|Funeral Director Gail Martin Stevens in her bright and colourful family meeting room|
It's easy to look into the Elizabeth Way shop from outside. It is painted black outside, but it is light and bright and colourful inside. Warm and friendly, it is intended to be welcoming and comforting - the walls are hung with prints by Gustav Klimpt, which I like and consider a bold move. Bright flowers everywhere, bright soft chairs and sofas, cushions, bright gentle lighting, plenty of daylight coming through large spotlessly clean windows; the shop is not a gloomy, distant, bleak place in which to talk in hushed tones about coffins and ashes. It's not a place you have to go to because there has been a death, a place you would avoid it if you could because the need to visit implies loss and horror and bodies; it is not a place to be told gravely what you can have by people who you don't know. Gail and her staff make you feel like you are visiting a friend in a loving environment; a place where the staff will sit with you and listen, give you mugs of tea, advise you and help you plan exactly what you want. (You don't like coming to the funeral of your dear family member in the big funeral limo? Take your own car, no problem. You want to help carry the coffin? Fine, we can arrange that. And so on.)
It's a place of life and living, while dealing with death and the dead. "I had a lady knock on the shop door once," said Gail. "I'm dying," she said to Gail who answered it. Gail's reply typifies Elizabeth Way - "Come right in. I'll get the kettle on." The lady, now dead and gone, was able to sit in comfort with Gail - over many visits - as if over a kitchen table, and plan and talk and take her time to do what we all could not imagine having to do, plan our own impending funeral.
|Bright windows, fresh approach, feminine approach|
|Flowers, Klimpt prints, welcoming and comforting|
The staff at Elizabeth Way are made of the same stuff as Gail. The three branches of Elizabeth Way are staffed mostly by women. Though this is incidental, Gail employs anyone who does the job well, I wonder if it is possibly why the shops are so comfortable, bright, light and friendly, and why the atmosphere of the place is so different to what we expect of a Funeral Parlour. The branch manager though, Anthony, is most definitely not a woman. Anthony says that you only get one chance at a funeral, you have to get it right. Each member of the team is proud of being of service and spoke today of the attention to detail that they consider so vital. These are our families, they said, this is our community. We all help each other, we are a small team and we can all do each other's jobs if necessary. Anthony told me he would work for nothing if he had to. He loves his work, and takes pride in being responsible for the three branches. He showed me the software that he has installed to log all the information necessary for each client. It is very detailed indeed, and enables him and the staff to know exactly who is who and what each funeral plan entails. He came, he told me, from another large funeral chain, where there was no attention to detail, no kind touches, no team work. It was a conveyor belt where to get as many funerals as possible through the books was the goal. At Elizabeth Way, Anthony said, there is pride in each funeral. There is a personal interest in the welfare of each client and their family, and a policy of doing the best for everyone. We all, he said, help each other. Gail tells me that all the families love him.
|Manager Anthony. Dedicated, experienced and able to turn his hand to most things in the business. And most definitely not a woman.|
Tami is the Mortuary Assistant.
|Tami, dedicated to making the dead look the best they can for the viewings, and taking enormous care to get everything right.|
|Jane, another very nice and kind blonde (ish) lady who works for Elizabeth Way.|
|Gail, thinking outside the box. Literally.|