When someone asks a child 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' you might expect to hear a builder, vet, police officer, fireman, paramedic and other various jobs, but for anyone who asked Samara Watson what she wanted to be, her response was not one you would predict.
Samara, 23, grew up to have fond memories of her time spent at cemeteries and funeral homes, with her mother working in the death industry, and is what led to Samara deciding that she wanted to make her mark one day as a funeral director.
"I grew up catching caterpillars off the rose gardens at the homes' gravesites and watching them grow into butterflies. Being at a funeral home felt like being at home, for as long as I can remember," she said.
"I remember my mum coming home and telling me stories of how she helped people smile on their hardest days, and helped people get through things they thought they wouldn't ever get through.
"Funeral directors looked more like superheroes to me."
Having been a funeral arranger/office manager at Mudgee's Macquarie Valley Funerals and Monuments for eight months, Samara is living her dream and doesn't consider her job as such.
"This is a dream job because it doesn't feel like a job at all," she said.
"Your end goal for every family that comes through the doors is to support them, inform them and help them grieve well, however you can. And once you've achieved that, there is no satisfaction in the world like it.
"As funeral directors, we build genuine connections with each family or individual we help, I'm sure any family who's had a loved one in our care can attest to that. We learn about their lives, their families, their relationships, their achievements.
"Every family who steps into our care allows us to go on this unique journey with them, and I don't think I will ever be tired of experiencing that."
Funeral directors looked more like superheroes to me.Macquarie Valley Funerals and Monuments funeral arranger, Samara Watson
For those wondering what a life of a funeral arranger is like, Samara says it mainly involves supporting those in times of need, whilst doing a bit of everything to keep things moving.
"I'm listed as a funeral arranger/office manager on our website, however when you're working in a small team funeral home you will always be a person who wears many hats. Among all of the administration that needs to be done, I also set up and attend services, cater for wakes, prepare and dress deceased loved ones for viewings, meet with families to make arrangements and liaise with all manners of people and organisations," she said.
"It's part emotional support, part administration, part event planner and a whole lot of care and compassion. I think it takes a certain kind of person to be emotionally available for families every single day, whilst maintaining professionalism.
"There is no doubt about the fact that there is no 'average' day or week for us here. Almost everything in our industry is extremely time sensitive so generally we are all always on the go, doing whatever we can to have things move along efficiently.
To be here each day you have to wake up every morning and want to help people, and you have to want to help people more than you want to do anything else at all because it's a business that never fades in its emotional intensity.
Some of Samara's most fond memories of her time in the death industry involves tears turning into smiles, while establishing relationships that will last a lifetime.
"The most rewarding part is the connections that you build. I will never forget the families that we have helped. Each of their loved ones who were in our care had some small quirk, or funny story, or transformative journey in their lives that will remain a part of our lives here forever. Every single family leaves Macquarie Valley with a little piece of our hearts," Samara said.
"What comes to mind when I think about the highlights of my time with Macquarie Valley is all the laughter. Most people think that working in a funeral home, planning funeral services, or caring for the deceased is completely morbid, quiet and scary. It's actually the complete opposite.
"Often just by really listening to our families and allowing them to share freely in a comfortable space, slowly small smiles creep into the tears, then bigger smiles and eventually the tears of sadness turn to tears of laughter from that funny joke that their loved one always told, or the memory of that time they pulled a prank at someone's birthday party.
"Don't get me wrong, sadness absolutely has its place in grieving, but that doesn't mean it's the only emotion that people are allowed to feel throughout the process.
"I also remember just about every personal thank you I've been given. I've had many comments from our families that they didn't think they would ever have the chance to see their loved one look so well again, and after leaving Macquarie Valley's chapel from their viewing are grateful for how beautiful they look, and for the work I put into to preparing their loved ones for such an important moment. Those comments always stay with me the most.
"I truly cannot think of a greater gift that I can give to someone than to give them a comfortable, beautiful goodbye."
While traditionally the death industry is considered to be male dominated, the wealth of knowledge received by Samara from other women in the field and her ability to perform well in terms of management has kept her inspired day in, day out.
"I think that one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding Funeral Directors and Morticians is that because the death care industry is a predominantly male dominated field, that there aren't women out there doing it, and doing it well. That just isn't true," Samara said.
It's a natural progression from men dominating any field to women stepping up and proving we can do anything men can do, and sometimes we can do it better.
"If you're a person with true compassion and care, have excellent organisational skills, have a desire to truly help people, flexibility in roles and impeccable time management skills, then you are a person who would have every chance of thriving in our field.
"Women often have a naturally strong sense of compassion and genuine care, and we are capable enough to do anything that anyone else can do. Those factors combined with a wealth of industry knowledge and proper training is what can make us the most incredible support for those who are grieving.
"It has been amazing to have other women who can share their ideas and experiences navigating this career path. It continues to surprise me how much support surrounds us in our personal and professional growth."