Tuakau-born and bred Abby Sillence is used to hearing jokes about having a “dead-end” job. But it goes with the territory – she’s a Funeral Director at locally-owned Waters Funerals.
Working in the industry was something she dreamed about from childhood – which others of her age found unusual. But now her friends are awe-struck at how she handles the role and supports grieving families around Franklin.
Growing up, she aspired to a career that helped people.
Leaving school, she gained a year’s experience with another funeral home where she trained in the art of embalming. Then a year ago, she joined the Waters family in Pukekohe, moving from the “back room” to become an assistant Funeral Director where she works with another local, Lynda Sloman.
Learning from Richie and Caroline Waters, she gained valuable management skills that saw her recently promoted to Funeral Director in her own right.
“Some people are surprised when they meet me and probably wonder if I’m old enough to know what I’m doing,” she laughs. “But yes, I know what I’m doing. It’s a fascinating and often sad industry, but the reward is seeing families walk away feeling less stressed at a difficult time.”
Displaying maturity well beyond her almost 20 years, Abby is highly regarded by families with whom she works, according to Richie Waters.
“Many of them know her family or have been attracted by ‘word of mouth’ referrals,” he says.
Abby says she enjoys the cultural diversity of the region reflected in services that incorporate Maori and Pacific Island to Asian and European as well as “Kiwi” culture. Some services may largely be in another language.
“You can have anything you want at a funeral,” she says. “There are no rules. Some may be outside; others may be traditional in one of our chapels, a community hall, sports club or church. And some services are outright funny if not humorous.”
Abby says that for most families faced with a loss, that there are usually many decisions to be made in a short time and it’s normal for families to feel stressed and pressured. But nothing needs to be decided on the spot.
“Involving children especially if they’re young is also beneficial,” Abby says. “It’s lovely when they’re made to feel they’re an important part of things and it becomes memorable for them.”
“Whatever a family wants, we can organise everything and make it happen,” she says.
But it’s not easy work.
“The hours can be challenging, and police calls out at all hours can be hard – at Waters we get a lot. And no two families are the same. I’ve learned how unfair life can be and not to take it for granted.”
Abby’s role takes her to other parts of the country as well as around Franklin.
“We go wherever families need us,” she says.
But don’t think of her as being serious. Most of her friends know Abby as a bubbly, happy person – and she says she wants to use those traits to help make a sad time more of a happy celebration of someone’s life.
“When you’re constantly dealing with stress, grief and all kinds of family dynamics, it’s important to have positive outlook.”