Michelle Hockings

When I was 16, I was called to the Careers Advisor’s office to discuss my future.

At that young age, not many people are sure of their future but I hand marched in with confidence and proudly stated “I want to be a funeral director or mortician”.

The look on my Careers Advisor’s face said it all and after a pause he said “I don’t think that is an appropriate industry for you to be interested in and, in any case, people are born into that type of work”.

Suddenly, I had something new to blame on Mum and Dad - they weren’t funeral directors and therefore had dashed my dreams. 

After chatting with the Careers Advisor, I left his office secure in the knowledge that I would leave school, become a secretary and one day get married and have kids.

Which is exactly what I did.

I left school, went to a respectable secretarial school in the suburbs of Sydney and learned all the necessary skills, including the art of making the perfect tea and coffee and how to place the boss’s biscuits on a plate.

After graduating as the “perfect secretary”, I worked for several different corporate companies in Sydney.

Then I got married, had three children and could see my future panning out exactly as planned.  But the desire to become a funeral director still nagged at me and deep down I held onto a faint hope that it would still happen one day.

So why was it my dream to be a funeral director?

I think it was because my parents had a baby son die when he was almost one year old. Not only was it devastating for them, but they had two other little girls and no money to bury their baby.

So they went to the local funeral home with heavy hearts and hats in hand, to see what might be able to be done for them.  The local funeral director assured them everything was going to be okay - all they needed to do was arrange to bury their little boy.

After the funeral and burial, the funeral director let my parents pay off the service from their Child Endowment - a miniscule amount of money.

Every second Thursday, we were dressed in our best outfits and went to the funeral home to pay the instalment.  I don’t know if the money covered the cost of the scones, jam, cream, tea, juice and sweet biscuits prepared for us.

We were proudly announced on arrival as “The girls are here!”.

How could I not want to be like these caring, beautiful people that were making such a difference, not only to my family but to all the families they looked after. I was in awe of them.

Back to the next phase of my journey.  After feeling unsettled and truly not fulfilled with my lot in life, I moved to Queensland, which fixed things for a short time. Long enough to have another baby and find work at the local Network Video.

But each day seemed the same as the last and that went on until one day I decided that only I could change the direction my life was heading.

So, at 28 years of age and with small children, I left my unhappy marriage and forged ahead with new plans.

It took some time to get back on my feet and truly find who I was in the world I faced alone. Sometimes I wondered if I had made the right decision but I only needed to look into the faces of my children to see that I was going to be sure they were following dreams and encourage them to be whatever they wanted to be. 

To do that, I needed to lead by example and pursue my true passion.

Again, I reached out to a funeral company to find out how or what I needed to do to become a funeral director but my hopes were dashed when I learnt I needed to be available to work overnight. That was impossible with small children and no partner.

On I went, putting one foot in front of the other as I marched to my own beat.

I volunteered, worked part-time and kind of enjoyed life, except for the nagging voice in my head.

I told everyone that, one day, I would be in the funeral industry. As you can imagine, the reactions ranged from “are you serious?” to “you mean with dead people?”. To be honest, I didn’t received much positive feedback at all about my dream.

In time, I married the love of my life and had another beautiful baby. My husband had a small business which I supported by working part-time as his labourer - a brickies’ labourer! That worked for some time and allowed me to contribute to our family while still caring for the kids.

Life was good but then I turned 40 and again found myself in a familiar place with the very same nagging thoughts about my future. I considered refreshing my secretarial skills and calling myself a “PA” but when I told my husband his immediate reaction was “why would you do that when you want to be a funeral director?”.

After pondering that for some time, one morning I plucked up the courage to ring White Lady Funerals at Tanah Merah. It was a phone call that would change the course of my future and prove that dreams really do come true.

I was so proud to be hired by InvoCare to be a White Lady and still remember the utter joy and pride I felt when I dressed that first morning and headed to work.

The truly wonderful and professional “Ladies” took me under their wings and began teaching me how to be the very best funeral director I could.  I had wonderful mentors who also took such pride in everything they did. I finally felt like I was making a difference, albeit a small one, in the lives of families at their most difficult of times.

Thirteen years have passed since then. I have been blessed to have been able to continue my journey with InvoCare in many different genres of the business.

I continue to love what I do and every day I thank that country funeral director all those years ago, who was so kind and caring to my family.

I know he was very proud when my Mum went to tell him I had started with White Lady Funerals.

The last 18 months have seen me return to the regional area from which I hailed and I am blessed to be able to return to my roots with InvoCare and continue on my journey.

I finish each day with the same sense that I somehow make a little bit of difference and know I wouldn’t change a thing, even if I could.

It’s such a privilege to be asked by a family to care for their loved ones. After all, mostly we are total strangers who meet during their most difficult time.

The greatest compliment I can get at the end of an arrangement is “Thank you. You made this so much easier”. 

Being able to carry the burden of the arrangement process so that families can just be, is my greatest joy.

There’s been times when I to have been challenged by loss and grief over the years and faced personally difficult times but during those times I have also been blessed to be secure and safe in the knowledge that my loved ones are cared for by such amazing people who are all part of an amazing business and company. Leaving me and my family to just be!

When I have difficult days as a manger, I draw on my past to remind me why I am here and how important it is to lead by example - to be the best leader I can, be accountable, do what I say I will do and be okay if I get it wrong sometimes.