Jo Place has been involved in more than 10,000 funerals.
She is 44 years old, and for as long as she’s worked, death has been a primary focus of her life.
She didn’t grow up desperate to work with dead people. She hadn’t much considered her own mortality, let alone the inner workings of a mortuary.
But when she left school and realised she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, she came across an administration role in a funeral home. “Everything is experience!” her mother said, and off she went to work in the death industry.
She enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the administration side that made her want to stay. It was the connection she developed with families.
Jo worked with elderly women who had lost their husbands, and had no idea how to pay their electricity bill. She sat down with them, and talked them through how to write a cheque, and how to transfer bank accounts over so things were no longer in their husbands’ name.
Working in a country town, she said, “If the lady was having to catch a bus, you’d say ‘well hop in the car and I’ll drive you home’, and when she needed milk on the way home, you’d stop for milk.”
Jo discovered how much satisfaction she got from “genuinely helping people,” a feature of the job she never expected.
Today, Jo doesn’t work in administration. She is the General Manager for NSW Funerals InvoCare, making her the youngest female General Manager of 86 funeral homes and cemeteries.
But after 25 years in the industry, Jo doesn’t think too much about death. Her job, she told Mamamia, is “making sure the family is being cared for, and that the family is really happy.” Her work is far more about the living.
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“There’s a huge amount of pressure,” she said. “A funeral director has three to four days to produce this event that’s equal to a wedding.”
“You can’t say, oh, sorry come back next week and we’ll do it all again for you,” she said.
In a matter of weeks, Jo said, you become a member of a family.
“It takes a certain personality to become a really good funeral director… we want the staff member who is going to wake up at 3am at night and think about the funeral service,” she said.
Jo works with families when they are at their most vulnerable – and they put an enormous amount of trust in her and her colleagues. You can’t help but get emotionally invested, Jo told Mamamia.
“You get the call at 9 o clock every night from the mum of the toddler who’s tragically died, and they say, ‘did you make sure, before you went home, did you say goodnight to her? Did you tell her that mummy loves you?'”
“You remember those…” Jo said.