Frank Coates remembers looking down at the body of a young boy, only five or six-years-old, and realising how much he was reminded of his grandson.
It’s an image that stayed with Frank and touched him ‘very deeply’, he admits.
But emotional attachment is not something he can permit too often in his job.
As a funeral director at Kavanagh & Coates Funeral Services in Heywood, he has to remain calm and composed while his customers are going through the biggest trauma of their lives.
About to turn 70-years-old, Frank spoke to the M.E.N about what it takes to deal with death on a daily basis - and what it has taught him about life.
'I changed one uniform for another'
Born in North Yorkshire, Frank moved to Heywood as a teenager and never left, marrying his wife and raising their family in the town.
But he has never lost the no-nonsense demeanor which gives you the sense he is a man who never panics in a crisis.
Perhaps it’s also because before his career in the funeral business, Frank was a police officer for 30 years.
As a local ‘bobby on the beat’ in Rochdale, he’s seen just about every type of human drama.
“I changed one uniform for another. It was a really easy transition,” said Frank.
“After 30 years as a policeman you can cope with most situations you come across in life.
“I’d retired and a chap who had a small family funeral business had a vacancy and that was it really - it was by accident.
“I learnt the business from the bottom - from cleaning the cars to dealing with families.
“That was the most important lesson - if you can’t care about people you shouldn’t be in the funeral business.
“Dealing with bereavements, people want someone to help them along the way. You have to really know what you’re doing.”
'You can't come back next week and do it again'
It might not be the first adjective that comes to mind - but Frank says being a funeral director is a high-pressure job.
“You can’t come back next week and do it again,” he points out.
“It’s got to be absolutely spot on - this is what people look to you for.
“You can never let your standards slip.”
Above all, compassion is the biggest ‘must-have’ skill.
Being a competent funeral director is about having ‘a certain attitude towards the profession’, says Frank.
He often leans on his experience in the police force to take the right tone with bereaved families.
“It’s a case of not being cold or aloof or distant,” said Frank.
“It’s a unique profession. You can’t help a family if you’re emotionally affected.”
'No-one wants to lose a loved one'
During fifteen years in the business, Frank has seen just about every kind of circumstance of death and funeral request.
“You can get used to everything,” he said.
“There’s a lot of people who like a funeral to be a celebration - it’s a bit difficult sometimes to describe funerals.
“Some people want different colours, balloons, bagpipes ... It’s all very individual.”
While some arrangements can be much more uplifting than others, there’s one call that Frank always dreads.
“The hardest thing about the job has been doing children’s funerals,” he said.
“It comes as a shock, no one wants to lose a loved one, what do you say to someone who’s lost a young child?
“I remember there was a young boy about five or six-years-old - when I went to pick him up he looked just like my grandson.
“I could identify with that family. It’s always a hard part of the job.”
'The older you get, the more philosophical you get'
Despite working in often sombre surroundings, being part of the ritual of dealing with death can be rewarding.
“A lot of people know me in Heywood,” says Frank.
“I get great satisfaction when someone comes up to me in Morrisons and says ‘you did my mum’s funeral last week, I just want to say it was lovely and thanks very much’.”
Now on the verge of becoming a septuagenarian, Frank has had plenty of time to reflect.
And he feels the longer he’s worked in funerals, the less he worries about death.
“We all know it’s going to happen,” he said.
“I suppose one of the advantages of coming into the business later in life - the older you get, the more philosophical you get!
“As time goes on you get used to it. We are all going to pass away.
“The more funerals you do you think... you should enjoy life when you can!
“I don’t know what each day is going to bring. I can suddenly get a phone call, and knowing a lot of people in the town, I‘ve had to arrange the funerals of quite a few close friends.
“It brings it home to you. It makes you appreciate family and friends.”
Perhaps it’s this laid-back approach that has stopped Frank from getting his own affairs in order.
“I guess it’s like that thing about painter and decorators never do their own home - I never got round to telling my family what I want!” he admits.
“I do know what I want [at my own funeral] and I will tell my family in detail sooner or later.