Business North Dec / Jan 2022

54 | WESTPAC AUCKLAND BUSINESS AWARDS Aroha Funerals Funerals with a ‘kind, gentle approach’ Sue Russell Aroha Funerals has two centres, its main facility in Mt Wellington and another branch in Takanini. Proudly NZ designed and made. Beautiful, Natural and Unique. For Janet Mikkelsen, there was a real calling to become a Funeral Director. She puts this down partly to her nursing background including seven years in palliative care. “I was comfortable around people who were facing a life limiting disease. It’s an environment where you dispense a lot of real human care and nurturing and the same qualities I believe are necessary to be a successful Funeral Director.” When it was time to look at a new career direction it just seemed appropriate for Janet to stay in a profession demanding the same skills and qualities as she evolved through her nursing journey. Establishing first within an existing Funeral business, it wasn’t long before Janet wanted to step out on her own and gather a group of people around her who had a similar philosophy to care of the deceased and their whanau. Fortunately in those formative days, establishing her own business, Janet had a circle of skilled business people including her twin sister Gillian who acts as Aroha Funerals’ financial manager and a small dedicated team of funeral directors, all with the same approach and understandings of what is important for clients to have experienced a meaningful good-bye to their loved-one. Even her father Terry, who is retired, helps in the business by ensuring the vehicles are presented in tip-top condition. And during COVID, it’s been necessary to find new ways to create a fitting funeral each client seeks, including ensuring videos have been taken for those unable to attend. On one occasion a woman who passed away on Waiheke Island was driven through her neighbourhood and past her old house and friends and neighbours stood outside as she was driven past. “There is always a way to work through constraints. We also know it’s incredibly important to give people time. There is no rush at all and if we can make our clients feel they have all the time they need to arrive at the sort of funeral arrangements they want, then we get the very best outcomes.” Especially where there has been a sudden death, this ‘taking time’ is of critical importance, says Janet. This issue is really important. Janet has seen the detrimental impact a poorly thoughtout hurried funeral can have on people, who can carry the grief for many years. Generally, embalming of the deceased is not something Aroha Funerals undertakes as a matter of course, instead, through her nursing experiences Janet knows there are other, simple, natural and caring ways to ensure the body is looked after until the time of cremation or burial. “We are reclaiming what used to happen in the old times. Even within the pre-European Maori world, caring respectfully for the deceased included cooling methods . “Our approach is totally natural and it often gives loved-ones comfort to know there are no more procedures happening to the body.” Today, Aroha Funerals has two centres. Its main facility in Mt Wellington with three funeral directors and another branch in Takanini, with one director and another in training. They have a commitment to reducing their carbon imprint by not embalming, the use of electric vehicles, supporting local businesses, using sustainably sourced caskets, and planting a tree for every cremation done. And icing on the cake for Janet, having established her business successfully and built a like-minded team around her, was being nominated in the ‘Excellence in Customer Service’ category at this year’s Auckland Business Awards. “That was such a lovely thing for us. We really felt we had a chance of being selected. We have become a finalist in this category.” Janet says the judges were interested in knowing how the team engaged with people, what they did differently. “We ended up having a great conversation with them about why we do what we do.” Janet believes the fact that Aroha Funerals doesn’t present as a corporate model makes a big difference. “We’re very transparent. “We’re genuine; we’re just who we are and this comes across to the families that we work with. “They feel supported at a difficult time, and our kind, gentle approach is really appreciated by them.”