Chemmie Squier | Acting Fashion & Beauty Editor | Sunday, 20 March 2016

How I Became A... Funeral Director

How I Became A... Funeral Director

The Debrief: What's it really like to work as a young, female funeral director?

Amy Hazel, 31, is a funeral director at her family's funeral business, Ian Hazel Funerals

We arrange and conduct the funeral

‘So we see the family from the time they walk in through the door, all the way through the arrangements, sorting everything out, and we go out on the day of the funeral so that relationship continues throughout. 

‘We’ll look at financial funeral plans, coffin choices, if they want anything personalised, if they want a bagpiper, a horsedrawn carriage, flowers, putting notices in the paper; we put every bit together for them. We’ll do as much as we can.’ 

I didn’t always want to be a funeral director

‘I was always very aware that because Dad owned the business and I’ve got grandfathers on both sides who did it, that it was assumed that I was going to do it. But I always wanted to make sure that what I did career wise was because I wanted to do it. 

‘I went to university and did food science and development and realised that wasn’t for me. I really wanted to do something that revolved around caring, or a creative job, so I looked at different things like floristry and estate agency, all of that. And then I thought, ‘hang on, funeral directing is there, it’s available to me, it kind of fits what I’m looking for’, so I gave it a go and I’ve been here ever since. That was about 10 years ago.’ 

You don’t have to have any qualifications

'Some funeral business owners out there who don’t have qualifications, but they have experience. What is really good is that funeral bodies like the NAFD do provide very valuable training and qualifications. I’ve got the Diploma in Funeral Directing and it’s a detailed course and it has exams at the end. It gives a lot of valuable training and information: they go through all sorts of legislation, what you’re expected to do, backgrounds to funerals, everything, so it’s encouraged and it’s very well respected. You don’t have to have it but a lot of us do. '

People usually react one way or another

'It either starts a conversation and you get all the typical jokes and you go along with it as much as you can, or they just kind of go "oh right" and that’s it and the conversation goes onto something else. Generally people are interested, I try not to encourage too much of a detailed conversation about it, but it’s natural for them to enquire.' 

My favourite part is bonding with the families

‘You build up a relationship after a few weeks with them and you become part of their family for that short period of time. Because we’re in a small town environment here, you’re a part of the community and you get to know certain families. 

‘Being able to personalise funerals as well is always nice. When someone says ‘oh we want something slightly different, can you do that?’ And you put yourself out there and do what you can. They’re so grateful and it’s that appreciation that’s great.’

You’re dealing with death everyday 

'The one thing my father always said to me was that it might be frightening when you initially see it [a body] but they can’t hurt you. I think with a lot of people it’s the apprehension and of course it’s somebody who isn’t a relative of mine and I don’t have that connection with them, so it’s a very different situation. I think it does help being in the business because you deal with it everyday. I do have an acceptance of it [death]. 

‘I think some people would be surprised; they realise what you do but when they think about it, they say "Have you seen a dead body today?" And you say, "Well, of course I have. I’ve seen about 10 today", whereas that’s not normal to other people. So you do accept it.’ 

There’s definitely more women in the business now

‘In the last 10 years there’s definitely been an increase in women and now, if a funeral director’s opens up, years ago you’d have assumed it was a man, but now it could be a man or a woman. There’s definitely a lot more coming through and quite rightly. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t. 

‘Every now and again you do get people who come into us and say they’d like to see a woman. Whether that’s because women are perceived as being softer I don’t know, but men of course do just as good a job.’ 

You’ve got to be caring

‘You’ve got to be caring and understanding because you will be in lots of different scenarios with lots of different families and lots of different problems and you’ve got to be very neutral. You’ve got to be a good communicator and you’ve got to have empathy too.’ 

It’s a lifestyle

‘Be prepared! If you go into it you tend to find you stay there and it ends to be something you choose because you really want to do it. We quite often have families come in 10 years later and they’ll remember you. It’s expected. 

‘It is a lifestyle choice depending on how much you get involved. If you’re doing the removals [when the body is moved from where they died, into our care] you’ve got to be available anytime of the day or night; on Christmas Day we’re still answering the phone.’

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