Champs Feature Article - Fabulous Magazine

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It happened to me... ‘I BECAME A FUNERAL DIRECTOR’ 

Lianna Champ, runs her own company, Champ Funeral Services. She has two sons, Maxwell, 20, and Lawrence, 16 

I saw my first dead body when I was 15 years old. I wasn’t scared or shocked, just fascinated. Ever since the age of nine, I had wanted to be an undertaker. I don’t know where it came from, but Mum thought it would dissuade me if I actually went to a mortuary. So, at 15, I started work experience at my local funeral home. On my first day, I saw a male corpse stitched up after a post-mortem. Seeing it for real just fired my enthusiasm for the profession even more.

Fast-forward nearly 25 years, and I am the director of my own funeral home. As well as looking after bereaved families, a huge part of my job involves making sure the dead look presentable, even if they are to have a closed coffin funeral.

The process takes place in the mortuary, although we call it the ‘preparation room’, as it sounds less clinical. I know people must think it’s a scary place, but it really isn’t. It has pale pink floor tiles and white walls, so it’s pretty and peaceful.

I’m always singing as I work, and sometimes I talk to the bodies. Deep down, I know it’s probably some sort of coping mechanism to help me do the job I do, but I don’t question it, as it works. And I always call the corpse by their name. They may be dead, but they’re still someone’s child or parent.

I work with bodies of all ages, and there are a few tricks to making someone look ‘normal’ again. Lots of people don’t realise that embalming fluid, which stops a body decomposing too quickly, has a pinky tinge to it, which puts a bit of colour back in their face and hands. If someone has suffered facial trauma, I’ll also use a special wax to fill out the skin and a specialist foundation to cover imperfections.

With men and children, I’ll just do the embalming but, for women, I’ll often apply lipstick, mascara, blusher and even nail varnish, if it’s been requested.

As we live in a more image-conscious age, most women want a gorgeous send-off, so I use their own make-up to help create a look that’s true to them. The only thing that’s a little tricky is applying lip gloss, as dead lips don’t pout. Instead, I apply it with a brush.

Once I’ve finished with the make-up, my colleague Samantha styles the hair. She used to be a hairdresser, so she has a box full of blow-dryers, straighteners and curling tongs.

A lot of our work is instinctive. Speaking to their family, I get an idea of what someone was like. What’s interesting is that relatives often share the facial traits of the deceased, however, I do also like to use photos for guidance. And, sadly, it’s sometimes a necessity if something has happened to their face.

It’s not uncommon for families to compliment me on my work. Quite often, a relative will say: ‘Gosh, she looks 10 years younger.’ Or: ‘She hasn’t looked this fabulous for years!’, which does give me a great feeling of job satisfaction.

When I pass away, I want a full face of make-up for my funeral, as I love looking glamorous.
I’ll be wearing my black work suit 
and heels, as that’s how everyone knows me – and I will definitely have a lipstick in my hand!