Sharon on Claire:
Claire Potter is a married mum of three who loves travelling, self-development, to be inspiring and to be inspired and, like me, the City of York (what’s not to love?). A background in HR and Events eventually lead to her entering the funeral industry. She is the Manager of F A Stockill & Son, Funeral Directors in Scarborough. It is her passion for everything she does that enables her to uphold the Stockill family values of “Listening, Caring and Guiding” with ease.
With lockdown due to Coronavirus in full flow Claire and I were unable to meet in person for this interview so we thought we’d take a different approach and brainstorm – or as Claire put it in her own unique way: “head splat”.
Claire on Claire:
I’ve been working in the funeral industry for several years now. It is an honour when a family trusts us to take care of their family member, at a time of absolute crisis.
I learnt the ‘old school’ and village community ways. I recently updated training regarding mental health and suicide prevention as this is, unfortunately, an area on the increase.
Day to day I manage the office. I have been privy to getting close to well over 550 families and you can imagine the rich tapestries of life I’ve borne witness to. I love that part. When a tragic passing of a young adult or child occurs it always affects me, and I have been known to cry. I try not to and I blame myself for being an empath.
Claire on the Effects of Coronavirus and Funeral Services:
The virus has left many a family absolutely and cruelly crushed now and more robbed than usual; why? Grief is a time of natural collective and bringing together of people.
This isolation is more impactful when for example the carer or partner, who’d been forced to not see anyone through caring for someone sick, is further tormented at a time of ‘freedom’. When they need some normality, belonging, camaraderie, friendship and love the most. And this is denied.
It is 10 at a social- distanced graveside burial – that is; if you can get a Vicar to preside! Nearly all are socially isolating as over 70 years old or have underlying health problems! Yes, you can have a funeral live-streamed. No, you’re not allowed an organist; some vicars have stopped singing also.
Claire on Humanity:
We put a social media post out recently asking for people to show their respects either by standing at their windows or in their driveways. This has been met with such a wonderfully positive response as everybody wants to help. Goose pimple inducing sights of villagers lining streets; nodding, waving, blowing kisses (for the family to see as we drive slowly by) means the world to the isolated bereaved.
That is humanity. This is one of the many the new changes from the terrible virus: anew found love and respect and a coming together.
Claire’s Reflections on Life:
As I was applying the makeup on a very beautiful young lady; it made me think: Of life. Everything. This job makes you reflect- a lot!
When it comes to my funeral: what do I want? I am not sure: we see so many different situations/ family/ types of passing are that actually it comes to the fore that it serves a purpose for those who are living to have the funeral of their choosing… after all, I truly believe that the soul/ their spirit is with the ones they loved.
Please do let your dearest know if you wish to be cremated or buried. That is a mind-twisting thing to have to think about at the time of need. You often see tormented minds second-guessing the wishes of the deceased – what would they want? So please, write it somewhere – and any music or resting place you would like.
Claire on How a Great Funeral Service Can Help:
My team do an incredible job – they are on the front line. Walking into care and private homes facing COVID scenarios at all hours we are called. We are right behind the front line – and queuing also for PPE.
When your world has just come tumbling down as someone has just passed everybody wants a piece of you – and you don’t get any peace – at the one time where you are in turmoil. There are so many people needing your attention it’s all a bit crazy. That’s why you need a good funeral service to guide and help you.
The Good Funeral Guide labours the point on how you can save costs by doing funerals yourself. I wonder who could be fit of mind to be so hands-on to save costs and do it all ‘organically’?
I believe anyone working in the funeral industry has a heart; you have to care and you have to genuinely want to put in the extra miles – hours – that people will never understand or never see. The invisible parts are crucial – and you will never know what you have just put that member of staff through to dress your loved one or to achieve that ‘wish’ you added on just then with only a day to go – regarding organising an additional something or a special tribute.
We always advise our families on how they can save monies. You must be a flexible person to work in the industry.
Claire Shares What Goes On Behind the Scenes
In the service held, you would never see the intrinsic hours leading up to that point, the negotiating, the communications, the vast emotional support and counselling and time spent pedalling fast behind the scenes to ensure perfection and meeting expectations in a very tight timeframe – the work and effort to make it flawless and effortless.
