When Bron announced she was becoming a white lady (yes, the ones you see at funerals) my initial reaction was shock. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to drill down into the details. We had a chat about white ladies, being afraid of death and what each day is like. When she’s not being a white lady, Bron is a mum and stepmum, a loving and loyal friend, and the master of her thermomix. She’s also survived cancer and just raced in an ironman!
Impressed? Read on for the third installment of my ‘Women with Purpose’ series!
Tell me about what it means to be a white lady.
My official title is a funeral directors assistant. On the day of the funeral my job is to either drive the hearse or pick up the family and drive them. A funeral in many ways it is like an event. Lots of things go on behind the scenes to make sure the day runs without problems. It might be sewing someone’s button that has fallen off their shirt. It might be getting extra chairs, or seeing what can be done to make sure things go smoothly for everyone else – so they can concentrate on their loved one that they are saying farewell to.
What do you like about it?
Going to work is completely different. You don’t know what is going to be ahead of you. I enjoy the people I meet and the stories that I hear. I think of it as a wonderful opportunity.
Tell me about how you came to start working as a white lady – has your personal experience helped you with this role?
I think because I know what grief is like (through the death of my brother) and I have experienced grief so personally, I can really have great empathy and compassion for people without trying to feel all of their feelings. It gives me the backbone to stand near people and witness their grief.
My skill set is working with people and groups of people. I have a background in hospitality. This gave me a good foundation for working with people when they are tired, cranky, emotional, or out of a night out. I also worked in outdoor education and sports recreation. Often you are in the cemetary, in the rain, it is a very physical job out in the elements.
Weirdest thing that has happened to you at a funeral?
The craziest day was when we had a lady that was completely grief-stricken. Nothing was going the way she wanted. She ended up chasing me around the cometary with a stick. In the outside world if I wasn’t in my white lady uniform, we would have gotten along fine. She was acting out of grief and things had gone wrong. Eventually she calmed down and thanked me towards the end of the day.
Best perk of the job?
Most of the time we hear amazing stories about what people have done. We hear about the little old lady lying before us who survived two wars and raised a family. It is such a privilege to hear the stories and also sad that you only hear about someone through their eulogy. Often people remark that they did not know the person had achieved something or had a certain experience and I think I am so privileged to be able to hear that in my work.
Do you think that this is your purpose?
I do think that working with grief and death is a vocation. At the moment I work three to four days a week. With training for an ironman, I feel I have enough other stuff that is ‘alive’ to give me the balance I have in my life.
How to people react when you tell them what you do?
They often say that they could not do it and ask how I deal with the sadness. The dead body thing seems to freak some people out. The make up artist does an incredible job. Most people are actually pleased and happy to see their loved one.
Why do you think people are so afraid of death and dying?
People like to have control in life. Death, when and how we die is out of our control. As humans, nobody wants to feel like they are out of control. When you are dying you leave a hole in people’s lives.
I had cancer when I was 14 and I faced the idea of death at a very young age. That has helped me in my personal life because I know that life is short and you have to be grateful for every day you have.
It is all out of your control, and you can’t let the unknown stop you from doing anything.
I come home and I just want to hug my kids.
My job is a constant reminder that life is short.
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