Helen Wathall, MBE, of Wathalls Funeral Directors
National Storytelling Week 2020 will run from Saturday 1 February to 8 February and, throughout the UK, people will be telling their stories in theatres, museums, schools, hospitals and care homes. To celebrate this special week of storytelling, we have interviewed four independent funeral directors from our UK-wide network and asked each of them to share some stories about their life as a funeral director, how they see the profession and some of their favourite things to help you get to know them better.
Helen Wathall, MBE, of Wathall's Funeral Directors in Derbyshire, joined the family business more than 30 years ago. She would like families to know that funeral directors can offer a huge range of services and for people to talk more about their funeral wishes. In her time, she has seen jazz bands and Star Wars characters at funerals but cherishes the personal moments she has spent with bereaved families. Read more of our interview with Helen below.
Golden Charter: What made you consider entering the funeral director profession?
Helen: I am the fifth generation to work in the family business. Over breakfast, Christmas 1984, my dad asked if I would like to come and help him out with the accounts, and funeral arranging. I accepted immediately, thinking I would stay for a couple of years.
Golden Charter: Have you ever had any other jobs outside of the profession?
Helen: I went to agricultural college, hoping to become a farm business manager for a large local estate. I've worked at Wathall's for 35 years now. In the early days, I also ran a smallholding, and worked as a bar manager when needed.
Golden Charter: As it's National Storytelling week, how would you complete a sentence beginning, "The one thing I would change in the funeral profession right now would be..."
Helen: ...the perception that families think that as funeral directors we only offer one kind of service, where in fact, we can arrange anything they want - every funeral, large or small, is completely bespoke to the families wishes. I'd also encourage everyone to talk about their funeral wishes with their families, so that those that are left are comforted that they are doing the right thing.
Golden Charter: Can you tell us the story of the most unique funeral you have ever conducted?
Helen: Every single funeral I've ever done is unique. Over the past 35 years we have been asked to arrange funerals that have had different forms of transport, Storm Troopers, jazz bands, colour themes; you name it, we've been asked, and each one bespoke to the family.
Golden Charter: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Helen: Helping a family go through the most difficult of times, giving them comfort that we have their hands, and can guide them through. I love meeting people and finding out about their lives and interests.
Golden Charter: Is there a particular moment that stands out for you during your time in the profession?
Helen: Just simply a husband who wanted a private funeral for his wife of 60 years, and he asked me to sit with him. It was such an honour to be there.
Golden Charter: If you could invite three guests to a dinner party who would you pick?
Helen: My dad and grandma - I'd love to chat with them again now I'm older, and Sir David Attenborough.
Golden Charter: As it is National Storytelling Week, what is your favourite book/ or was your favourite book growing up?
Helen: I've always been an avid reader of fiction. I enjoy crime, family sagas and holiday romances, anything but horror! I am currently working my way through Anthony Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire series, which I am really enjoying.
Golden Charter: Finally, if you had one final meal, what would you have?
Helen: It would have to be freshly caught trout, cooked by the river (in the sunshine!), home grown buttery new potatoes and salad, with a cold white wine to wash it all down.
Wathall's is just one of the almost 3,000 independent funeral directors that make up Golden Charter's UK-wide network. Find out more about how you can plan for your funeral with one of the funeral directors in our network. Request a free, no obligation information pack below or call 0808 169 4534.