"I have a different perspective": Woman, 23, becomes one of the UK's youngest funeral directors
At just 23-years-old, Rhian Messam has become one of the UK's youngest funeral directors.
While the profession might seem unusual for such a young person, Rhian Messam has one heartbreaking, but important reason for taking up the role.
Rhian, who grew up in Oldham, faced the devastating loss of her grandmother in 2019.
After visiting her beloved grandmother in the chapel of rest, Rhian was immediately struck that she ‘didn’t look herself’.
Bravely, Rhian took matters into her own hands, redressing her grandmother for the funeral.
This ‘life-changing’ experience sparked a caring streak in Rhian, kickstarting her career in funeral arranging in the hopes of providing love and attention for other families in their most difficult times.
The journey to her new position as a funeral director continued to be challenging.
In fact, Rhian joined Co-op Funeralcare in 2020 to start her training as a funeral arranger - just three weeks before the first lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic.
Funeral homes were stretched to the limit as the number of deaths from the virus grew.
But, for Rhian, the tragedy of Covid-19 made her even more motivated to give families a ‘meaningful goodbye’ in the face of perhaps the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
Before becoming a funeral arranger, Rhian worked at a pharmacy in Oldham.
She said: “I’ve always known that I wanted to work in a caring role, although I hadn’t thought about funeral care until my grandmother’s funeral.
“I joined Co-op Funeralcare last year as a funeral arranger, three weeks before the first lockdown started.
“Starting a new job and getting to grips with a new role is difficult in normal circumstances, but to go through this during a pandemic was challenging at times. Thankfully I had the support of my colleagues who are very experienced and knowledgeable.
“It has been a tragic time of significant loss and sadness for families during the pandemic.
“It’s a real honour to help families create meaningful last goodbyes for those they love and miss so much.”
In just six months, Rhian progressed to become a funeral director - making her the youngest across Greater Manchester within the Co-op Funeralcare service.
She now manages the Bury and Rochdale funeral homes for the Co-op.
"My perception of funeral care has certainly changed from what it was before entering the industry," Rhian explained.
"I never expected there would be so many aspects to arranging a funeral. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that it is the perfect send-off for bereaved families.
"It is a big responsibility to have someone’s loved one in your care, which makes this work even more rewarding.
"As a young person, I have a different perspective when it comes to funerals and death and always try to bring new ideas to the table when I am working with a family to arrange a funeral.
"I like to spend time finding out the background of who the person was and bring those elements into the planning process, focusing on a certain theme throughout.
"Everyone is unique and has their own story which is why I believe it's important to create a final send-off that is personal and truly captures who that person was."
Rhian says she can sometimes be met with 'scepticism' because of her age, but she has not let it hold her back: " There’s the odd time when I am met with scepticism, but once I have those initial conversations with families, I build their trust.
"As a young female working in this industry, I’m not what someone might expect a funeral director to be and people are often surprised when they hear about my profession.
"At Bury and Rochdale funeral homes, we have colleagues of many different ages and backgrounds and that diversity really helps us in supporting family members from across the generations.
"From my experience, it is becoming more common for younger people to choose this profession, which is great to see."
Rhian prides herself on bringing a 'fresh perspective' to the industry as a young person, suggesting new features for funerals that might better reflect a deceased person's life than traditional methods - even including glitter coffins brought in last year after 'high demand'.
Rhian said: “Giving families the best possible goodbye is my number one priority.
"I believe that it’s important that funeral care moves with the times, which is why I have taken this opportunity to offer families new ideas from a younger perspective – whether it’s suggesting a different type of coffin, hearse or music.
"I have seen a huge shift in funerals and that they are no longer carried out in the ‘traditional way’ but really reflect the lives of those who have passed away.”
Now, Rhian says there 'is simply nothing else' she would rather do.
"I am incredibly proud to have become a funeral director within six months, particularly after beginning my career at the height of the pandemic," added Rhian.
"It has been an absolute privilege for me to support bereaved families and care for their loved ones during the past eighteen months. There is simply nothing else I would rather do.
"My mentality is that when you are passionate about something, you have to commit to it.”