Continuing Our Series: A Life In The Day Of A Dublin Funeral Director.
Importance of a calm environment in the midst of bereavement and trauma.
9.30 a.m. Jennings Undertakers Five Lamps, Dublin 1
Serene. Tranquil. Dignified. Calm. David Dooley straightens a flower vase here in one of the funeral arrangements rooms in Jennings Undertakers of Amiens Street. The room is quiet and peaceful, considering that this branch – Jennings at the Five Lamps, is also the busy Head Office of Jennings Funeral Directors.
In ten minutes, the Nelligans will be here to arrange the funeral for their beloved and recently bereaved father. David knows that people will be feeling far from calm, there won’t be much serenity to spare, but that makes it all the more crucial that the Funeral Home itself is all about these qualities of peace and calmness and sound working order.
Funeral Director: A privileged job of service:
David has the lamps lit, the paper work in order, and he says this reminds him why many Funeral Directors will say without a doubt that this job is a difficult one, but a very privileged one.
‘Look at it this way – out there in our main office – the phones are hopping most of the time. You’ve got the Operations Dept on to hospitals or morgues to see if the deceased remains of people who died last night can be released into our care, or there might be vital questions about the possibility of a Post Mortem in the case of a sudden death – and the implications this can have on the family as they strive to make decisions around Funeral Arrangements.
Then, in the same office, you’ve got Funeral Directors fielding calls from families with all sorts of questions:
Is it too late to organise an extra limousine for the Removal to the Church tonight? (It’s not!).
But this quiet space created by the Funeral Director – this is at the very heart of the job.
Tranquil Space To Gather And Arrange A Funeral
David knows that for the next couple of hours, his entire focus will be centred on the family sitting in front of him. David explains that despite the fact that there is a huge capacity for stress in this job – on a daily basis, Jennings, as one of Ireland’s leading Undertakers, work hard in arranging many funerals from widely populated communities. Phone switchboards are busy, but things are professionally in order here at Head Office – this means that David can concentrate on the job in hand, knowing that all the ongoing work is being handled with efficiency.
The core heart of the job demands a calm, tranquil environment for when the vulnerable family walk in the door, people who may feel broken, lost, grief-stricken.
‘You can actually see people respond to this right away,’ says David. ‘Body language says a lot – obviously at this dreadful time, people might be quiet in themselves, but you can see shoulders visibly relax a bit – and that makes my day. Peaceful focus is on offer immediately – the client responds and that kind of orderly quiet space to work in is actually very good for the Undertaker as well.’
And David goes on to explain how Jennings hold a long-standing position of trust right across their Dublin network from from Clontarf to Coolock, Raheny to Blanchardstown, Portmarnock and beyond – Jennings have built up a hugely solid reputation since Jennings was founded in the 1940’s here at the Five Lamps – serving local communities like Sheriff Street and East Wall – and that kind of reliability becomes embedded in the community awareness, and the Funeral Directors across the board are deeply committed to upholding the trust that is given to Jennings Undertakers.
Life in the midst of death, and the core of the Undertakers job:
The Funeral Director will often spend over an hour with a family during that first initial meeting. The Nelligans are sitting around; three brothers, Simon, Luke and Rory – their mother Geraldine is not present – leaving the boys to the initial arrangements. Donal was 88 on passing, and so they have the solace of knowing and witnessing how their Dad lived a long and meaningful life.
And more than that, as Simon explains. ‘Dad was an engineer, very organised and meticulous in all his affairs.’ This meant that the grave had already been purchased, the grave papers easily accessed, Donal’s will had been in place for years, so there were no probate issues.
David was on the point of thinking how this was one of those funerals where the arrangements fell into place quite easily – however, a small but tricky situation comes up while David was assisting the sons in composing the Death Notice for the newspapers. It takes a while to iron out.
Funeral Flowers Or No Funeral Flowers
And just as well it’s a calm office, because the Nelligans are suddenly unsure about a funeral decision – it throws them a bit because they are very vulnerable. David was almost finished the Death Notice for the Newspapers – and he asked if they wanted any mention of funeral flowers – or would Donal have preferred ‘donations in lieu to a charity of his choice’.
Yes was the clear answer to that. But then Luke suddenly remembered something.
‘Our Mum Geraldine wants to order a large coffin spray of Daffodils – bright spot on a dreadful day to remind her of the golden wedding anniversary they celebrated with such joy.
But Luke himself had attended a funeral last year with his Dad, who had been very taken with the simplicity of ‘no flowers’ at all, and Donal that day had expressed a preference for a living plant upon a grave, maybe in the days of lull after a funeral.’ The boys were upset and indecisive – they knew their bereaved mother wasn’t aware of this, and had her heart set on Daffodils.
David very gently made a suggestion. ‘You’ve already spoken of how great your father was in organising life so that his wife was cared for.’
‘Oh absolutely’ said Rory – ‘little things like the NCT and making sure Mum’s car was good – he never minded putting himself out.’ Into the silence after that, Donal’s sons got clarity. They knew that no matter what his feelings about funeral flowers, or cut flowers, the late Donal would want his wife to have the small solace that bright flowers might bring to the day of a funeral. Simon added an afternote – ‘Glad we have that cleared up – I can see Dad rising up for long enough to cut the flowers himself for Mum if we messed up!’
