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Matters of Life and Death – Matthew Lymn Rose

Family business: Matthew Lymn Rose, right, pictured with his father Nigel

Family business: Matthew Lymn Rose, right, pictured with his father Nigel

Matthew Lymn Rose is among the fifth generation to work at A.W. Lymn, the family funeral service founded by his great-great grandfather Arthur William. Here, he shares some of the life lessons he’s learned from being part of the family profession.

I have the most rewarding job in the world: I get up every morning feeling excited to go to work and seeing what I can do today. People can be surprised that you love your job, working with people when they are at their lowest ebb. But if you can deliver the best final farewell they can give to their loved one, the feeling of getting it right is fantastic.

I was in a rush to get into the business: But if anything, I was pushed away. I knew what I was letting myself in for; I grew up in and around the business and could see my dad, Nigel, working very hard. He was very hands on. As a teenager, I washed the cars and Dad would say, “That’s all you’re good for unless you can bring something special to the business.”

I had to prove my worth: While I was doing my A-levels, I studied for my funeral directing diploma at night school. But I still couldn’t join the business at a senior level until I’d been to university. I did a business degree and while I was at university got my embalming qualification.

Then Dad finally said there might be a place for me… but I had to get a bit of life experience first. So I did a brief spell with a law firm and an accountancy practice, before returning to the family business in 2005. I’ve been here for twelve and a half years now and it feels like home.

I know I made the right decision: People call it the funeral profession, or funeral industry, but it’s more than that. It’s a vocation.

Emotion’s a good thing: If I told you I’d never felt upset at any funeral I’d ever done, I’d be a liar. It’s a good thing if it reminds us of our own weaknesses and emotions. You could be completely cold, but with no empathy people would feel uncomfortable with you. Yet it’s about achieving a balance, because if you were sitting at the back of the chapel crying, it wouldn’t be professional.

All the staff are familiar with my own favourite sayings: “It will do will not do” and “there’s no traffic on the extra mile”. I really believe in what we do. If all we want to do is turn out a good funeral then we might as well pack up and go home. If we do an exceptional funeral, then we all go home and sleep well. I don’t care what you do or earn, that makes this the best profession out there.

There’s a ‘type’ but you can’t always tell who: Some people come and go quickly, while others stay a very long time in the funeral profession. You can’t always tell who it will be and I sometimes get it wrong. A former Air Force member joined us, but after a day in the business, realised he couldn’t face seeing a dead person. Yet lots of people come to the funeral profession as a second career. They’ve paid the mortgage, so they are not doing it to pay the bills, but because it’s a worthwhile thing to do – it’s a caring profession.

Caring people put others first: In my interviewing process, I like to hear about something that’s put them outside their own comfort zone and why. The best performances from staff are often when they’ve put themselves out of their comfort zone for the sake of clients. We’ve even left staff by the side of the road when a client’s expressed a wish to ride with a loved one in the hearse. Anyone can learn the basic skills, but if you care about what you are doing, then you’ll get it right for the family.

Some funerals make you contemplate your own mortality: A recent funeral commemorated a chap my own age. I sat at the back listening to his friend playing the Goo Goo Dolls and there was a lump in my throat. It can feel too close to home, when you can see your own situation in someone else’s. And when you see the upset in someone else’s face, it’s hard not to feel it yourself. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to focus on your own mortality to an extent, but you can’t let it consume you. And for every sad story, there’s a happy one, of a life lived to the full.

Family values: An awful lot of families have used our services before and it’s lovely to hear people say: “I remember your great-grandfather Harold.” The fact we’ve been here for 110 years gives people a confidence and comfort that can take generations to build, but only moments to lose if you got it wrong.

Things aren’t always perfect: When something doesn’t go right it can take ages to come to terms with it. I feel it’s our duty to get it right every time. On a day, nineteen funerals out of twenty may have been perfect, but if things don’t go perfectly, it’s really hard and you take it with you, concentrating on the one. But you also have to draw breath and look at what went well. You learn so much about being a funeral director, by actually doing it.

When someone dies, they are still an important person: I take the lead from families. If they talk about Mum or Dad, I’ll refer to them that way: “Would Mum have a preference to how she was dressed?”

And it’s never “how old was Mum?” But “how old is Mum.” They are still people and that’s what makes us human.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever had was from my father: He said: “Say what you’re going to do and do it – and say what you can’t do and don’t try to do it.” It’s about managing people’s expectations. People don’t want false hope and you need to be honest with them. But whatever bereaved families want to do, there is no right or wrong.

Like most funeral directors, my hobby’s my business: It’s a bit of a lifestyle. My wife Alanna and I even had funeral cars for our wedding and flowers from the family floristry. One thing I do love is classic car racing. I’m doing the London to Lisbon rally with a friend in a classic E-Type – it’s his car.

When my time comes: I was asked about my funeral wishes, when I wrote my will. I’ve picked the coffin and the music. I’m a massive Michael Jackson fan, although I thought Thriller might be inappropriate. I want to be buried at home. Alanna’s quite happy about it and has come around to the idea of being buried there, too. I want a Victorian style gravestone, carved out of a big chunk of granite. I hope at least someone will come and have a look at it, but perhaps it won’t matter to me when I’m gone.

  • A.W. Lymn is based at Robin Hood House with 25 funeral homes serving the bereaved across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
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