A former funeral director says she lied about her job to avoid reactions from other people.
Cath Burgess, 53, sometimes told people she “works in a shop” to steer around predictable responses.
She has just conducted her last funeral after 30 years in the business.
She has carried out thousands of funerals – but she says she loved her job and it has never phased her over the last three decades.
She is known in her community as she has conducted so many ceremonies in the area.
Cath, from Moreton, Merseyside, told the LiverpoolEcho said: “I always get people coming up to me, and I have to admit, sometimes I don’t know who they are, but as soon as I think back to the details of the funeral, I remember exactly – the girls in the office will tell you, I have a memory like an elephant, I never forget.”
The mum-of-one started working at Bells Funeral Home in Moreton shortly after she had had her son, John – now 32 – because she said the hours of her previous nursing job had been very tough.
She said: “I started as a funeral arranger, I saw the families and went through everything they wanted.
“But we would all do a bit of everything, making up the coffins and putting make up on the deceased.
“People would ask me how I did it, but it didn’t phase me at all.
“Hearing some of people’s stories – their lives – it can be hard and I know it might sound harsh, but you can’t carry it home with you.
“It may sound odd to people outside the industry, but I enjoy my job – helping people, hearing about people’s amazing lives, I loved it.
“Sometimes, when people would ask me what I do for a living, say if I was on holiday, I might just say I worked in a shop, because I would get some unusual reactions. Some have said ‘oh’ and then they would want to know all the details.”
But it wasn’t just the career choice itself, Cath said when she started there would be plenty of women in the office, but far less donning the suit and top hat to meet with families and lead the hearse.
She said: “There are a lot more women doing it now than there were when I started, I think a lot has changed over the years.
“The first ten years, my job would largely entail asking if they wanted a Catholic or Church of England service, but now there is such a variety with so many different requests.
“I have been to many funerals I will never forget because each is unique to the person, even if sometimes that means going down a more traditional route.”
This shift meant Cath has now moved on from being a funeral director, leaving Bells, to become a civil celebrant – a person who conducts a civil funeral for those who do not want a religious service and is characterised by the celebrant talking about the person’s life and bright moments.
Cath said: “I usually like to meet with the family in person, although through Covid I did a lot of Zoom callss.
“But I like it to be just a chat, a chat about the person and who they were.
“Often I will write up the service and the family will not realise I know so much because they have just chatted to me about them and I think that is what makes it so special.
“The stories of older people who have passed away, the things they have seen and lived through.
“Or the babies who have passed and we talk through the parent’s aspirations and dreams they had for their child.
“In this job you really just have to be yourself, you are helping people through a day like no other and to know you have got that right for them and the family is so rewarding.
“We celebrate the fact that they lived, not that they died.”
When the pandemic hit, Cath said it was the “hardest time” she has ever faced in her career, but she is still amazed at the resistance shown by grieving families.
She said: “We couldn’t even give people a hug, or offer them support in that way.
“The biggest problem was going home on a Friday after telling a family ‘yes, we are all looking good and a reception for 40 people’, then coming in on a Monday and telling them it was all changing and they could only have 15 people.
“We have had funerals where 80 to 100 people could have come, but they could only have 15 – how do you choose those 15.
“But every time, I was amazed with how the families dealt with this, I want to thank them for their incredible understanding even when they themselves were going through their own trauma.”
Despite her line of work, Cath has given little thought to her own funeral, she said: “When you turn 50 you can pre-pay for your funeral and that is what me and my husband, Paul, did.
“I think they are one of the best things, it just gives you peace of mind no one has to worry about the costs when you are gone.
“Over the years, financial difficulties paying for funerals has been one of the things I have seen.
“I have no instructions left for my funeral other than to be cremated and I would prefer a civil celebrant because they talk more about the person.”
She added: “What this job has taught me is to live for today.
“My dad was one of those people who would say ‘when I retire I will do this’, and then he died at 57.
“You need to live for today, because tomorrow might not come.”