This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post. Read Part 1 of this blog post >>>
Being a funeral director can be both emotionally and physically challenging – and very stressful. But it’s also incredibly rewarding. It takes a special type of person to listen to a family’s needs, understand their emotions and, through conversations with the family, get to know the person who has died.
For Chris Anson, a Conductor and Arranger at Walter Carter Funerals, it’s a true privilege to be asked by a family to organise the final goodbye for their loved one. In our two-part series, Chris talks to us about a typical day on the job.
This week, in Part 2, he walks us through his afternoon – one where he has an arrangement meeting, takes a first call, goes to a nursing home to take a recently deceased person into care and more.
1.00pm – Playing catch-up
At any given time, I’m in the process of arranging and conducting anywhere between two and six funerals – so while I’ve been out conducting one funeral this morning, other families I’m working with have left messages to let me know about particular choices they’ve made or to ask questions about things we discussed in the arrangement meeting.
I get back down to business and start returning phone calls and dealing with emails. One of my families has made a decision about the flowers they want for their dad’s funeral, so I put the order in with our florist. Another family has decided on the wording for a newspaper notice about their grandmother’s funeral, and I prepare the notice before passing it on to one of my colleagues to double-check all the details before lodging it. And yet another family has emailed through a batch of photos they want included in the tribute presentation for their sister, which I pass on to our IT Manager.
I make sure in each case that all the relevant details are recorded in the database, so other team members can see exactly what’s been put in place.
2.00pm – A new arrangement
I manage to catch-up on everything just in time for my 2.00pm arrangement meeting. It’s been a busy day so far, so I take a few deep breaths to slow myself down – the last thing you want is for a grieving family to see you flustered or frenetic.
For the family, this is one of the most important meetings they’ll ever have. Their mother, father, sister, brother, spouse or child has just died. They’re grieving and I need them to feel that they’re the most important thing in my world. It’s not just about getting the information I need from them. It’s about building a rapport. Before I even open a file (and we’ve got lots of paperwork that needs to be filled out), I gently ask them to tell me a bit about the person who has died. Everyone has a story to tell and letting them share their story with you can be a great way to get to know them and build trust.
There’s a lot to get through in an arrangement meeting. It’s not something to be rushed and it can take up to a couple of hours, sometimes more. There’s all sorts of information I need to collect – not only about the arrangements they want to put in place for the funeral, but also the details we need for things like registering the death and applying for the death certificate. At every stage of the process, I take the time to explain why I’m asking for the particular piece of information.
My aim at the meeting is to tease out every bit of information I can, so we can put together a really personalised service. When I can, I like to throw in some creative suggestions about things they might like to consider – for example, if their dad was a big jazz music fan, maybe they’d like to consider having a live jazz band at the funeral. It’s all about presenting them with options – “have you thought about doing this?” or “did you know you can do that?”. It’s about listening and taking cues from them.
Once the arrangement meeting is over, I open a file and record the details of everything we’ve discussed.
4.00pm – First call
I arrive back at my desk just in time to take a first call. The man on the other end of the phone has just lost his wife and wants us to arrange the funeral. I need to ask for some details and I need to do this as sensitively as possible, understanding that his emotions are likely to be incredibly raw at this moment.
I find out where his wife has died. Was it at home? Or was it in a hospital or aged care facility? He tells me that she died at St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Darlinghurst. I also ask whether she’s going to be buried or cremated, because cremation requires extra paperwork from the doctor. Most people have already decided. Today, he let’s me know that she’ll be cremated at Macquarie Park. He also let’s me know that he’d like a civil service in our chapel at Walter Carter Funerals.
I take down the details I need and then set up a time for him to come in for an arrangement meeting. I explain that he might want to bring in some clothes for us to dress his wife in. If he has a special photo of her that he’d like to use in the Order of Service or display in our chapel, he can bring that with him as well.
With the first call finished, I call the hospital and let them know that we’ll be looking after the funeral. As soon as the doctor has certified the death, they’ll give us a call so we can take her body into our care. I also take the opportunity to go over all the details I’ve recorded during the phone call and make sure everything is in order.
4.30pm – A transfer into our care
As the Duty Manager this week, I’m the one that has to facilitate any transfers. With the other team member who is on call, we head off to carry out a transfer from a local nursing home.
Being entrusted with the care of a recently deceased person is an important duty. Arriving at the location where someone has died is always a priority. When we arrive, we introduce ourselves to the staff. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, we’ll also introduce ourselves to the family if they are there. Once we’ve collected the paperwork left by the doctor, we place the deceased person into a body bag, move them onto a trolley and into our transfer van. We always make every effort to ensure we are discrete and respectful, as there are other people and staff around us.
When we arrive back at Walter Carter Funerals, I check that the body has a name tag and that the name on the tag matches the paperwork. If there’s any jewellery, I log the details. There’s also a whole range of other things that I need to check – for example, whether the person has a pacemaker, did they die of an infectious disease – so I work my way down the checklist. All of these details need to be recorded and on-hand for the mortician when they arrive the next morning.
With everything in place, I store the body in the cold room. I take a moment to lay out a tray and get a few things sorted for when the next body comes in – it’s always easier to be prepared, rather than having to rush around when we receive an unexpected call.
6.00pm – Time to down tools
After a quick lap of the building to make sure all the lights are off and everything is locked, I divert the phones to my mobile, set the alarm and head home. It’s been a long day – a good day, but a long day nonetheless. And, as I’m still on duty, it could also be a long night. Who knows how many calls may come in overnight.