The pressures of “getting it right” on the day are huge. So much to do in such a short time.
Creating a funeral is a massive event – you only get ONE chance – watched by all: depending on a huge chain of wonderful people from the bereavement officer or the receptionist at the doctors; through to the printer for your stationery or the florist or the churchwarden, there is such a host of people and doing an AMAZING job.
And that is what you’re paying for! Skill. Knowledge and the sheer cost to have a fully experienced, trustworthy, and equipped functional outfit with trained staff – on standby 24/7.
Claire on The People You Don’t Always Know are Involved:
Did you know your local churchwarden is gold to us? And to your community too.
They really are unsung heroes keeping it together UNPAID for the church and anyone who has their number as they do all sorts – turning the heating on, showing up, unlocking doors, sorting bits at all hours to ensure your funeral goes without a hitch – and without a grumble – our best friends!
Did you know that every church has its ‘own ways’ and ‘rules’ that they think everyone else adheres to – add to that each Vicar or celebrant and ‘their ways’ too plus ‘the ways’ of each doctors surgery, hospital mortuary on collections of the deceased – or the florists or organists who ‘always’ do such and such?
Add to this – and I mean an epic team you can really trust – a good funeral director who can pull of the wishes of a family in an incredibly short space of time and you will find that when up against it; we really can be worth our weight in gold. Some may argue and say we don’t do anything, and it is easy money – I thank them for that assumption it means we’re doing an excellent good job to give that impression! A good funeral is dependent on a good team.
Claire Answers The Question: Should you View Your Loved One?
Viewings are tricky. If you want to view you know it and it can be beneficial – most people know if they want to; then they/you should. If in two minds – then don’t.
Some people feel duty-bound to ‘go see’ but you know what? It’s not for everyone. And that is OK.
You really must trust your funeral director if they believe they are not good for viewing; please do trust that as the funeral director is there for you.
You have to remember that not everybody has a peaceful passing and that is important you have to also remember that not everybody’ is fit and well to view. When they have been to the coroners and have been investigated, that means they are cut open and whilst they are sutured it is sometimes hard to hide. These are the times when the pressure is on funeral directors to meet the expectations of loved ones.
There are times you really want to ask personal questions but you can’t or you don’t feel as though you’re able because you know that sometimes the family are so very, very fragile but example when you’re doing the makeup all their hair; sometimes obviously you don’t know which side they parted their hair; sometimes you have a photograph that they give you other times you have no idea so you can only try your best.
Claire’s Thoughts on What Happens When We Die:
I believe there is ‘something’ of course out there as just too many things that happen in this job. You can really believe that the soul has ascended because when you see someone who has just come in and a couple of days later sees them again, they have changed; it’s just a vessel left it seems.
Numerous times family have said they just went for a break and their loved ones died when they weren’t there! Or when they’ve had a celebration days before; the pattern is they go when they tend to have seen who they needed to.
I hear regularly about the deceased saying they have seen people who have died before. The family report they thought they were losing it at the end because they thought ‘they’ saw great uncle or auntie so-and-so and you know what?: This happens time and time again – I would say within the last three months before they pass and I find it of immense comfort to keep hearing that people see people that they love. It’s almost reassuring that they’re coming back to hold a hand and take them over.
We have had instances whereby electronics have been tampered with on the day e.g. ‘they’ve’ messed with the music system or something but no surprises to the family as were known to be ‘pranksters’
With Claire It’s Personal:
A lovely part of the job for me is that I get to see the floral tributes that come in; the flowers, the different sprays, the different aromas the different touches to different poignance reminders and I always suggest a White Rose for a Yorkshire gentleman.
Another surprising fact? Some people genuinely do not listen to music; they have no interest in music and therefore no comprehension or suggestion whatsoever for a choice of music for a service. This is where I love being asked to help and to make it personal.
It is always so comforting to know you’ve made a positive difference at a really bad time.
Every day is different.
I do wish I had a magic wand though.
Thanks to Claire for this fabulous brainstorming “session”. There’s plenty more “head splats” where that came from so I suspect we may be hearing more from Claire in the future.
Claire can be contacted in the following ways:
By email: email@example.com
By Phone: 01723 859279
© All text and Images Sharon Malone & Claire Potter 2020