HOLMSEY: Life is short – make it interesting

Most of us feel we have only a handful of genuinely interesting moments in our lives; the rest is just filler. We fear we’d be lucky that, if joined together, those moments add up to a story that anyone else finds remotely interesting. If you believe your life so far has been a little dull, don’t fret; it’s not too late to change it.

People fascinate me; working as an undertaker, I’ve arranged hundreds of funerals. I can’t adequately describe how privileged it feels to do so. Being trusted to look after someone who has died and those who place them in your care is humbling.

When training others to do it, first I explain that the mundane form filling process can be completed in fifteen minutes. What takes time, is listening. When someone comes to make arrangements, they always have a story to tell. They’ll explain how the person died and what happened to them. When they’ve told you that, if you’re lucky, they’ll go on to tell you how the person lived, who they were and what they did with their life. They’ll tell you about their family, friends, close relationships, and usually what they think the person achieved. Very rarely, they’ll be stumped and say: “Er, I’m not sure they did anything really”, and I never believe them!

It’s impossible to listen to the story of people’s lives without being affected by what you hear. Do it repeatedly, and you realise how amazing humans are, and how vulnerable to unforeseen events. The wise among us know that a simple phone call can change our lives and a visit to the doctor with a minor niggle can lead to a place we’d rather not go.

Funeral directors hear incredible things and observe all sorts of pain and horror. We learn that life is definitely not fair, and sometimes it’s downright cruel. Occasionally we hear of distress and misery that makes us grateful it’s not happening to us – this time. Most days, we count our blessings, and when we’ve done that, we count them again.

If you never remember a single thing I’ve written here, please remember this. Death is guaranteed, which means our short lives are far more precious than most realise. We’re all fortunate to be alive and we owe it to ourselves to make the most of the gift we have.

Very few of us like to think about death, but dealing with the bereaved on a daily basis changes you, although it’s still a job, much like any other. One of my sons works with me. He’s brilliant, but his partner tells me that when he gets home, he never discusses what’s happening at work. I know why; it’s because what we experience can be too heart-breaking to share. When you spend your day dealing with people who are experiencing raw loss, you don’t really want to relive the experience at teatime.

When anyone we know well is diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness, we all want to respond positively. We want to say, “But most people with that recover; I know it!” And they really do. Unfortunately, undertakers meet the unlucky ones, those for whom the diagnosis came too late or didn’t respond to treatment.

Funeral directing challenges your faith in medicine and in God. We understand that everyone has bad days at work, things are missed, or sometimes not done at all. Sadly, the NHS is far from perfect – note to self, always get a second opinion, go private if you can afford to. If in doubt, check it out!

Whatever you do, don’t stay unhappy, or in a bad relationship for too long. Make that change and remember to count your blessings. Make your life interesting, hug those you love, create good memories!