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Meet the first female funeral director in Midland Michigan!

Dealing with a loss in the family can be a stressful time, but Becky Sanford of Ware-Smith-Woolever Funeral Directors is making it her business to help people not be afraid of death. Last fall, Sanford became the first and only female funeral director practicing in Midland. Sanford, who grew up in Saginaw, decided to pursue a career in mortuary sciences when her 15-year-old brother died. Sanford, who was 9 at the time, was a very quiet child, observing what was going on around her. She recalls listening to her parents discuss funeral arrangements and posing different questions, looking to the funeral directors for guidance. "In the back of my head I thought, 'I want to help people like that someday,'" Sanford said. The funeral directors advised Sanford's parents to not exclude Sanford and her sister in the preparations and discussions. One director asked Sanford if there was anything specific she wanted and Sanford expressed a wish for her brother to wear a ponytail in honor of the many times he had let her play with his hair. "They did that just for me. It meant the world because it made me feel like I was included." Sanford continued her education by taking a year of classes at Alma College before switching to Delta College, taking classes in biology and public speaking. The only university in Michigan which offers a bachelor's degree in mortuary science is Wayne State, but Sanford was unable to successfully transfer her credits there. Instead, she enrolled in an online program through Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science. Among its requirements, Sanford needed to work with a funeral home or a service affiliated with a funeral home under the direction of a licensed funeral director. Sanford began working for Ware-Smith-Woolever Funeral Directors in 2014, finishing school in 2016 before beginning her apprenticeship. Afterward, she applied and was approved for her state license before taking the state exam in 2019. "Once you pass the state exam, you are basically instantly licensed," Sanford said. Since Michigan provides an inclusive license that allows an individual to be both a funeral director and embalmer, Sanford was required to study science and arts. Studies in biology and cosmetology provided insight as to how to best preserve and present a body. Marketing courses proved useful when working with outside businesses and arranging a budget for services. Classes in public speaking have helped her to work with families as they navigate the planning process, often for the first time. "A lot of it is very psychological. You are dealing with people on what is one of the worst days they will go through." Although Sanford was initially fascinated with the biological aspect of mortuary science, she discovered that she also enjoyed working with family members and making their experience with the funeral home as easy and comforting as possible. When she is working with a family she knows, Sanford comes at the situation with the goal of helping them get through the process together. With a new family, she finds it easier to take on a more managerial role, slightly remove herself from the equation. "You have to be careful not to do it too much because you can't come across as being cold or uncaring or having no feeling. That's not what we're about," Sanford stated. A part of relieving clients' emotional burdens often happens behind the scenes. Some responsibilities that can fall on a funeral director include coordinating with the county to obtain a copy of the death certificate, scheduling service times with churches and cemeteries, submitting obituaries to news sources and making arrangements for floral deliveries. If the family is facing financial struggles, Sanford makes a point to provide multiple options and give clear communication about what is available and affordable. "It's a learning experience for a lot of families when they come in and it's definitely our job to make sure that they understand everything by the time they're done and they're comfortable with everything and how it was handled." Sanford did not consider the fact that she was the first female funeral director in Midland until she heard local directors talking about their funeral homes' histories. She instead is proud of the work that she is accomplishing with Ware-Smith-Woolever Funeral Directors and how they have kept her on. "I never really thought about it and kept going," she said. Article Source

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