They're the professionals most of us never want to have to deal with. But when we do need them, the services offered by funeral directors are invaluable.
Most people have little or no experience of what to do when someone close to them dies, according to Kaye Shannon, manager of Sibuns Funeral Directors in Auckland.
"That's where the funeral director comes in, guiding them through the whole process of organising a funeral and making everything go as easily as it possibly can, given the circumstances," she explains.
A funeral director's role is to care for the deceased, starting with the transfer from the place of death, through to burial or cremation.
Acting on the family's behalf, they can also help with tasks such as placing death notices and registering the death.
In addition to this, funeral directors can be tasked with organising everything to do with the funeral, including arranging a chapel or venue, supplying the casket and sorting out payment of cemetery or cremation fees.
Usually there are a lot of decisions to be made and a funeral director can help with these too.
"People who are grieving can lose clarity and it's hard to be decisive about anything, which leads to added stress," says Kaye.
"It's a very raw time, but if you've been able to build up a level of trust with your funeral director, this can really help."
As being a funeral director involves a large amount of administrative work and event planning, it's crucial to be organised, efficient and a master of multitasking. It also requires skills that aren't always easily learned, such as how to deal with people who are grieving and, in some cases, deeply traumatised.
"You need to be a caring person who can deal with families at this time," says Kaye.
"You have to be sensitive to grief, but still able to keep a clear head and prompt people to make decisions in a kind and gentle way."
The ability to be diplomatic is also often needed, especially if family members have differing opinions about the best way to farewell the person they've lost.
These days many families want funerals that are personalised and individual, so a funeral director also needs to be able to think outside the square.
Kaye says there is certainly plenty of variety in the role and no two days are ever the same. She has a degree in psychology, trained as a nurse and worked in childcare before moving into the funeral profession 17 years ago.
Kaye admits there are times when, after an emotionally charged day, she sheds a tear or two, especially if the deceased has died tragically.
But it is also hugely rewarding.
"There can be lots of life-affirming things that come out of funerals," explains Kaye.
"The connection with people is what I enjoy most and being able to help a family when someone they love has died is a special privilege."
For more information about Sibuns Funeral Directors, visit sibuns.co.nz
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