Ever wondered what work is like in the funeral industry? For Dying Matters awareness week I spoke to Phil Barr, Regional Manager at The Co-operative Funeralcare. I asked Phil about the work he does, what made him want to work in the industry and his thoughts on death, dying and end of life planning.
Hi Phil, I’m curious, what’s the difference between a funeral director and an undertaker?
Hi Jenny, there’s no difference, an undertaker is just an old fashioned word for a funeral director but nowadays we just use funeral director.
What’s a typical day like in the funeral industry?
No two days are ever the same, working in the industry you need to be really flexible as things change from one minute to the next.
Obviously, funerals take place on a specific date at a specific time but then you also need to be available to receive phone calls when somebody has died, provide support for friends and families, plan the funeral itself, the list goes on – it really is very varied.
The main focus of our work is to listen, offer choices and to be there for people in whatever way best supports them and to make sure their loved one’s funeral is the way they want it to be.
We provide so many different choices of funerals so that families can make decisions to best reflect the life of that person. Somebody once told us that their dad who had died was an ex-spitfire pilot in the Second World War, so we organised a fly-by at the crematorium. We’ve conducted personalised funerals where our staff have worn specific coloured ties as well as themed funerals including Native America, football shirts and Elvis. We have also replaced ‘regular’ hearses when required with a motorcycle, pink Cadillac, horse drawn hearse, the list goes on. Whatever it is that reflects that person’s life; we’ll try our best to provide it. It’s always about offering a unique tribute to a unique life.
What made you want to work in the funeral industry?
That’s the million dollar question! And I don’t know – it’s just something I’ve always wanted do. I started working in the industry when I was 16, and I’ve been here ever since.
But I can honestly say that the work I do gives me so much satisfaction. It’s about being there and making it that little bit easier for someone at such a sad time, and that’s something that I get a lot out of.
Do you get many people wanting to work in the industry nowadays?
Yes we do, of all ages in fact. All of our new recruits go through a nationally recognised vocational qualification in Funeral Operations and Services.
Dying Matters’ theme for this year’s awareness week is Talk, Plan, Live, they are encouraging people to be more open about death and plan for the end of their lives, is this something you think we all should do?
Absolutely, I think that we should be open to talk about death as difficult as it is. It’s not just to ensure that a person’s final wishes are met, but so that their family isn’t left having to make very difficult decisions.
Thanks Phil, you’ve given us a lot to think about and insight into the great work you do.
Jennifer Gridley, Communications Team, Leeds City Council
If you are interested in finding out more about the funeral industry visit the National Association of Funeral Directors website
For information and advice on death, dying and end of life planning visit: www.dyingmatters.org.uk