Visitors to Stoddart Funeral Home are sometimes taken aback to learn that the young woman they assume is, maybe, a receptionist, is in fact the funeral director.
That a young woman — Alison Lynch — is a funeral director shouldn’t be a surprise nowadays. When Alison completed the Funeral Service Education Program at Humber College, 110 of 114 in the program were women.
Her youth — and the amount of experience she possesses — are more surprising. She’s just turned 24 but has eight years of funeral home experience, going back to 2013 when she mystified her high school peers by arranging a co-op placement at Mackey Funeral Home. Alison was outgoing, upbeat and sports-minded (she played hockey for the Ops Flames and Kawartha Coyotes and now runs regularly, including a 10 km race each summer with her brother and father). Why would she want to spend time in a funeral home?
“When I was eight my 16-year-old cousin died in a motor vehicle accident. My grandfather died a year later. The way my family was looked after by the funeral home was amazing and I wanted to help other families the way we were helped. At another funeral, when I was 13, I told my mom, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
The placement went well. Alison began as a cleaner but worked her way up to overseeing visitations, greeting family members and, towards the end, preparing bodies for funerals.
She applied to Humber’s highly competitive and challenging program, from which only half to three-quarters graduate.
For her internship, Alison returned to Mackey Funeral Home and after graduating was hired with the job title Funeral Director and Prearrangement Specialist. Clearly Linden Mackey has played a big role in Alison’s career. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be a funeral director if it wasn’t for Lindy,” she says. “He’s the funeral director I’d like to be.”
And clearly, that respect is mutual; in April, after he bought the Stoddart business, he installed Alison as manager.
Lots of responsibility for a 24-year-old. New administrative responsibilities as manager. But all the other responsibilities remain. Alison guides individuals looking to make pre-arrangements, meets with loved ones to make arrangements, looks after embalming, and oversees visitations and funerals.
The three funeral homes in town take turns responding to calls from police about unexpected deaths such as accidents and suicides. When it’s Alison’s turn, she will receive a call after a coroner has pronounced someone dead, go to the scene, and transport the body to Toronto for an autopsy.
Her work is emotionally and physically stressful. The most difficult parts? Over the past months Alison has had to deal with COVID-related deaths, including donning full PPE and the heartbreak of not being able to allow grieving friends and relatives to gather. Most wrenching, though, is the death of a child. “It’s so emotional for that family.”
It’s also difficult sitting down with families who have no idea of the wishes of their loved one, even whether they want to be buried or cremated. She’s a great believer in pre-planning; she pre-planned her own funeral when she was 16.
The rewards of being a funeral director? Knowing she’s provided what the deceased wanted. “It’s the last thing that can be done for them,” she notes. And, of course, responding to the needs of the grieving families; after all, that’s why she chose her career in the first place.