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Called with one foot in the grave

Graham Clarke of Cannon and Cripps funerals feels called to his career. Photo by Osker Lau
BEING A funeral director isn’t necessarily a job you grow up wanting to do.

Journey spoke with three funeral directors who explained that it is more of a vocation or calling than a job.

Bethel Funerals’ Queensland Branch Manager Steve Burnett had been attending the Bible College of Queensland in the early 1990s when he felt called to help the grieving.

“I had not long before buried my grandmother so I thought I would start with asking the funeral director who buried her how to go about getting into the business,” he said. “I started working for him immediately and have been funeral directing ever since.”

He learnt the trade from on-the-job training and uses relationship skills acquired at Bible College.

“The job hasn’t changed my views on death but it has made me more aware of the need for others to have this hope that only Christ can give,” he said.

“It has made me a lot more aware that we need to cherish every day we have because as I have seen time and time again, life can be taken from us in an instant and we can’t turn back the clock once a loved one leaves us.”

Of course Mr Burnett has planned aspects of his own funeral but prays he has more time to think about it. He said there were many Christian songs which mean a lot to him that he would like played.

“But I think I will leave that up to my family; after all the service is for them not me.

“On a light hearted note, Already Gone by the Eagles always brings a smile to my face when I hear it as I think if that was played at my funeral it would be me speaking from the grave: ‘I’m already gone, and I’m feeling strong, I will sing this victory song’.”

Graham Clarke was working in a hospital for the terminally ill when a friend told him of a vacancy at Cannon and Cripps Funerals.

“That was in September 1979 and I’m still there,” he said. “I was very fortunate to have two very good mentors.

“It was ‘Old School’ training and you were taught how to do things properly.”

Mr Clarke said being a Christian helps him prepare for the inevitable.

“Working in this industry for almost 31 years I am conscious of the fact that death can occur at any time, without warning and without discrimination.

“I know I am ready.”

Mr Clarke said he wanted his funeral service to be as joyful as possible with plenty of hymns including Blessed Assurance and To God be the Glory plus something to reflect his love of motor sport.

“At the end of the service the minister is to say the immortal words: Gentlemen, start your engines.

“At that point the pallbearers will take me out of the church to the sound of the race cars screaming down the Gold Coast highway.

“As the hearse leaves everyone can wave a chequered flag: I have won the race!”

After Annette Lourigan, now of Metropolitan Funerals, organised a memorial service for a friend in 1997 the local funeral director asked her to work for him.

“I told him no way and spoke to my parish priest about the strange job offer,” she said. “He told me that I was not getting offered a job, I was being given the chance to work within a vocation that I would find rewarding and that I would love the ministry.”

“I started off washing the cars, making cups of tea for families and trimming coffins.”

She was also nurtured in the career by on-the-job training.

“I will always be grateful that I have been shown my vocation by some of the real gentleman who spent a lifetime caring for others.

“The information passed down from long-term funeral directors is invaluable.

“They teach you the importance of never allowing our flag to touch the ground, bowing after placing flowers and the honour and tradition of leading a hearse.”

Ms Lourigan believes she is a better person for being a funeral director.

“I have more respect for death than I did before I became a funeral director, which also means I now have more respect for life.

“All of us have an incredible story to tell, a funeral put together with love and time allows those stories to be shared. I am blessed every time I get a snippet of someone’s life.”

The night after her friend’s funeral Ms Lourigan planned her own.

“It sits in the kitchen cupboard, has crossed out bits and added bits.”

Jason Mraz’ song I’m Yours has been added to the list recently.

“The words are wonderful, all about love, that we are all part of one big family and that life is too short to make it complicated.

“My Parish priest was right; it is a vocation and I do find it rewarding being of service to people during such an intimate time in their life’s journey.”

Photo : Graham Clarke of Cannon and Cripps funerals feels called to his career. Photo by Osker Lau