Is one in every seven British adults in denial about their own mortality?

14% of GB adults surveyed by YouGov said that nothing would prompt them to think about their own funeral

NAFD publishes five-step funeral wishes guide to make planning your exit easier

A new survey of GB adults by polling company YouGov, Funerals Matter, released to coincide with Dying Matters Week 2016, has found that, even though Britons say they feel increasingly comfortable talking about death and dying a surprising 14% of Britons say that nothing would prompt them to think about their own funeral and nearly half (48%) would be prompted to turn their attention to it when someone close to them had died.

A representative sample of 2,070 British adults was surveyed by polling company YouGov, on behalf of the National Association of Funeral Directors and Cruse Bereavement Care, as part of ongoing research into the British public’s perceptions of funerals and funeral directors. In response, the NAFD has outlined five steps to making the planning process easier.

Those aged 35-44 (18%) and the unemployed (20%) are the most unlikely to contemplate their funeral. Next come men, Londoners and people who live in Wales (all at 17%) and it also seems that the more children you have, the more likely you are to not think about your own funeral too. Whilst 14% of people with no children are putting off the planning, a much larger one in 5 (20%) of those with three children or more do not think anything would make them focus upon their own mortality.

For those who do think they will turn their attention to their eventual demise, the majority say it will most likely be as a result of the death of someone close (48%), having experienced a serious illness or accident (44%), or simply reaching a particular age (42%). Only 4% of Britons surveyed think they would be influenced by the death of a celebrity – although this is more likely to be true of younger people (12% of 18-24-year olds).

Although a separate YouGov report last year (Funeral Planning 2015) found that 7% of British adults now have a pre-paid funeral plan, financial arrangements are only half the story as it’s also about making sure your loved ones know what you want.

This still leaves the vast majority of families without anything to work from when they are planning the funeral of someone close to them. In fact, the YouGov study discovered that 51% of GB adults who have organised a funeral in the past five years had either not much or no information about the wishes of the person that had died.

The NAFD knows perhaps better than any other organisation how uncomfortable people can find the idea of talking about funerals. Many of our members often remark that the question they dread most at a social event is “what do you do for a living?”  The conversation is either going to go one of two ways and they either spend the rest of the evening in silence or talking about death, dying and funerals!

However, funeral directors also see at first hand the additional distress and uncertainty which goes hand in hand with the UK’s reluctance to talk about funeral wishes.

Says NAFD President William Millar: “Not wanting to talk about the death of a loved one or your own funeral is understandable. However, it brings with it considerable distress for the family when the time does come, whether that’s uncertainty as to what the person who has died would have wanted, family friction over what kind of funeral it will be or concerns over how much to spend.”

“We know that some people worry that talking about death can bring it about. Well, as one of 20,000 funeral professionals who talk about it every day I can tell you that it simply isn’t true! I’ve personally helped people plan their funeral more than a decade ago and they are still going strong today.”

The experience of the charity Cruse Bereavement Care, that works with more than 100,000 bereaved people every year is that this failure to plan or have discussions about funeral wishes can lead to uncertainty for thousands of families every year, adding to their distress at such a difficult time.

Debbie Kerslake, Chief Executive of Cruse Bereavement Care said:

“The death of someone close is likely to be one of the hardest things any of us will ever face. Arranging a funeral is the last thing we can do for a loved one and we want to make it personal and meaningful but not knowing their final wishes can make this particularly hard. We can all help those we love by thinking about what we want, having conversations and writing our wishes down.”

An opinion poll commissioned by Dying Matters to be released on Thursday will show that, even though half of people say they have become more comfortable talking about death and dying, about 1/3 have not made any end of life plans. The poll will also show that about one in seven Britons feels that talking about death can make it happen, and that this increases for younger people.

Claire Henry, Chief Executive of the Dying Matters coalition said: “Talking about death is nothing to be scared of. It might seem a bit awkward, but put end of life plans in place is essential if we want to get the care and funeral we want, and to reduce the burden on our relatives. Talking about it won’t make it happen, and it allows us to get on with the rest of our lives knowing we’ve made our plans.”

To assist Britons in overcoming their worries about planning for a funeral, The National Association of Funeral Directors has created a simple, five-step guide to thinking about your own funeral as part of Dying Matters Week’s #BigConversation:

The NAFD’s Five-Step Funeral Wishes Guide

  1. Talking about your funeral doesn’t make death happen. Grab your favourite drink, invite someone close to you round (or switch your smartphone to record) and make yourself comfortable.
  2. Do the personal stuff first:
    • What kind of service would you like and where would you like it to be held? In a church? In a crematorium? In a woodland? Somewhere particularly special to you?
    • What song best sums you up? As you are borne out of the funeral service what tune will those close to you be listening to?
    • Who would you like to give your eulogy? Can’t choose from amongst your friends or don’t want your partner to have to do it? Write one yourself. A growing number of people are choosing to do just that.
    • What would you like everyone to wear? Black, bright colors or even fancy dress?
    • Personal touches make it special. This could be from writing something yourself to be read out to having a theme. NAFD members have done Wild West, Star Wars, classic car, railway, pink and many other themed funerals. Would you have a theme?
    • How about a memorial – from a plaque on a local park bench to having a tree planted.  Would you like a headstone? If you want to be cremated would you like your ashes to be scattered somewhere meaningful, inked into a tattoo, turned into a diamond, preserved as a DNA helix or fired into the air in a huge firework display? It’s all possible.
  3. Give your loved ones some basic principles to work with such as whether you’d prefer burial or cremation, would you want donations to a particular charity…and is there anywhere particular you’d like your final resting place to be? It can also be as important to say what you don’t want as what you do want.
  4. Decide if you are able to set aside funds now or if you can start financially planning for this. If you have no savings to set aside or even no idea what you would like to do, say that too. Even just talking about your uncertainty breaks down a barrier.
  5. Let those close to you know what you’ve decided, put it somewhere safe and let your family or friends where to find the information should they need it, or give a copy to your chosen funeral director …and then get on with living!

Adds Mr. Miller: “Whilst all of this can be done at home, round at a friend’s house or even in the pub, if you’d prefer to talk to a professional, which 74% of Britons say they would, then talk your wishes through with a funeral director. They can help you put plans in place or simply offer advice and experience to help your thinking.”

Since 2014 the NAFD has worked with the Dying Matters coalition on a simple guide to recording your funeral wishes for safe keeping. To download a copy please visit: http://www.dyingmatters.org/page/my-funeral-wishes.