Fun times in fu­neral busi­ness

Stuart Wheeler marks 45 years

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By KRIS DANDO

Stuart Wheeler doesn’t ad­vise bot­tles of al­co­hol in a cof­fin that’s about to be cre­mated.

‘‘Yeah, we try to dis­cour­age that – they have a ten­dency to ex­plode,’’ he said.

The long- serv­ing Porirua fu­neral di­rec­tor, owner of Wheeler’s Guardian Fu­neral Home, re­ceived another cer­tifi­cate from the Fu­neral Di­rec­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand for his re­cep­tion’s wall re­cently, ac­knowl­edg­ing his 45 years in the busi­ness.

He moved into the in­dus­try as an 18-year-old, and al­though two years from re­tire­ment age now, is not pre­pared to give it away just yet.

‘‘It’s lovely to be able to see a fam­ily go away and know they have done the right thing by the rel­a­tive they have lost.

‘‘We have a motto here that says our fam­ily will care for your fam­ily and I’m very strong on that.’’ Mr Wheeler, who flirted with a ca­reer in medicine, reck­oned he had over­seen more than 6800 fu­ner­als in his ca­reer, none the same.

His CV is a full one and in­cludes be­ing in­volved in the buri­als fol­low­ing the Soweto ri­ots in South Africa in 1976 and be­ing one of eight fu­neral di­rec­tors and em­balmers who helped po­lice iden­tify vic­tims of the Ere­bus dis­as­ter in 1979.

He re­ceived the New Zealand Spe­cial Ser­vice Medal in 2007 for his ef­forts with the Ere­bus iden­ti­fi­ca­tions, which in­volved long days of har­row­ing work, ‘‘ years be­fore DNA’’, he said.

It was the only time he nearly gave away his pro­fes­sion.

‘‘It af­fected me for quite a long time and I did think of get­ting out.’’

How­ever, Mr Wheeler said those ex­pe­ri­ences helped shape his val­ues as a fu­neral di­rec­tor, and as a per­son.

He is open to all the de­mands of a be­reaved fam­ily, in­clud­ing the many cul­tures and re­li­gions he en­coun­ters in Porirua, even though it means he is on call seven days a week.

‘‘ We have such colour­ful cul­tures and com­mu­ni­ties in this city, and I en­joy ev­ery part of it.’’

There have been plenty of lighter mo­ments in what is gen­er­ally a se­ri­ous job.

Ar­riv­ing at a ceme­tery to find the grave hadn’t been dug – Mr Wheeler said this has never hap­pened in Porirua, how­ever – and hearses that wouldn’t start were among them.

‘‘One hearse had a flat bat­tery and another just re­fused to start. Af­ter com­ing back from the ceme­tery [ in another com­pany’s bor­rowed ve­hi­cle], I tried my hearse again and it went first time.

‘‘The [be­reaved] fam­ily thought it was hi­lar­i­ous be­cause the de­ceased was a me­chanic.’’

Mr Wheeler spon­sored a statue at the vet­er­ans sec­tion of Whenua Tapu, and it was un­veiled in Novem­ber.

He said it was part of giv­ing back to a com­mu­nity it had been a priv­i­lege to serve.

‘‘I was think­ing the other day, ‘Surely I haven’t been in the busi­ness that long?’

‘‘ It’s be­come re­ally,’’ he said.

‘‘ Peo­ple of­ten think it’s the de­ceased we have to look af­ter, but the thrust of what we’re do­ing is car­ing for the liv­ing.’’

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