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Sharon now conducting funerals

Having joined us two years ago, Sharon Middleton is now expanding her role of funeral arranger into conducting funerals for Tester & Jones. Someone who is conducting a funeral has a similar role, in many ways, to the conductor of an orchestra; it is that person on the day who watches over the whole event and from whom everyone else takes their lead.

“It’s something which I’ve been very keen to take on and I have been shadowing Stephen when he conducts a funeral to understand exactly what he does on the day,” Sharon explains. “He’s a great person to learn from, as he’s been doing it for so long and is just incredibly experienced and professional.”

The person who is conducting a funeral will talk to the funeral arranger and make sure that everything is in place for the day. For instance, they will confirm the correct music is available at the venue and any photo tributes being shown are complete.

Their role is key on the day. When the hearse is ready to leave the Tester & Jones’ premises, the funeral conductor will ‘page’ the vehicles out from London Road. This involves bowing to the coffin and then walking out in from of the vehicle for a few metres, before getting into the hearse. The team at Tester & Jones will typically ‘page’ the hearse with its coffin twice more. If it leaves from the family home and when it reaches the crematorium.

“If it’s been agreed that we will meet the family at their home with the hearse, then I’ll greet them and make sure they’d still like everything to take place as we’ve arranged,” says Sharon. “Then my main role is to reassure the family, quietly be there for them and absolutely make sure they don’t have to think about anything except for being at the funeral.”

The funeral conductor will check that the orders of service are ready, that any items the family would like to have in the chapel, such as framed photos, are in place and that the celebrant or minister is clear about the arrangements for entering and leaving the chapel.

“I used to work at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium, so I would notice how Tester & Jones conducted a funeral - they were always professional, caring and considerate – but now I’m here, I now really appreciate their attention to detail,” says Sharon. “For instance, when we meet the family at the crematorium, we never drive straight to the chapel – even if it’s clear for us to do so. Instead, we walk to the chapel to greet the family and let them know when we are going to ‘page’ the hearse to the chapel.”

Once people start to enter the chapel (or any building where the funeral service is taking place) Sharon will make sure that family members have the space they need to sit (seats may have been reserved if requested) and quietly encourage others to fill up the space, particularly if it looks like it’s going to be a well-attended service.

When the service has finished, Sharon will stand and bow to the coffin and then direct people to leave in the order which the family has requested.

“Sometimes close family will opt to leave the chapel first, while sometimes they’d prefer to be the last to leave – and we make sure that their wishes are followed,” Sharon explains.

When the service has finished, Sharon will ensure that the flowers are left in the desired place or taken where the family has requested. This could be to the location of any refreshments afterwards or maybe back to a care home where the deceased used to live for other residents. Importantly, though, Sharon will make sure she’s never far from the family – so she can answer questions and give them any help required, as they make their way back to the limousine or to their own cars.

“My main role when conducting a funeral is to be there for the family and to take away as much stress as possible on the day,” says Sharon. “Every single funeral is different, and I feel passionate about families being able to have the funeral they and their loved one wants, one that is representative of the person that has died, so that it feels personal and not prescribed.”

She adds: “I have found my new role in conducting funerals really rewarding and it’s helpful to understand the ‘other side’ of what we are doing here at Tester & Jones. I’ve found now that when arranging funerals, I’m asking families questions which I might not have done before – because I realise that this information will be useful to whoever is conducting the funeral so that the family’s wishes are carried out exactly.”

Sharon says that she’s recently arranged funerals for families that she has also been able to conduct on the day.

“It’s really lovely to be beside a family all the way through,” she says. “You get to know the family so well and they share stories of their loved one; it is an honour to conduct the funeral on the day and to make sure all goes smoothly for them.”

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