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Jane Duquemin is the second generation of Duquemins at Beckfords Funeral Services and as its current Managing Director, gives us an insight into the role of a funeral director.
“It’s hard to believe but I’ve been a funeral director for nearly 20 years now. I’d had a career break from the finance industry to bring up my children and was looking to go back to work. Beckfords has been in the family for 35 years and previously my father ran his own funeral business since the war and when the opportunity to work here came up, I was really keen for a complete change in career direction.
In that time, I’ve seen great changes in how funerals are planned and conducted. Funerals in the past were quite standard. Now, both the deceased and their loved ones play a much more central role in the choice of funeral and funerals are based on the life of the deceased. I think that’s been helped in no small part by the increase in people taking out funeral plans, including pre‐paying.
According to our own research, the average cost of a funeral in Guernsey has increased by 115% in the last decade, yet the cost of living index has risen by 32.5% over the same period. We’re seeing more people keen to lock in to a price for today, with a funeral plan, rather than burden those left behind with a much higher cost at an indeterminate future date.
Funeral plans are incredibly flexible too, allowing transfer not only between family members but to anyone else the signatory may choose to nominate. A funeral plan gives you the opportunity to set in writing the exact funeral you’d like. Many deaths are completely unexpected and then there’s a mad scramble by those left behind to second‐guess what the deceased would have wanted. A funeral plan takes all the guesswork and stress away. Flowers, headstone, music, hymns, order of service, can all be specified.
Beckfords has also seen an increase in cremations. I would say people are becoming much more conscious about the limited land available on our small island and people are definitely becoming more eco‐aware, with a rise in eco‐coffins for those choosing for a burial. Whilst you can only be buried on consecrated ground in Guernsey, there are also restrictions on where you can scatter ashes. For instance, as the ashes remain toxic, you’re not allowed to scatter them in Bluebell Woods.
As part of the funeral process we provide viewings, which is a chance for a family to say goodbye to their loved one. We dress the deceased in their favourite outfit and add makeup if this is requested. It’s a real team effort from everyone at Beckford’s. And we give people as much time as they need for a viewing. It’s their time to spend some final quiet time with their loved one before the final goodbye at the funeral.
However, not everyone has their final resting place in Guernsey, so over the years we’ve had to repatriate the bodies of holidaymakers who have unfortunately passed away here. There’s a lot of paperwork which needs to be prepared for the body to be released for repatriation, including an export permit. We also receive bodies of locals who have passed away whilst off‐island and by the nature of Guernsey residents who love to travel this means repatriating deceased from all over the world including some quite remote locations.
We’ve had double funerals which are very emotional. Elderly couples where one has died and then the other has died within a week or so of a broken heart. In some ways it is comforting for the relatives left behind to know that the couple have been reunited again.
Beckford’s is unique in Guernsey in that, as funeral directors, we also provide a memorial stone service. It means that not only can a family come to us for the funeral for their loved one, we also have the in‐house facilities for the memorial stone to be made. These are erected on the burial place around six months after the funeral has taken place to allow for any ground subsidence.
We also look after the grave of those whose family members don’t live on Guernsey. Every few months, we visit these grave, make sure they are well‐maintained and replenish any requested flowers with new ones.
So what skills do you need, to be a Funeral Director? Definitely empathy and compassion and at times, an aptitude for counselling. If you thought you had those skills at the start of your career as a Funeral Director, they will definitely grow tenfold as the years go by. You cannot fail to be moved by peoples’ own individual circumstances and it’s very difficult not to sometimes think of your work at home and to be affected by someone else’s loss.
We are there for the community of Guernsey 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, taking calls day or night. It is important families feel supported in their time of need and we are honoured to be able to provide that service.
And families remember you. You have had the privilege of playing such an important role in their loved one’s funeral that over the years that’s a lot of people to stop and chat to when you see them – it can often take me quite some time to walk down the High Street!
You meet so many lovely people and I have to say it is the best job I have ever had. It really is more than a job, it’s a complete way of life. It is such an honour to be trusted with a family’s loved one. You care and prepare them for their funeral as if it was one of your own family.
Why do we get people coming to us? I would definitely say it’s reputation. It’s a very sensitive business to advertise and not one when you can shout ‘look at us, we’re brilliant, come and use us.’ Indeed, I think it would be inappropriate to do so. So, in effect, each funeral we carry out is an advertisement for Beckfords itself. As the longest established funeral directors on the island, we are fortunate to have built up a strong reputation in the 143 years we have been serving the people of Guernsey.
When I’m not doing my job and am out socially and meet someone new for the first time and it gets around to the ‘so what do you do for a living’ question, often, there is an awkward silence when I say ‘I’m a Funeral Director.’ I think for many, talking about death and what surrounds it, does not come easily. It’s a shame because, in some ways, how we depart this life should be as important and as comfortable to talk about, as how we arrive in this life."