A career in funerals can be interesting, rewarding and fun.
Samantha Wraight came into the funeral industry in her mid-40s after circumstances in her life made her want to look for a new career.
Now she’s having recently passed her National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) diploma in Funeral Arranging and Administration and believes she has the best job in the world.
Her message to anyone looking for a change is to think about funerals, as age and gender are no barriers.
Samantha spent many years as a hairdresser and beautician, and her first foray into the funeral industry was keeping promises to her clients to make them look their best when they passed away.
A life-changing event in her personal life led to her changing her career and after being advised to complete some night school sessions, she got an IT qualification under her belt and began volunteering and eventually working across several Funeral Directors homes.
She has since worked across John Nodes Funeral Service in Cricklewood, and MM Broad and Sons Funeral Directors in Barnet.
“Getting into the funeral industry just kind of happened,” she said.
“I have always liked organising things – I’m the one who will sort out the parties or the events – so perhaps there is something in my personality which was drawn to it.
“Learning from people who have worked in the trade and have a lot more experience has been so important for me.
“For example, one of the most influential people I have work with is my diary manager, Mick Siles who from arranging until after every funeral will discuss what went well and what could be done differently, Mick always has time to listen, discuss and pass on his experiences.
“One of the things I have learned is that when you sit with a family everyone is an individual and by talking, listening you will arrange the funeral according to the family wishes.
“Sometimes people will want a massive celebration of life, other people will want something very traditional – the hearse, the coffin and the church. It is important that a family gets to say goodbye how they want to.
“Even though I ran my own business for many years, I’m not the most confident person but I love learning things and no day is ever the same.
“From the minute you take the first call from a family there are so many twists and turns which can happen or scenarios which can be played out.
“Ultimately, I have the best job in the world.
“I have helped so many families and it is always a privilege to do so.
“People come to us at their lowest and to speak to them initially, and then build a relationship where some time later you are giving their loved one their final goodbye.
“It is honour, and I am grateful to service the families.
“We are all going to suffer grief, and everyone’s grief journey and experience is different.”
Samantha has helped to arrange some unique funerals and personalised services with moments which are now etched into her memory.
“The other month we had a funeral for someone who loved to go to the bingo so during the procession we drove them past the bingo hall, phoned ahead and everyone came out and applauded,” she explained.
“Another one we’ve done recently was for a man who liked to pour himself a whiskey when he said goodbye, so we had a glass poured and placed beside his coffin as a toast and a last drink to see him on his way.
“We’ve also had a funeral for a bus driver, where we got a bus, he used to drive to follow the hearse to the service, a really special moment for his friends and family.”
Samantha is well known in the local community and is always keen for and the team to get involved in charity events to help raise funding for local good causes.
A firm believer in community spirit and brand awareness Sam has also been helping to ensure the rich history of John Nodes Funeral Service, which has been serving families in London since 1828, is preserved and put on show in the Cricklewood branch.
Part of the rich history of John Nodes includes how Kirtley Nodes – the fourth generation of the family to work in funerals – accompanied the casket carrying the Unknown Warrior from the First World War battlefields in France before his burial in Westminster Abbey.
Mr Nodes was National President of the British Undertakers Association at the time, and proposed the casket should be gifted to the nation as a symbol of all men who were killed on the battlefields during the Great War, providing a focus for grieving families.
“We are a nearly 200-year-old brand – there are not many Funeral Directors you can say that about – and I do not want that history to be lost,” Samantha said.
“At the moment it is a case of narrowing down the exact details and piecing bits and pieces together.
“I’ve recently visited the National Association of Funeral Directors archives in Solihull to do more research and I’m in touch with expert funeral industry researcher Brian Parsons – what he doesn’t know about the history of funerals isn’t worth knowing.
“At the Cricklewood branch there is a long corridor outside our chapels with nothing on the walls and my vision is to have a bit about the history of John Nodes complemented with some information about the history of funerals which may be of interest to our families to know how the business has evolved.”
And it’s not just Samantha in her family who has found herself in the funeral industry, as her brother is a qualified embalmer.
“My mother always says she couldn’t imagine two people who she would have predicted were less likely to go into the funeral business, but here we are,” she added.