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Diana’s death ‘signified a changing attitude’
CLOAKED beneath a dark veil of secrecy and dignified silence, death for many remains an uncomfortable subject.
But that grief is beginning to turn into celebration as people’s perceptions evolve.
Alison Crake, a senior partner at Crake and Mallon Funeral Service, in Stockton, says attitudes are continually changing, with the foundations of that move based upon Royal connections.
“The industry is a lot different to the one I started in as a 17-year-old,” she says.
“That generation chose dignified silence, wore black and grieved behind closed doors.
“But today, people are much more willing to celebrate and feel it is acceptable to be emotional, use music and give eulogies at services.
“A lot of that came from the death of Princess Diana, in 1997, and the massive outpouring of public grief that followed leading up to her funeral.
“It changed the way people looked at funerals. Her brother Earl Spencer’s eulogy showed to people that funerals and that way of dealing with death could actually be a coping mechanism.
“People are planning for death a lot more now and are more involved in what they want to happen. No two families are the same, but that funeral certainly made a difference.”
Ms Crake, who earned a business administration and enterprise masters degree from Teesside University, started working for the company in 1979.
Set up by her father, Robert, Alison’s mother, Dorothy, and brother, also Robert, the business, which employs 21 people, is a real family affair.
As a youngster, Alison was a waitress at the Swallow Hotel, in Stockton, and began as an office worker for the funeral business at the firm’s Skinner Street base in the town.
However, despite years of building her successful career in an industry used to dealing with the sadness of death, nothing could prepare her for the heartbreaking destruction she felt when caught up in the terrifying New York terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Alison was visiting the city with her brother, Robert, and witnessed first-hand the sheer devastation as two planes flew into the World Trade Center, killing thousands of people.
She says: “I was in my hotel room and he phoned me telling me there had been a plane crash. I turned on the TV and saw the second plane hit the building. It was a terrible and surreal experience.
“You could see it in front of you, but part of you kept saying ‘this can’t be real, that can’t have just happened’.
“Our hotel called a security meeting and we found ourselves walking around the city. We got to an Irish bar and there was a woman sat nursing a glass of brandy at 11.30am.
“She was ashen, it is a cliché but she looked as white as a sheet.
“She could barely get the words out to tell us that she worked in one of the twin towers and had been late for work that morning.
“She was on the phone to her boss telling him she was running late to get there and would be at work soon.
“But the line then went dead, the plane had crashed into the floor of the building she should have been in.
“It was awful – the bar was crowded with people with similar stories, including a cleaner who swapped shifts that day. It was horrendous.
“We had a few days left in the city before we could come home and we went to Times Square.
“There were families holding posters and placards of loved ones caught up in the tragedy, asking passers-by if they had seen them, it was absolutely heartbreaking.”
Away from the pressures of work, Alison likes nothing more than spending time outdoors, walking her black Labradors, Solo and Sweep.
She lists Perthshire, in Scotland, as a favourite destination to relax.
She says: “I absolutely love it up there. The scenery is fabulous and it’s a great place to get away for a few days.
“You can reach it within three hours in the car and because of that you can just escape from it all.”