A young mum has gone from pharmacist to funeral director, yet says she is the happiest she has ever been. Surrounded by the sadness of death, she wants people to start celebrating the lives of their loved ones who have just passed away.

Miran Sapiano is on a mission to encourage society to change its outlook on the end of life – she hopes more people will look at death as an opportunity to celebrate life.

The mother-of-two is nearing the end of her studies that will see her become a certified thanatologist, a scientific discipline that examines death from various perspectives, including physical, ethical, spiritual, medical, sociological and psychological.

The pharmacist-turned-funeral director believes she will be the first to hold such a qualification on the island.

While many may view her role as a miserable one, Sapiano says she has never been happier: her successful career as a pharmacist was no match for what she is doing now.

“I had an exceptionally good job. I was very well paid and had all the perks. But when I was made redundant during the last few months of my pregnancy, I decided it was time to finally take the plunge and focus on something that I believed could make me feel more fulfilled.

“Helping people cope with the loss of a loved one and guiding them, even beyond the funeral itself, is extremely rewarding and no amount of money or benefits can give me that now,” Sapiano said.

Her father, John, had in recent years also served as a part-time funeral director, although his style was more traditional, she said. In him, however, she saw the satisfaction that the job could give and despite her success, she aspired to be like him.

Miran Sapiano talking to a mourner during a funeral.Miran Sapiano talking to a mourner during a funeral.

Helping mourners through grief

With her background in healthcare to guide her, Sapiano wanted to take the role further. She organises funerals meticulously so that relatives are not burdened with unnecessary hassle and they can instead focus all their energy on celebrating their loved one.

“I don’t want to sell people flowers and fancy cars. I want to help people go through this difficult phase by guiding them through grief while also trying to look at the happier moments shared with the deceased person,” Sapiano said.

She admits that initially, many found her approach puzzling, especially when she refers to funerals as “a celebration”.

“In Malta, we don’t talk about death and often fail to acknowledge this is a part of life. It is hard, especially in cases of children, young people or suicides, but it is a reality that everyone must deal with at some point in their life.

“I want to change this mentality and that is why when I first meet people at my office, although I don’t even like to call it that, I often make them a cup of tea. We sit down and spend hours talking about their relative.

“The flowers and cars can come after. In that moment, we focus on appreciating the person who has died.”

Despite her efforts, Sapiano admits some cases are difficult, especially when young children are involved or when there has been a suicide.

The pandemic-related restrictions were also a challenge, especially in cases where relatives could not attend a funeral because of quarantine.

The flowers and cars can come after. In that moment, we focus on appreciating the person who has died

‘I now live life to the full’

She recalled one instance where she video-called a relative throughout the funeral – from the mortuary to the grave – to make sure they were still involved.

“Sometimes, people want answers which I cannot give them. But what I can give them is guidance.

“I also have my own team of professionals and at times also refer clients to them if I sense they might need help dealing with the grief,” she said.

Despite being surrounded by sadness, Sapiano insists she has never been happier. Recalling her own challenges with eating disorders and infertility, she said that since taking up funeral directing, she has learnt to live more in the moment.

“I used to worry about my house being clean, about losing weight, about my children... now I find myself living life to the full. I know what it is like to be here one minute and gone the next.”

Sapiano also feels her role helps her give something back to the community. She has done pro bono work for those most in need.

Looking ahead, she is excited about completing her studies and focusing exclusively on funeral directing.

She also hopes to one day set up her own foundation that would tackle the issue of pauper’s burials – unceremonious funerals funded by the state in cases where bodies remain unclaimed.

“Nobody should die and not be celebrated. One day, I will make sure everyone gets their celebration!”

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