A calling to help the bereaved

Funeral directors Rose Beeston and Clare Barratt do not regard what they do as a ‘‘job’’ but more a calling, helping families say goodbye.Picture: SCOTT GELSTON

Funeral directors Rose Beeston and Clare Barratt do not regard what they do as a ‘‘job’’ but more a calling, helping families say goodbye. Picture: SCOTT GELSTON

For Clare Barratt and Rose Beeston it does.

The Foley Funerals directors are four and three years into their positions, having attained the milestone of 300 funerals each.

There is no doubt that many could not do what they do and that it takes a certain type of person to spend the hardest, most difficult moments of someone’s life with them just hours or days after they lose a loved one.

However, the women do not regard what they do as a ‘‘job’’ but more a calling, helping families say goodbye.

They tread a fine line of compassion, understanding, respect, support – yet also knowing when to step back and purely guide the family through their last moments with their loved one.

It is a sense that they have developed and honed.

‘‘Some families and some individuals will allow you to become close – different degrees of closeness – and some don’t, and we respect that and we gauge what we can say and what kind of contact we can have,’’ Ms Beeston said.

‘‘Fairly quickly you’re able to ascertain what type of distance needs to be had, whether they’re close people, they’re huggy-feely people or they need that space.

‘‘And that’s OK. We understand that’s OK for them and everyone is different.

‘‘And hopefully, and I’m fairly confident, we get it right.’’

For both women, starting work at the funeral parlour was a step in a new direction and they essentially learnt on the job.

They have no real set times – people die all the time and a call at 4am or 4pm is par for course.

From the moment they are contacted, they will go and collect the body, clean, dress and prepare it, keeping in constant contact with family regarding what clothes the deceased will wear, how they like their hair or make-up, and organise the funeral arrangements of who will conduct it, where, when and how that person wants to be remembered.

They are there before, during and after the service, even making a cup of tea or handing around sandwiches at the wake.

The women say most people have left some instructions on what they would like to happen at their funeral – whether it be nothing at all, which is not too uncommon in Launceston, just a simple service or something on a larger scale.

Some request a particular song or songs be played – a popular request is My Way – or maybe a coloured coffin in a favourite sporting team or for items to adorn it while at the service.

One recent service saw a keen gardener’s coffin adorned with produce from his own garden, as well as some well-used tools.

Items can also be buried or cremated with the deceased, from guitars to blankets or soft toys – all but possessions that could cause an explosion.

For both women, looking after the funeral arrangements of a child or young person is by far the hardest.

Ms Barrett said they were certainly moved by services, the music and the family members they met.

‘‘We debrief a lot,’’ Ms Beeston said.

‘‘We have an amazing relationship, I think.

‘‘To be able to debrief with each other and those who work here is really important – that would be our coping mechanism as we talk through a lot of things.’’

Ms Barratt said: ‘‘Whilst we do become involved in the lives of people, we don’t take the weight of the world upon our shoulders.

‘‘We invest our lives into the life of each funeral but I think we have a good ability, a good balance, to say ‘don’t take this on board’.’’

Having both experienced recent deaths in their own families, they are certainly attuned to those who are grieving.

So while death is a part of life, you must always look on the bright side – something that, they say, is so important.

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