Is anyone, anywhere, born to be an undertaker? Donna Adams has her doubts.
She says: “I will probably regret saying this, but if anyone actually wants to be a funeral arranger when they are young, they are probably not the right person for the job. Can you imagine a child saying, ‘When I grow up I want to bury people’ ”?
Donna should know. A partner in the family owned funeral directors AR Adams, she represents the fourth generation of the family to run the business, set up by Archibald Richard Adams in 1900.
Archibald would be proud of his 30-year-old great-granddaughter. She has just been short-listed for the industry’s top individual award, Funeral Arranger of the Year
The Rayleigh firm was inseparable from Donna’s childhood.
“The business was always there in the background,” she says.
She started to do odd jobs there when she was ten.
“My first Sunday job was cleaning the offices,” she says.
Yet Donna never thought: “I want to be an undertaker when I grow up.” She had a very different idea.
“I knew I wanted to work in the theatre,” she says. She found a job working behind the scenes at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, became a lighting technician, and then joined the staff of a theatrical agency.
“I never had any desire to perform,” she says, “I just loved the world of the theatre, and the people you find there.”
After she was made redundant from the agency, she set up her own internet business.
“I started do jobs here and there for the business again. Then, in 2008, my mother said that the firm needed a receptionist. From that point, my fate was sealed.”
Donna is now a partner with her two sisters and brother. “All four of us are now in the business, and all of us did other things with our lives first,” she says.
Donna has a clear vision about the funeral arranger’s role, partly the result of Adams dynastic ethos, partly from direct experience.
She says: “First, you never forget that you are part of a team, and everyone has a role to play.
“Throughout the funeral, the family must always know that you are there, but you must never be visible. Your place is in the background.
“You have to arrive in the job with a natural sense of compassion, and want to give. You have to take a pride in what you do.
“You have to respect people and what they are going through. But you can’t be too stuffy or stifling. You have to remember it is for real. You are dealing with people, and what you do and say really matters. “
As a measure of how well she succeeds in all these ways, Donna cherishes a remark by one of the staff at a local crematorium: “You always treat everyone as if you were burying one of your own.”
Donna says that she and her brother and sisters work in 100 per cent harmony.
Like Donna, the other members of the Adams team seem to feel that they have arrived home. Adams employs eight people besides the family members.
She say: “Most of them have done other, interesting jobs before they arrived here. Perhaps the best person for the job is someone who never planned to do it,. But when they do find their place here, they tend to stay. There is not a high turnover of staff.”
One feature of the funeral business is that people remain there - for life.
WHAT IS INVOLVED
Most crucial skill
Donna says: “Llisten. Watch and respond to body language.”
Donna has the National Association of Funeral Directors) Diploma.
Downsides of the job
Donna says: “The things you see – road accidents, for instance – are not always easy. You are on 24-hour call.
“I would like to research properly into death. I find it strange someone can live to 70, and never give any thought to the subject.”