A funeral arranger who joined the profession at the start of the coronavirus crisis has called for more recognition of those working in the funeral sector during the pandemic.
Tracie Sharp, who works in a Co-op Funeralcare branch in Midhurst, West Sussex, was made redundant from her role as head of sales for a hotel company in March last year.
The 52-year-old started as a funeral arranger amid a demand for services caused by the pandemic in April, initially on a temporary 12-week contract, but has since been made a permanent member of staff.
“I don’t think we are appreciated as much as we should be,” she told the PA news agency.
“I think the NHS and all those workers have been absolutely amazing in helping saving lives. But we’re on the flip side, we’re the ones that have got to help the families when their loved ones have passed away.
“I do think there should be more recognition and reward definitely for the industry as a whole because it’s an emotional job.”
Ms Sharp, from Southsea in Portsmouth, who served in the Army for seven years, said that while the role is rewarding, it can be a “taxing environment” when supporting bereaved loved ones.
“I was in the forces so I’m made of strong stuff, as they say, very regimented, get the job done, there’s no emotion, and everything like this,” she said.
“It was a pretty tough week last week and I went home last Friday and it just all came out.
“And it wasn’t because I’m weak or anything like this, I think it was a build-up – you are like a pressure cooker and sometimes you have just got to have the release.”
She added: “I think it does get to everybody and that’s why I think the mental health side of things and helping each other is so, so important.”
On the challenges presented during the pandemic, Ms Sharp said it was a new experience for those working in the funeral sector and everyone is “learning as we’re going through the process”.
“What I do with the families is reassure them that just because of the pandemic, it doesn’t mean we’re going to do anything different,” she added.
“We’re still going to treat them with love and respect and the dignity that they deserve.”
Ms Sharp said that the industry was “doing everything within our powers” to make funerals “as normal as possible” for the bereaved – but restrictions on the number of attendees can make this difficult.
“I do sympathise with them on this, they have got to sit and work out who they can invite and who they can’t invite,” she said.
“And that is obviously so distressing for them, but you know one thing that I often say to people is, why don’t we do a webcast? Even though they can’t physically be there, they can still be there emotionally.”
Ms Sharp said Co-op Funeralcare had quickly adapted to deal with how restrictions could affect the grieving process for families, such as suggesting a “celebration of life” once lockdown measures ease.
“We can have the funeral director that was there for the cremation or the burial of your loved one, we can get a hearse, we can do it all again for you and you can say goodbye properly,” she added.
Sam Tyrer, managing director of Co-op Funeralcare, said: “Funeral directors have often been the forgotten heroes of the pandemic.
“Arranging a funeral is one of the last and most meaningful things we can do for a loved one, and it is so vital to the grieving process.”
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