Career change amidst uncertainty

Sister Gemma Godivala of Aylesbury Ward
Sister Gemma Godivala of Aylesbury Ward

Sister Gemma Godivala of Aylesbury Ward, Watford Stake, has recently launched into a new career, working as a ‘Celebrant for Funerals’.

Despite the uncertainty of work during the time of COVID-19, she boldly undertook her training, and then took the decision to leave her role in a local school and become self-employed.

Andrea J James, Watford Stake Director of Communication, interviewed Gemma to learn more about her and what she does:

Sister Godivala said that getting to this career decision was a long and uncertain journey.

Sister Godivala married a year after graduating in American History and Politics. She did agency work between marriage and giving birth to her first son. She continued being a stay-at-home mum for 12 years – a great achievement.

“Then I had that experience others may relate to, when you find yourself wondering what on earth you have to offer the world out there other than being foremost, a mother.” She said, “It took me until the age of 46 to work out what I wanted to do when I grow up.” Sister Godivala then told Sister James that she tried teaching in 2010 but, much to her surprise, she found that she did not want to be a teacher, yet she loved teaching the gospel. She explained that she found secular teaching to be very different from what she imagined. “I then held various support positions in schools, which I found much more conducive to both my mental wellbeing and my family life.” 

She said, “My moment of inspiration for a career change, however, came in January 2020 when I attended my Aunt’s funeral, which was celebrant-led. I observed the celebrant and had the triple revelation: ‘I could do that. I could be good at that. I think I would enjoy doing that.’”

When asked what the elements are of her new work, Sister Godivala said, “Meeting with the family at a difficult time, to support them and allow them to share memories of their loved one. Well, that’s ministering. In truth, I think a great many members of the Church would do this job very well.”

“I feel my love of family history has been an asset. Taking the facts of a person’s life and building that into a narrative, drawing out their character and their essence from their life story – I’ve been mentally doing that to my own ancestors for years,” said sister Godivala. Sister James asked Sister Godivala how her family took the career change. She said, “My family has been superb. They don’t even mind too much that most of our dinner table conversations now centre around death. Plus, I used to work at my daughter’s school. She’s thrilled I’ve gone, ha ha! My husband is currently working at home because of the pandemic and he has doubled up as my all-important IT Manager.  I get to sit beside him at our desks for a lot of the day and it’s lovely.”

When asked about the impact of COVID-19, Sister Godivala said, “COVID-19 has not been great for the funeral industry, which sounds counter-intuitive. Even when the death rate spiked in April and May, the restrictions were such that all the services funeral professionals provide were compromised, and it was difficult to feel that they were giving their best to their clients. I really feel for people who lost family during that time. They probably weren’t able to be with their loved ones as they were ill, and when they passed. I know when I lost my Dad; it was a tremendously important experience to be able to mourn with my family. Additionally, those grieving have not had the therapeutic face-to-face contact with the funeral director and the officiant (whether clergy or civil) and on top of all that the funeral attendance was limited to very small numbers and the deceased could not have the send-off their family may have envisaged. It must have really added anguish to what is already a very difficult time.”

She continues, “I absolutely love what I am doing! My favourite bit is meeting with the family and finding out all about their loved ones. People live the most extraordinary lives! I sit, absolutely captivated, as I take notes on the memories the families share with me. Almost invariably I end up listening to the story of someone I wish I had had the opportunity to meet. I love to be side by side with a family helping them through one of the saddest times of their lives. It is very fulfilling if I know that I made that very difficult time just a little bit easier.”

Sister James asked Sister Godivala what callings she has held in the last 10 years. Sister Godivala told her that while she’s helped with Relief Society and Primary, most of her callings were around serving the youth in Seminary and YSAs. “I absolutely love working with young people in the church. Weird contradiction with my work life now, huh?” She laughed.