All-woman funeral directors cash in on a dead original concept

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The Independent Online
First there were green burials for the environmentally sound departure - now there are all-women funeral directors.

Martha's Funerals - named after the sister of Lazarus, who Jesus is said to have brought back from the dead - based in the Malpas district of Newport, south Wales, is one of the latest of a handful already operating in Britain, and retains all the dignity of a profession traditionally the preserve of black-suited men.

The three women who make up the team believe that, given the choice, many widowers prefer to entrust every stage of saying farewell to their loved ones to women. Lyn Teague, one of the partners, explains: "You have a married couple. They've been together for a long time. The wife passes away. She's never been touched by another man and he wants that to continue. We provide that continuity."

Mrs Teague, a 36-year-old mother of five, and her partners, Suzanne Nutt and Jan Barry, attend to every aspect of a service which nationally involves more than 600,000 interments a year.

Only a small proportion are handled by all-women teams, but Dominic Maguire, spokesman for the National Association of Funeral Directors, thinks that may change with the number of female undertakers edging upwards. Removal of the body, preparation for burial, driving the hearse, directing the proceedings - it's all in a day's work. The only thing the women don't do is carry a coffin on the shoulder. "Wherever possible, we arrange for the coffin to be trolleyed," Mrs Teague said.

Mrs Nutt also helps her husband Steve to run a business called Green Undertakings at Watchet on the Somerset coast. Practical and to the point, she declared: "Being near coffins doesn't make me squeamish. I talk to them because I believe it's important to understand that the deceased means a lot to relatives." Mr Nutt hopes more women will enter a profession which in Britain turns over around pounds 1bn a year, split between some 3,500 firms. "Women have an equal role in funerals," he maintains.

Questions of choice arose, he said. "If a woman had a female doctor, she would perhaps prefer a female team to take care of her funeral."