Dealing with death and bereavement on a daily basis gives funeral directors a unique perspective on the meaning of life. Here, John Weir, who has been in the profession for 47 years, shares his philosophies. John runs four Kent-based funeral homes with his wife, Beverly, and served for 18 years as the spokesman for the profession’s National Society for Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF). He has also been a magistrate for 25 years and is a doting grandfather of two.
My career in a nutshell: I wanted to be a policeman, but after passing the relevant exams and receiving my joining instructions I suddenly realised that I really wanted to be a funeral director. When I was seventeen I was very fortunate to work with and trained by people with a very long tradition in the funeral profession. The lessons they taught me shaped my thoughts and working practice, and have remained with me to this day. Forty-seven years later am still doing it. It’s not a job – it’s a calling. And there’s nothing I’d rather do.
It’s rewarding: Every day is different, meeting people from all walks of life with each facing difficulties. I get great fulfilment in being able to help and support families and individuals to overcome those difficulties.
A caring profession: I think anyone who works as a funeral director has more than his or her fair share of humanity. It’s a caring profession.
Dealing with feelings: There are occasions when people have died in the most tragic circumstances or we deal with children or young people. At such times the emotional strain on a funeral director is immense. We support, counsel and offload to each other. Having the support of my family and colleagues is paramount. Knowing that you can discuss things in a totally confidential way is so important. In my experience, too, the funeral profession is a close-knit community, which is comforting, in that we can all appreciate the pressures one can be under.
It’s important to unwind: To relax and recharge, if it’s not time spent with my darling granddaughters, it’s in the Highlands of Scotland.
Happiness is: If, at the end of a week, I can reflect and say that we did our best for our clients and they are satisfied.
Positive feedback is a boost: Each and every letter of thanks we receive from a family is of enormous value and shared with all our staff. I am always so very grateful to receive such letters, especially the fact that clients have taken the time and trouble to say thanks, even though they are grieving.
Little treasures: The other thing that keeps me going are my granddaughters Abi and Jenny, both aged four. No matter what pressures you’re under, they’re just lovely.
Lessons in life: Make the most of every day!
What I’ve learned about death: I deal with death on a daily basis. Yet I’m often amazed at how people cope with the loss of a loved one, or when someone who is terminally ill contacts me to discuss their own funeral arrangements. I suppose I hope that when my time comes, I’ll demonstrate the same courage and that my family find the same strength.
When my time comes: I know it’s terrible, but I fluctuate between burial and cremation…I just cannot decide! I have thought about burial in my back garden, the home at which I was born. I will get around to planning the funeral in some detail, if only to take the pressure off my family.
When I’m gone: I’m really content with what I’ve done in life, although my epitaph would probably be: “What could I have done better?” History will be the judge of that!
John Weir has funeral homes in Rainham and other locations in Kent.