Personal tragedy led Ellie Clarke to pursue funeral directing
When most school pupils are asked where they want to go on work experience, they pick their local hairdressers or supermarket.
But Ellie Clarke, 16, is no ordinary teenager, and has set her sights on working in a caring profession which is often overlooked – funeral directing and embalming.
The Tynecastle High pupil, who lives in the east of the city, first became interested in helping others after suffering her own personal tragedy.
She said: “My father passed away very suddenly in March 2011 after suffering a heart attack. I remember being told that his body was going to be embalmed, and not really understanding what it meant. When I had it explained to me I wanted to know more, so I started reading up on it.”
In January this year Ellie was asked by her school to chose a work experience placement, and she admits her teachers were taken aback when she asked to be placed in a funeral home.
“They first suggested I chose somewhere more ‘normal’, like a nursery, but I insisted that this was what I wanted. Luckily I managed to find a placement, though there were some checks I had to go through and I had to get permission from my mum and from the school first.”
Ellie has just completed a month’s work experience in a local funeral home. “So far I’ve mainly been helping out with the administration side, and I just observe when I’m actually in the morgue, but I’m learning a lot. I have experience in working in hair and make-up so I’m allowed to help clean and prepare bodies for viewing as long as I’m supervised. I don’t look at the bodies I work with as being a dead person, I look at them as being someone who needs help.
“It’s really opened my eyes to how much hard work actually goes into embalming and funeral directing, but it’s made me all the more determined.” The youngster is now hoping to be taken on as an apprentice when she turns 18.
“Embalming is about the person themselves and providing to the family’s needs during an extremely difficult time, and that’s what I want to do,” she said. Ellie plans to attend Edinburgh’s William Purves Embalming Academy, and would eventually like to specialise in facial reconstruction.
She said: “Reconstruction is used to make viewings possible for a family if their loved one had suffered some sort of trauma, but to learn about that I would probably have to move to England, or study in the US, as that’s where all the schools are based.”
And she says her friends and family have come round to the idea of her slightly unusual choice of profession. “At first I think my mother thought it was some fad that I’d soon forget about but now she’s seen how dedicated and passionate I am about it she’s very proud of me.
“My friends are also supportive – but they don’t really like too many details.”
Very much a family business
William Purves Embalming Academy Director Tim Purves said: “Funeral directing used to be very much a family business, passed down from father to son. However, times have changed, and it’s great to see that the younger generation are looking to get involved. Whether to have a viewing when someone has passed is a very personal choice, but roughly 50 per cent of the families we work with choose to do so, and feel it helps with the grieving process. This is the last time they will ever see their loved one, and it’s vitally important that everything is right. When people tell us their loved one looked just as they remembered them, that makes it all worthwhile for us.”