
Special to The Voice-Tribune
Amanda Wells Keith firmly believes that planning for the unfortunate circumstance of death is the greatest gift of love anyone can give to his or her family.
“It makes things smoother and simpler to preplan,” said Keith, director of family services for Pearson’s Funeral Directors in St. Matthews. “It gives families time to really grieve together. They don’t have to deal with the business aspect of funeral planning during the fog of grief.”
A lithe 30-year-old blond and 10-year veteran of the funeral business, Keith is a down-to-earth, humble, consummate professional who chose her career simply because she wanted to be of service.
“This can be a very tiring job, a very demanding job,” she said. “But it’s also the most rewarding job. There was no doubt that was exactly what I wanted to do.”
Keith grew up on a horse farm in the Lexington area. In 2002, she was studying journalism at University of Kentucky and working as a certified nursing assistant in local nursing and rehab facilities when she met with a Lexington deputy coroner – also a family friend – who introduced her to several local funeral directors.
Keith had been waffling about whether she wanted to pursue broadcast journalism, and her time working in health care had proven she was not at all squeamish. She was immediately drawn to the compassionate career of a funeral director, despite its history as a male-dominated career. Keith began shadowing the funeral directors she’d met, learning how to embalm.
After her initial training, she started out as a funeral director and embalmer at Milward Funeral Directors in Lexington in 2004, and earned her associate’s degree in mortuary science from Mid-America College in Jeffersonville in 2005. She later earned a bachelor’s degree in management from Ottawa University in Jeffersonville in 2008. She went to work for Owen Funeral Home in Louisville from 2006 until March of 2012, when she joined Pearson’s. She is licensed in Kentucky and Indiana.
Prior to joining Pearson’s, Keith worked with families “at need,” or at the time of a family member’s death. As director of family services for Pearson’s, Keith primarily works with families on pre-planning their funeral services. She also serves as liaison for all media outlets, leads all company events and speaks regularly to civic, church and school groups on topics surrounding end-of-life arrangements.
Keith is passionate about the work she does and treasures the connections she has made and maintained with many families during her career. She has been deeply impacted by many of them, especially in cases of violent death or those who died far too young.
“I am so lucky to have worked with so many great families in the past 10 years that have not only accepted me but also inspired and motivated me, and been very appreciative,” she said. “Our service doesn’t end at the cemetery. I feel fortunate that I can still be in contact with a lot of my families.”
Keith also knows firsthand what it’s like to plan the funeral of a loved one and how vital a funeral director’s role can be. Several years ago, she handled the services for her grandfather, who died unexpectedly, with no planned arrangements in place.
“I plan funerals every day, sometimes four times a day, and this what I am licensed and educated in,” Keith said. Planning her grandfather’s funeral was incredibly difficult, even with her training. “So I can only imagine the difficulties other families face, whether they are prepared or not.”
As a woman in a traditionally male field, Keith has faced some opposition in her career, but most of her experiences with both male and female colleagues have been very positive. She is the first female funeral director at Pearson’s, but she is quick to add that she has worked with “so many great female funeral directors”
in previous positions.
Keith points to the natural nurturing qualities typical of many women as a reason why funeral directing can be such a rewarding career for them. “As a child, when you are hurt or sick, the first person you go to is your mother,” Keith said. “There is a definite need for women in this career, because we sympathize a little bit different than men, and we can be compassionate in a little bit different way than men.”
Keith also says her youth is an asset to her job, because it allows her to be flexible and think outside the box, especially now that she sees a growing trend toward nontraditional funeral services.
“We do every type of service, but we have a growing number of personalized services that really bring to life that person’s legacy and who they really were,” she said. “I try to make the process of planning services as effortless for the survivors as I can.”
Keith makes balancing work and free time look pretty effortless as well. She makes sure that she gives her 4-year-old daughter, Avery, as much of her time as the families she serves at Pearson’s.
“With life and unfortunately, death, it does not occur during business hours,” Keith said. “It’s a lot of sacrifice and a lot of understanding and patience from my daughter, even at an early age. I may work late one evening but come in later the next day to spend more time with her in the morning. It’s important to me that I make up any time lost with her any time I can.”
In addition to family time, Keith enjoys yoga, party planning, crafts, playing golf, going to see live music, dancing and traveling. She is also very involved in the women’s committee at the St. Matthews Chamber of Commerce, and she volunteers with Jefferson County Public Schools.
“I like to enjoy every minute of my time off,” Keith said. “Because of what I do for a living, I don’t take life for granted.”