Pauline McAvoy has just landed her dream job as a Funeral Director at our new Toxteth funeral home. Here she lets us in on the highs and lows of working in such an emotionally charged role.
“Every funeral is heartbreaking,” confesses Funeral Director Pauline McAvoy, who’s been arranging funerals on Merseyside for the last seven and a half years.
“You’ve just got to give all your support to clients. That doesn’t mean you don’t get upset yourself. We’re only human. It comes across that we care,” says Pauline.
Pauline is warm, softly spoken and quick-witted enough to know when someone needs a laugh rather than a hug. Her instinctive knowledge of how to deal with people is the ultimate skill needed in a job where life and death are central to every conversation.
“We’ve lost family members. We know what that client wants from us because we’ve sat in those seats. That does help. You understand what they’re feeling. Every funeral is unique and everyone grieves differently. You’ve got to be able to adapt to that,” she adds.
Love and laughter
Laughter is something you might not expect to hear in a funeral home but Pauline believes it’s essential to a role where sadness is the day-to-day norm.
“Not every family comes in here crying, wailing and grieving,” she reveals. “A lot of the time we will all laugh together before they leave – they’re so appreciative of it. Some people want to be hugged. Not everybody, but that’s the skill you need to have – knowing those who do.”
Growing into the role
Funerals haven’t always been Pauline’s reason for being. When her now 23-year old daughter was at school she volunteered as a teaching assistant for nine years. “It just fitted my lifestyle at the time,” she says.
Then she re-trained as a florist. “Funnily enough I created unique tributes then and I’m still doing that now as a funeral director!”
So how did she get from working with flowers and foliage to arranging funerals? “I remember how they treated me when my dad died at our Ambrose Grove funeral home. I knew that I could be that person who helped others at the toughest moment of their lives.
“It’s a vocation. It’s not a 9 to 5 job and it’s not a clock-watching job. It came to the point that I didn’t have to rush home to my daughter anymore. I could dedicate my time to my job. You just stay and do it because you’re aware that ‘this family needs me whether it’s 4pm or 9pm’.”
Dispelling the myth
With the arrival of Toxteth’s new funeral home, Pauline is keen to make people realise that it’s not a scary place to feel uncomfortable in.
“There’s not the grim reaper sitting in the corner, it’s not all dull and dark. We want people to call in, have a cup of tea. Already people have started to drop by, asking: ‘Do you do them funeral plans?’
“We’re noticing that more people want to talk about what they want to happen when they go. They want to prepare and not leave their families not knowing,” she explains.
Her hardest funeral
While every funeral is difficult Pauline admits that there’s been one in her career that knocked her sideways.
“It was a young boy,” she says quietly. “It was just devastating. You can imagine how his mum was feeling. She was destroyed. We brought him into our care and we rested him in chapel. And you know some people say: ‘They’re a little angel’. He was a little angel. He was just gorgeous. She’d come in every day to sit with him. The night before the funeral she said: ‘You won’t leave him on his own will you?’ And we never did,” says a tearful Pauline.
Despite these difficult moments Pauline believes the job is the most rewarding she’s ever done. “It’s a lovely, lovely job – a very privileged job. I love the contact with families. I love getting to know the clients, and through them, the deceased. I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she smiles.