As a funeral director, it is my job to help families through their journey of losing a loved one and putting them to rest. This involves many aspects, including those that are probably not often thought of, such as ongoing arrangements, liaising with the hospital, clergy, churches, crematorium, florists, gravediggers, etc and ensuring all is in order by the time of the funeral.
Having worked for Tapper Funeral Service for almost 15 years, I get great satisfaction guiding families who are often bewildered and in great pain through the many steps needed to plan a suitable send off for their loved one. I came to the conclusion many years ago that the funeral itself is sometimes more important for those remaining than for the departed.
I find some of the most challenging aspects are dealing with young families where a child has died, or, as I have done recently, being asked to visit a young person with a terminal illness, given only a couple of months to live, who wanted to discuss and plan their own funeral. Most youngsters in this category seem very brave and just accept and deal with the situation - amazing people. I actually described the young person I saw this week as 'madly brave' and I cannot begin to imagine how the parents are feeling. All funerals are very sad but with children and young people, my staff and I, although remaining professional, have been known to shed a tear with the family, both in the office and during the funeral itself. We wouldn't be human if we didn't on occasion.
I realise this sounds serious stuff but there are many lighter moments. For one 82 year old lady, a friend of the family rode his Harley Davidson motorbike in front of the hearse from Broadstone to the Cemetery in Parkstone, as before she died, he had taken her out on his bike and she loved it. Whenever we came to a roundabout, he pulled into the middle of the road and stopped all the traffic coming round until the cortege had passed through and then he roared up past us to take his place at the front again. It was amazing! Another family chose a horse drawn carriage for their father's funeral in Wimborne and on the day, one of the sons rode with a member of the carriage team as outriders and escorted us from Broadstone to Wimborne. The family had us all dressed up in cowboy gear; the really long 'duster' coats, cowboy hats and bandanas around our necks. It was a really cold, windy day and the rain was just trickling down my neck the whole way but it was quite a spectacle! My top hat has been knocked off my head several times over the years by people giving me an enthusiastic hug after the service. In addition to this, the men, in particular, take a liking to my hat. One gentleman even told me once how 'sexy' I looked. This was standing by the hearse with his dear wife inside! At Poole Crematorium one day, 'The Blue Danube' was being played on CD as mourners left the chapel. It is a beautiful piece of music and as everyone had left the chapel, the organist and I were waltzing at the back when a man came back in to collect something. He stood and clapped us and told us we looked beautiful.
Music has not always gone to plan though. A family gave me a CD with some classical music to play as they entered the chapel. As we walked in, it was obviously not the right track. So, during the service, I decided I'd be kind to the family and I slipped the minister a note asking for a 'time of reflection' to listen to the family choice that should have been played at the beginning. The minister duly announced 'we will now listen to a piece of music chosen especially by the family'... and on came 'Stayin' Alive' by the Bee Gees. The Chapel Attendant and I were horrified and didn't really know what to do. We let it play a short time before fading it down. The family did say that their mother would probably have laughed at the situation but I really did not feel like laughing! The next day, two of the daughters came in to apologise, as they had given me the wrong CD. Although I was very sad for them, I was relieved that it was not my mistake.
The pride and satisfaction we all get when everything goes well, can't be overstated. One of the first things that struck me when I began the job is the total respect shown to the deceased once they are brought into our care. This applies to everyone in the process, from Lydia and Steve, who work in the office with me, to ’my boys', (as I like to call them), and to the embalmers and funeral directors. It is truly impressive.
You might ask, what made me get into this business. Like many people, I had a job I liked, as an Insurance Broker, but it didn't enthuse me. In 2001 I went to the funeral of a friend's mother and the Funeral Director was a lady, who a year later became my mentor. She showed great compassion to the family and they said what a support she had been. I thought to myself 'I could do that'. There were difficulties and exams along the way but after not sitting any exams at all at school, I earned very high marks and am very proud to have achieved my Diploma in Funeral Directing in 2006.
In my journey since joining this company, do I have any regrets? Not one. I have the privilege of carrying out the most fulfilling and dare I say 'enjoyable' role I can imagine and I am able to do this, as I have the most caring, supportive husband I could ask for.
You will see myself, Lydia and Steve at various events in the local community, promoting our company of course but also trying to break down the barriers associated with the funeral business and, hopefully, making people aware that we are approachable, caring people.