The Undertaker's Daughter

The Undertaker's Daughter

What if the place you called “home” happened to be a funeral home? Kate Mayfield explores what it meant to be the daughter of a small-town undertaker in this fascinating memoir evocative of Six Feet Under and The Help, with a hint of Mary Roach’s Stiff.

The first time I touched a dead person, I was too short to reach into the casket, so my father picked me up and I leaned in for that first, empty, cold touch. It was thrilling, because it was an unthinkable act.

After Kate Mayfield was born, she was taken directly to a funeral home. Her father was an undertaker, and for thirteen years the family resided in a place nearly synonymous with death. A place where the living and the dead entered their house like a vapor. The place where Kate would spend the entirety of her childhood. In a memoir that reads like a Harper Lee novel, Mayfield draws the reader into a world of Southern mystique and ghosts.

Kate’s father set up shop in a small town where he was one of two white morticians during the turbulent 1960s. Jubilee, Kentucky, was a segregated, god-fearing community where no one kept secrets—except the ones they were buried with. By opening a funeral home, Kate’s father also opened the door to family feuds, fetishes, and victims of accidents, murder, and suicide. The family saw it all. They also saw the quiet ruin of Kate’s father, who hid alcoholism and infidelity behind a cool, charismatic exterior. As Mayfield grows from trusting child to rebellious teen, she begins to find the enforced hush of the funeral home oppressive, and longs for the day she can escape the confines of her small town.

In The Undertaker’s Daughter, Kate has written a triumph of a memoir. This vivid and stranger-than-fiction true story ultimately teaches us how living in a house of death can prepare one for life.
  • Gallery Books | 
  • 368 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476757285 | 
  • January 2015

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Undertaker’s Daughter includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kate Mayfield. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


The Undertaker’s Daughter offers a child’s account of the business of death. Kate grew up in a funeral home in southern Kentucky during the turbulent 1960s. Her father, the charismatic Beau Brummel of morticians, splashed onto Jubilee’s segregated community as one of its two white undertakers. A philanderer and a secret alcoholic in a small, God-fearing community, he opened the door of their funeral home to family feuds, fetishes, and victims of accidents, murder, and suicide. The living and the dead entered their house like a vapor, in ways that only the South can conjure. They were a community peppered with flawed characters who learned there are no secrets in a small town, except the ones with which we are buried. This stirring memoir reveals Kate’s extensive research into her father’s life and his time serving in Europe during World War II, including her discovery as to the touching reasons her father chose to become an undertaker.

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About the Author

Kate Mayfield
Daniel Regan

Kate Mayfield

Kate Mayfield is the author of The Undertaker’s Daughter (a memoir) and the coauthor of Ten Steps to Fashion Freedom and Ellie Hart Goes to Work. A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, Kate lives in London.