MEET Andrew Smith, whose job it is to let people say goodbye to their loved ones in their own way.
Andrew, 62, is the manager of Wilf Smith & Sons funeral directors in Bilton. He has been working in the funeral business since he was 30, when he helped his father as a pallbearer. Fast forward to the present day and the business oversees around 100 funerals per year and boasts a service that helps its customers before and after a funeral.
Funeral services are changing and Wilf Smith & Son is riding the wave. “People are getting more intelligent and creative,” said Andrew. “The internet has had the biggest impact as it allows people to find exactly what they want and bring it to us.
“Funeral services are different now from ten or 20 years ago. They are becoming so much more personal with a greater emphasis on celebrating a person’s life and the things that meant a lot to them.”
There’s hardly any aspect of a funeral that isn’t customisable. There are brochures and catalogues full of designs for orders of service, memorial books and coffins. Personalised coffins are becoming much more common with anything from Welsh dragons or photos on the side to postboxes or panoramic views of the inside of football stadiums.
Another changing aspect of funeral services is an increasing amount of people who place items in the coffin with their loved ones. Often it’s things like photos and hand written messages but cans and bottles of their favourite drinks or jars of their favourite foods have been put in.
Wilf Smith & Son is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors, which sets criteria for its members to ensure they are committed to meeting particular needs and offering a good service. The youngest funeral director at Wilf Smith & Son is Hayley McFadden, 28. She gained a diploma in funeral directing from the association and has been part of the team since 2010.
Of course, the job isn’t without its difficulties. Wilf Smith & Son have to be on call 24 hours a day in case a body needs to be collected to be put in their mortuary or chapel of rest while arrangements are made.
Paul King is a funeral director at Wilf Smith & Son. “This isn’t an ordinary nine to five job,” he said. “A couple of phone calls could drastically change your day or you could have one two or maybe even three calls in the night.”
Coming to terms with the death of a family member is difficult and helping people deal with it is all part of the jobs. Andrew said: “We act as counsellors as well as obviously people are going to be upset at the loss of a loved one. It’s so important to get to know the family and to listen to them so that you can create a service that they will be happy with. Having a funeral you’re happy with helps people come to terms with the loss. The last thing you want is imperfect details niggling away at you afterwards.
“The worst thing is helping parents arrange the funeral of child. You need to establish that it is difficult and that no one wants to be in this situation but we have to get through it. There really are no words you can offer to make it any easier.”
Despite dealing with death and loss every day, Andrew and Paul remain upbeat. Andrew said: “I’ve never stopped learning in this job. Every funeral brings a new challenge. I see it as similar to putting a production together - there are so many different things to pull together to create a single event.”
There are many thank-you cards in the upstairs office at Wilf Smith & Son - and there is evidently much that Paul gets out of the job. He said: “Ultimately when you deliver the funeral that the family want, that’s what gives us satisfaction. It is lovely to receive letters and cards of thanks from people after arranging a funeral with us. People don’t take the time to write letters and cards as much these days so it’s extra special when they do.”
Over at John Taylor Funeral Service in Regent Street, Rugby, funeral arranger Janet Hyde views her role to be a supporter and adviser to the bereaved. She said: “Many people don’t realise how a funeral can be transformed with just the smallest of personal touches. We offer options and choices on these and many other funeral services, from a horse-drawn hearse to a woodland burial.”
The team are often asked to talk to different groups to help them understand the next step after a bereavement, to help with their understanding of the process and to help dispel the taboos and myths surrounding death.
Janet added: “We’re determined to make our funeral homes more approachable and get people thinking and talking about funerals. By being better prepared, they can save themselves and their families much emotional distress when the time comes to make arrangements.”