Janet Mikkelsen never dreamed she would become a funeral director. She sat down with Lauren Priestley to talk about grief, a mid-life career change and driving a hearse around the city.
Seeing dead bodies is all part of a standard work day for Janet Mikkelsen.
The St Heliers woman opened a funeral home franchise in 2013.
State of Grace provides eco-friendly funerals, mostly run by women.
Ms Mikkelsen worked as a paediatric nurse at Starship children's hospital for 24 years then moved into paediatric palliative care for seven years.
Helping grieving families is nothing new but wrapping her brain around the business side of things has been a challenge, she says.
"I can't help the fact that someone has died but I can help in making the memories of the experience as positive as they can be.
"Dealing with the sadness has actually been the part I've felt very comfortable with. It's not scary for me because it's what I'm used to."
Ms Mikkelsen's sister Louise Perkins died in 2005.
Making the decisions for the funeral stirred Ms Mikkelsen's initial thoughts about the business.
As a nurse she attended hundreds of funerals over the years.
"I always liked to go to the funeral so families know their child isn't just another number. You care about them.
"Because I've been to so many I know what makes a good funeral - I also know what makes a terrible one."
By chance, the Ellerslie villa she chose to base her business in used to be a funeral home back in 1982. All she had to do was renew the resource consents.
She bought an old left-hand drive hearse to complete the picture and loves driving it around town.
The career change has been everything she hoped for.
"I've had so many lovely times already. This place feels so homely. There's tears and there's laughter which is how it should be.
"The whole philosophy is based on including families in the process however much they want to be."
Every funeral is tackled in a different way, Ms Mikkelsen says.
The company uses sustainable materials such as wicker or wood for caskets and avoids embalming where possible.
She has had relatives and friends of the deceased help dress and prepare the body for the funeral. Other families have made a day out of going to the viewing.
One woman asked Ms Mikkelsen to put a handkerchief up her husband's sleeve in the casket because that was what he always wore.
Everybody goes through the grieving process in their own way, she says.
"I think that's one thing people worry about - that some of their ideas are a bit strange. I don't think I've heard any that have been odd. It's those little touches that people like and remember about each individual."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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