Katelyn Syphers is the new funeral director at Hobbs Funeral Home in South Portland and Scarborough. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND — The new director at Hobbs Funeral Home said a career focused on death and dying has given her a new perspective on life.

“So many people have unexpected experiences or tragic accidents, and some deaths are a little more expected than others … ,” Katelyn Syphers said. “But it gives you an appreciation for what you have … you never know what will happen.”

Working as the director at the South Portland and Scarborough locations, the South Portland resident said her daily duties can be unpredictable. From meeting with families and making service arrangements to embalming and restorative art, she appreciates that her job allows her to help families experiencing the loss of a loved one.

“It’s not about the paycheck here. We work strange hours and are available on call, at nights and on holidays,” she said. “It’s a lifestyle once you start this work. You’re there to make sure everything is right for services, and help people through their hardest times.”

Syphers, who completed an apprenticeship at Hobbs in 2008, became a licensed funeral director in 2011 and worked at several other funeral homes across the state. For two years she worked at a funeral home in her hometown of Madison, which added the extra challenge of helping families she had known for years.

When the opportunity came to work at Hobbs, she said the decision to take the job just felt right.


When she first started working at funeral homes, Syphers said, it was primarily a male-dominated profession. Through the years, however, she has seen a steady increase in women working in the field, a change she said has been helpful for grieving families.

“Some people find that women are more nurturing and empathetic, which helps with their grieving process … that’s not to say men can’t be nurturing too,” she said. “It’s almost like getting back to the roots of when women were the caretakers when someone passed away. They did a lot of stuff in the home.”

When working with families, Syphers said she likes to get to know the person that passed away through the perspective of surviving family members. This process of talking can help personalize a service and make it unique.

During the initial discussion, she said, it can be hard to read where a person is in the stages of grief. Some people aren’t ready to talk about their loved one because it hurts too much, while others discuss their dearly departed with laughter and fond memories.

“Learning to work with grieving people is certainly one of the more challenging aspects of my job, so I try to be sensitive to that,” she said. “Everyone has such an interesting story, even if they think it’s typical or not very interesting.”

When not working with families, Syphers’ embalming and restoration work aims to make the deceased look as natural as possible. Through make-up, she restores color to their faces. A hairdresser may be brought in as well. Jewelry or hats may also be included.


The goal, she explained, is to give families a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones in a setting where they look as they did in their waking life.

Syphers said the subject of death and dying, while taboo for many, is a conversation we all have to face at some point in our lives. The topic has become easier through the years, she noted, mentioning a “Death Cafe” discussion group held in Portland and online forums where people guide each other through difficult conversations.

She said while she personally hasn’t lost anyone in her immediate family, it will give her a different perspective and help her relate to where families are when it happens.

“To lose a brother, a sister, or parent figure, I don’t know what that pain feels like at this stage in my life, but it’s almost inevitable I’ll experience it someday,” Syphers said. “Death can be hard to talk about … I’m happy I can be there for people during those tough times.”

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