This week I celebrated half a decade working at the crematorium. I was the youngest member of our team then and I am the youngest member still. When I first started I was often told I was rather young to be doing this job. I was told it then and I still get told this now.
The general stereotype of this industry is older males, not females, and definitely not young females. When I first started it was very much a male dominated world. In some ways it still is. There are funeral directors who do not employ females as funeral directors or as their pall bearers. This maybe because there are so few, but the way the industry has taken huge strides in equality in recent years this is very unlikely. I’m not saying they are sexist, I’m just saying they have the ladies as office staff but not on their front line.
Another local FD has recently employed their first female bearer and has three female funeral directors on their staff, when I first started it was only one. And that lady was the first female funeral director they had ever had.
There were very few female funeral directors when I first started. I get on with the guys like a house on fire and never really paid attention to sometimes being the only female in chapel affiliated with the staffing of the funeral. It’s only now when it is a female funeral director, a female officiant and myself when I notice how much the industry has changed because this never happened five years ago.
In my first year at the crematorium, I was standing waiting for the funeral director to page down with the hearse and the family limousines when I was approached by a lady who was to be part of the upcoming funerals congregation. She asked me if I worked here and was I to be carrying the coffin. When I said yes I did indeed work here but no I would not be carrying the coffin, relief flooded her face. “Thank God,” she said, “the females carry us into the world, the men must carry us out.”
Being very new I didn’t know if this ideology was something a lot of people had, but I’ve never forgotten it. And just for the record, I don’t agree with her opinion. She clearly felt very strongly about this, even though she wasn’t a close family member. And lucky for her, an all male funeral crew arrived.
I’ve seen the likes of Poppy’s, run by Poppy Mardall and based in tooting, begin their journey in the funeral industry. I remember the first time I met Poppy and saw the creative control she was allowing families when making choices to piece together the perfect funeral for their loved one. It was refreshing to see because she was so different from all the others I had come to know. I had a lot of respect and admiration for the vision she saw for her future in the funeral industry.
I’ve seen so much change in tradition from funerals being sombre, staff dressed all in black, entry song, reflection song and exit piece of music occasions to really being reflective of people’s lives. Coffin’s don’t have to be traditional, funeral director’s don’t have to wear black suits, officiants don’t have to be downbeat talking of a funeral being solely a sad occasion, music doesn’t have to be beginning, during and end and the staff don’t all have to be older males. This change is all positive in giving families choice when choosing the best way to honour their loved one. It has been an honour to be a part of it. Here’s to making the half a decade a full one.