David is glad of the quiet environment, uncluttered by other matters – and he knows this is key to good funeral arrangements. Because of a well-run office, David can keep his entire focus on the Nelligans, because it’s important they feel looked after in every last funeral detail.
David can be assured that other outstanding questions can be dealt with.
Funeral Questions such as:
Is the Farrell’s grave open in Glasnevin Cemetery?
This is where the recently deceased Sally Farrell, maiden aunt to twins Nora and Aileen, is due to be buried beside her parents, after 10 o’clock Mass in Donnycarney Church. Yesterday, there had been a glitch around that when one of the nieces brought in the grave papers for another set of relatives – also called Farrell – but it’s part of David’s job to double-check himself with the Cemetery to ensure the right deceased person is laid to rest in the right grave. No room for error here – the Funeral Director is always vigilant about burial matters, or cremation red tape.
Was the call made to the Elliott family?
To let them know that their late brother’s coffin needs bigger dimensions from the larger Coffin range. George was 6’4’’ in height, and his mobility problems led to weight gain – that’s a very sensitive issue to raise with a family at a very sensitive time.
But David knows that the call will be handled with tact.
It has to be done – a larger coffin mean that the Cemetery needs to be kept informed, the grave needs to be larger, and in the case of an existing grave, the dimensions must be checked – and the family need to kept totally in the loop as all this unfolds.
David won’t have to ring the Preparations Dept to remind them that there is no religious cross to be placed upon Mr Burke’s coffin today.
That’s all been confirmed in writing. George Burke was a lovely local man who would often drop in and chat – Jennings had arranged the funeral of his late wife Maisie last year – 58 years married they were – neither of them were practicing Christians.
George’s family came in to Jennings of the Five Lamps on Amiens Street to arrange the funeral, but they were using Jennings Oscar Traynor Road branch in Coolock for their Humanist Funeral Ceremony between tonight and tomorrow. Even though Coolock was not George’s home area, he worked in Cadbury’s for many years, was still remembered fondly, and because there is a large crowd expected to pay their respects, the extra spacious Funeral Home facilities in Jennings Coolock branch was offered to the family and considered ideal for this humanist service to celebrate the life of George and to mourn his passing at the same time.
And David won’t re-check – to be sure to be sure – that he told the Embalming team about how Mary White never wore more than a slick of lipstick all her long life, and that she doesn’t want to start wearing it now that she’s dead! Mary’s family are bringing her home to repose, and they hope and trust they will recognise their beloved mother.
All this has been spoken of, and then confirmed via email to the embalming team. And so David can stay focussed on the Nelligan family and their funeral needs.
Jennings Funeral Directors operate a wonderful Best Practice workplace ethos. Actions are followed up in writing by email – David can rely on his sound colleagues – because the team at Jennings is just that – a good team of professionals in a workplace where the job is highly computerised, centralised and co-ordinated.
Funeral Arrangements are deeply important, nothing is left to chance. ‘It’s a good mix if you think about it – a work system that is black and white – almost has the certainty of death itself, and because of that, the Funeral Director is free to be flexible with the family sitting in front of him – bear in mind too that the Funeral Director only gets one chance to offer a meaningful funeral tribute.
Good orderly direction
Getting the flower order right for the Nelligans, ensuring the grand-children’s names are spelt correctly for the death notice, the Funeral Director knows the importance of this:
‘The devil is in the detail, but let’s not invoke the devil – I have a better one’ says David.
The Dublin Undertaker heard this at a Civil Funeral – good definition of GOD – good orderly direction – that sense of order so vital to the family in the wake of bereavement. Because these people are placing a huge trust that their dearly departed loved one will not just be given a fitting funeral, but that the deceased person will be treated with professional care, courtesy, and the utmost of dignity by their Funeral Director, and that the funeral will proceed in a slow, calm, peaceful flow no matter how many issues were raised in the process.
David continues with an interesting twist – ‘Here at Jennings, there’s a radical increase in people enquiring about both Civil and Humanist Funerals. The queries come from all quarters – mainly from newly bereaved families seeking our professional funeral services but also advice in cases where the beloved departed was an atheist and the family need to a funeral where there is no affiliation with Church, religion or God. In that case, we recommend a Humanist Funeral, where the celebrant will make no reference to God.
Is there a difference between Civil and Humanist Funerals?
Yes. A Civil Funeral is often the chosen farewell tribute in families where perhaps there is no involvement with religious institutions but where belief in God is still meaningful and important. Jennings arrange Civil Funerals all over Dublin – and sometimes the phone queries come from people planning to attend the funeral. David gives an example –
‘Today a woman rang because she is going to our Raheny Branch of Jennings to attend a Civil Funeral for a friend and neighbour who has died.’
This lady was unsure what a Civil Funeral actually entails, and needed to know if a Sympathy Card would be appropriate. David tells her it’s perfectly fine and that a written message of condolence for the bereaved family is always welcome, be it religious, civil or humanist service.
‘If you reflect about it all,’ says David, ‘our job as Funeral Directors is to ensure that things go smoothly for a family in such a vulnerable time of loss and pain.’
Whether the funeral is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Civil, Humanist, or any spiritual affiliation possible, Good Orderly Direction is the Undertakers job – whether God is spoken about or not. In changing times, it seems both that no two days are the same in a Funeral Directors life – or more to the point – no two lives are the same in a Funeral Directors day.