Harleston funeral service celebrates 10th anniversary

Funeral directors team standing outside with hearse

Susan Whymark Funeral Service first opened its doors on January 22, 2011 - Credit: Susan Whymark Funeral Service

A passion for people and caring for the bereaved has carried Susan Whymark Funeral Service through a decade supporting the community of Harleston. 

Funeral director outside with wreath

Susan Whymark is funeral director at Susan Whymark Funeral Service - Credit: Wendy Aiken Photography

For funeral director Susan Whymark, January 2021 is a significant month. Not only does it mark her 25th year working in funeral services but it is also the tenth anniversary of establishing her independent business in Harleston. Susan Whymark Funeral Service first opened its doors on January 22, 2011 in Redenhall Road, before moving to the current location in London Road in 2019.  

Susan, a first-generation funeral director, was born in Norfolk. Her parents moved here in 1965 when her father, a mechanical engineer with Lotus Cars, was asked to relocate from Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. After attending Carleton Rode Primary School and Hartismere School, Susan worked as an administrator and secretary at Sovereign Chicken in Eye, Suffolk, but wanted to pursue a different career path. 

“I always wanted to do something else and never really knew what that was until my grandmother passed away,” Susan explains.  

After making contact with funeral directors when her grandmother died, Susan realised this was her calling, largely due to her mother’s influence. “My mother, Dianne, had been a nurse for 41 years – 21 of which were as a specialist palliative care nurse at Priscilla Bacon Hospice in Norwich,” she says. “It was her openness about life and death that gave me the insight, frame of mind and ability to excel at this work.” 

Susan’s first employer in the sector gave her the chance to take the Diploma in Funeral Directing, which she passed in 1998. She then moved to Wiltshire and worked for Co-op Funeral Service in Bath, but moved back to the East of England and started her own business in Eye in 2004 before opening a second branch in Harleston.  

Susan Whymark Funeral Service offers all aspects of funeral service at competitive prices. Rather than selling packages, the business tailors each funeral to the needs and budget of those organising it.  

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“It is not necessary to spend a lot of money to mark someone’s passing, but we also understand that each funeral is unique,” Susan explains. “We are happy to supply whatever is required.” 

Susan’s hard work, ingenuity and determination led her to where she is today. The fact that she was raised in the area and is well-liked among her contemporaries and the families she serves has put her in good stead. Reviews on the firm’s website proudly display the professionalism, warmth, kindness and ‘human touch’ that sets Susan Whymark Funeral Service and its staff apart.  

“When I read those reviews and all the ‘thank you’ cards we receive, I am so moved,” Susan says. “It always astounds me that people are so kind, taking time to praise our service at the most difficult time.” 

Responding to claims she does not look or act like a typical funeral director, Susan wonders: “What is a funeral director supposed to look like? I was once told that I smiled too much, but do people really want a sad, austere-looking person to help them at such a time? I don’t think it helps to be morbid.”  

Susan believes a funeral is the full stop at the end of a person’s journey and offers a chance to remember and celebrate the span of years that person has been given. “Our lives are a gift for us and those around us. We can’t stay here forever – just as we are gifted into our life, at some point the gift must be redeemed.” 

The school of life 

Upon meeting Susan, her bubbly personality may give the impression that she has never encountered hardship in her life. On the contrary, she says that it is her life experiences that have helped to develop her empathy and understanding of loss. 

When Susan was seven years old, her father suffered a life-changing stroke. He passed away from cancer 21 years later at 68. Not long after his death, Susan divorced, losing her home in the process. Susan’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer which, thankfully, was successfully treated, and in 2007 Susan’s second husband was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and he passed away five months later, aged just 43.  

“My path hasn’t always been easy and, at times, the school of life has been hard, but I know I am not the first or last to experience hardships. If I can use my experiences to help others, then they are worthwhile lessons,” she says. 

Susan is passionate about training and she encourages her team to progress within the business. Two members of staff have completed the NAFD Diploma in Funeral Arranging and Administration so far.  

“Our team is just like a small family,” Susan says. “We all share the same values and goals.” 

Susan is also trained as a Mental Health First Aider, has passed a Level 1 Award in British Sign Language and recently achieved a Diploma in Counselling and Bereavement Counselling. 

In 2005, Susan started her first bereavement support group, which usually meets once a month. However, as both groups are not able to meet during the Covid-19 lockdown, Susan is still offering an hour-long telephone call should anyone need to talk. 

Having worked for both independent funeral service companies and a large organisation, Susan prefers the flexibility and personal touch she can offer as a small independent. She says: “Even some of the larger independents are run similarly to corporate organisations. Because of this they lose that personal touch.” 

Susan Whymark Funeral Service is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), and the fact that it is small does not mean there is no investment in the business. Vehicles and equipment are regularly updated and both premises are properly maintained.  

Susan enjoys having an active day-to-day role in the business. She arranges and conducts funerals personally and attends private residences as part of the on-call team. In fact, there is no part of the business she is not familiar with, and she spends time in both branches each week.  

“I can honestly say I have enjoyed a huge amount of job satisfaction over the last 25 years,” she admits. “A career in funeral service is one that chooses you. It is not for everyone and can be hard work both physically and mentally, but job satisfaction keeps me going. 

“I am privileged to be a part of people’s lives – if only for a brief but important moment. Hopefully, I have a few more years left to continue to serve those who need me.” 

For more information please visit www.susanwhymark.co.uk or call 01379 871168.