real life

Amy Sagar is 25. For the last decade she's worked with the dead.

When Amy Sagar was 16 and sitting in a food technology class, she decided she wanted to work with death.

It wasn’t as much a dark fascination, nor was totally morbid, either. It was something entirely different.

“I was sitting in class and I was watching a documentary about the anatomy of the human body and educational autopsies. It was the first time I had ever seen the human body portrayed as an ordinary thing. You usually see it in movies or coming back alive. It’s never portrayed normally,” Amy tells Mamamia.

And so, the then teenager knew exactly what she was going to do with her life. She was going to work as a funeral director and a mortician, and she was going to start working there in her school holidays.

“Everyone at school was naturally very curious, a lot of kids thought it was really weird and a lot of teachers probably didn’t take me seriously. But it was my career advisor who got me the job in the end,” she says.

Before she knew it, she was 17, working full time in a funeral parlour and working her way to receiving a Certificate IV in embalming.

“I was working full-time by the time I was 17,” Amy said. “There was first talk of me arranging funerals by 17, and I knew I could do it, but I wondered if people would take me seriously. Because of that, there was a big build up about when I would actually meet with families, and it took a long time for my life experience to match up with them.”

Looking back, Amy describes her inexperience beautifully.

“At that age, I couldn’t love anyone enough to marry them, so how would I know what it’s then like to lose that love?”

Fast-forward nine years and Amy is an embalmer and a funeral director with nearly a decade-worth of experience in her industry. While most her age are leaving uni and beginning to enter the job market, Amy’s well-versed in every facet of her job: from the intricate detail of embalming to the emotional stamina one needs when navigating death every day.

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If it sounds like a heavy subject to be talking about, then imagine actually living it. Amy’s life is defined by death. But the fact we all find loss of life so hard to talk about is exactly why she does what she does.

Amy Sagar. Image supplied.

"Our community doesn't know anything about death because it's been made so private," she says.

Today, Amy works at one of Australia's first not-for-profit funerals services, Tender Funerals. As well as wanting to make the conversation about death far more accessible, she wants to make funerals far more affordable. But with those intentions in mind, it doesn't mean her days aren't occasionally entirely confronting.

"We're all human and when you do this job for a long time you can become jaded. But tragic death is still really tragic. You can't take on anyone else's grief, because that's exactly how you get burnt out. You can acknowledge that's it's sad, and I think there's real value in acknowledging that, but it's also important to remember that that's not your person. They're not yours to mourn."

Naturally, no matter how long she spends in the profession, people will still be taken by surprise when they find a 25-year-old woman so absorbed with death.

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"It used to bother me when I was younger when I had something to prove," she says of the consistent bewilderment about her youth and career. "I know I might be young, but don't let looks deceive you."

You might assume someone who works in and around death every single day would have a vastly different perspective on dying than the rest of us. But when it's put to Amy, she explains it has the opposite effect.

"It actually changes how I feel about life. I value things more, now. When I was a teenager I was a bit of a rebel and I argued with my mum a lot. But now, I am often at funerals and see a lot of people say, 'Oh, I wish I didn't argue with them as much' or, 'I wish I told them I loved them more'.

"It's also changed what I see as old. If I see a 60-year-old has died, my first instinct is to think, God, they were so young to die. It changes your scale."

For Amy, her entire focus is on "mystery becoming knowledge". After all, for so many of us, it's not just embalming and funeral services that are a mystery to us, but death as an entire concept.

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