A week in the life – Amanda Howitt, Allestree branch manager
I start the day as I always do – meeting with a friend at 6am for a brisk walk. We complete our favourite 3.5 mile circuit and I feel invigorated and up for the challenges ahead this week.
Mondays are always busy catching up with new instructions from over the weekend. Every family who contacts us following the death of a loved one are asked which branch they would like to visit. Having been established in Allestree for nearly two years with our branch on a prominent position on the A6, we are a popular choice for families in this area.
I contact families who have chosen Allestree to introduce myself, find out as much information about their plans as I can and then set up a meeting in the branch. I like to try and confirm a date and venue immediately so that families can start making plans so I spend the day sorting out the new instructions.
Today I have two different meetings with families to arrange their loved one’s funeral. Although it is always a sad time, meetings to sort out all of the paperwork and talk through the funeral arrangements are not always sombre affairs – especially when the family is determined to make the funeral a celebration of their loved one’s life.
Sometimes, the deceased will have had a funeral plan or filled out one of our free ‘My Funeral Wishes’ booklet so everything from key decisions such as burial or cremation to details about the music, flowers and coffin will be very clear. However, not every family is keen to talk about death and the most challenging arrangements are when families are totally in the dark about what their loved one would have wanted. It is my job to offer up all the different options and gentle guide families through all the decision that need to be made.
I spend the rest of the day putting plans into place for both funerals. I used to work for the Mid Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham before I joined Wathall’s and that certainly taught me how to organise events and organise a busy person’s diary. At any one time, I can have at least five funerals to organise and our computer system is great to ensure that every little detail is sorted.
I get into the office bright and early as the Derby team are bringing us the body of a lady who will be with us until her funeral the following week. I call the family and they immediately say that they want to visit her and to lay some personal items in her coffin. We always recommend embalming both for hygiene reasons and to ensure that all family members have the chance to visit their loved one. This is particularly important for family members who live away and have not perhaps had a chance to say goodbye before their passing. I prepare the chapel of rest at the branch and the family come to visit which they find to be a very healing experience.
As well as sorting out all the arrangements, one of my jobs is to match a family with a celebrant or minister who will conduct the service in the way that they want so I contact celebrants or ministers who I think would best match the families I met yesterday and am delighted that they are both available. I pass on the information so that they can contact the families to discuss the services.
I then have a very different job in the afternoon – meeting up with a colleague to discuss what events we can support in our local community this year. Wathall’s is a family-owned business, established in Derby for more that 160 years, and has always been part of the local communities that we serve. As a local person, I obviously want to support the Allestree area so I look forward to investigating various events further and opening up discussions on how we can be involved.
I share the offices here with Fay and Sarah who are our bereavement counsellors and they have a busy day of appointments and it is my job to meet and greet clients as they arrive. I always make sure that my families know about the amazing support that we offer through the Dandelions Bereavement Support service which they, along with families who we have not arranged the funeral for, can access at any stage of their grief journey.
I have a meeting of my own in the other private office with the daughter of a lady whose funeral we recently arranged. As is often the case, many people realise the benefits of taking out a funeral plan when they are faced with making the arrangements themselves for a loved one. This lady is doing just that – determined that her own children will not have to make any difficult decisions when she passes away.
The last job of the day is to sort out some post funeral arrangements. We offer some lovely ashes jewellery memorials and our sister company Art Stone Memorials design and install memorials for graveyards, crematoria and even gardens.
I sort out the orders for two ashes jewellery necklaces for two sisters who lost their mum earlier this year and I also contact Amy at Art Stone Memorials about a cremation plaque that a family want to order.
We have two funerals today – one in the morning and one in the afternoon and it is my job to do the final checks, including removing jewellery and placing any items in the coffins that the family have requested.
Many people don’t realise the difference between a funeral arranger and the funeral director on the day who is in charge of the proceedings. The funeral director who is in charge today has already contacted both families so we discuss any final changes before the coffin is placed in the hearse and the cortege leaves to meet the family. My most memorable funerals have been a campervan hearse and a horse drawn carriage – both of which certainly brought the traffic to a respectful standstill.
I spent the rest of the afternoon ensuring that all the information is up to the date on the funeral planning system and contacting all my families to check they are OK, finalise any outstanding information such as orders of service and finding out if any more members of the family wish to visit the chapel of rest.
I try and finish on time on a Friday as I am heading up to Liverpool first thing in the morning to visit my eldest daughter who is at university there. As well as spending a lovely day together, I always stock up the food cupboards to ensure she can cook healthy meals for herself.