Once a rarity in what was previously a traditionally male-dominated profession, there are now many female Funeral Directors, Arrangers and Crematorium Managers helping families to say farewell to their loved ones that have died.
In pre-Victorian times, before funeral directing became a profession, the practical tasks required when someone in a community died were divided amongst the male and female members of the family or village. The caring job of ‘laying out’ the dead would be allocated to a local woman or women, who may well have also acted as a midwife. The men would be responsible for physical tasks such as digging the grave, making a coffin, transporting the deceased and - if the family did not have enough men to fulfil the task - providing additional men to carry the coffin.
Helen McNeil has worked at P B Wright & Sons Funeral Directors in Greenock and Port Glasgow, part of Dignity Funerals, for 26 years.
“Before joining the funeral profession, I worked in our family business, my father was a local coal merchant,” explains Helen. “After having my family, I then moved to a local accountants for part-time hours and in that role I managed the payroll for P B Wright & Sons, so got to know the staff. After four years working at the accountants the funeral firm offered me a role as an Administrator and I came onboard.”
Helen continues: “It was quite a smooth transition into the funeral profession and I’ve always found my colleagues to be very supportive in sharing their knowledge. I think being a female in our industry, especially in Inverclyde was quite rare, but I found folks actually like the female touch so never had any problems. At home, my husband was always very encouraging and supportive about my job.”
“Folks do find it quite strange when they find out what I do for a living, but they also find it intriguing and always comment that it must be very fulfilling and rewarding, which it is!”
Facing death as part of her daily life and work, might seem difficult for some but like many in the funeral sector it’s a vocation for Helen.
She says: “It’s very rewarding when a family tells me that I’ve helped them or provided comfort. There’s always people who think it’s a morbid job – and people ask me how I can do it – but to know I’ve helped the bereaved during what could be the worst time of their life is why I’m a Funeral Director.”
During the past year, the funeral sector has been striving to cope with the changing demands of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The past 12 months have definitely been the most challenging time of my career,” said Helen. “We have had to quickly adapt to both the restrictions on funerals and constantly changing circumstances to ensure that our clients and colleagues remain safe. Funerals may not return to how we knew them for a while, but we are working tirelessly to help families organise a respectful funeral for their loved one.”
This article is brought to you in association with P B Wright & Sons Funeral Directors.