Views and opinions
Views from the National Association of Funeral Directors on topics connected with the funeral profession and end of life debate.
By Abi Pattenden, President of the NAFD
I want to present two issues to you, ones that the funeral profession has often considered separately but which I firmly believe are inextricably linked – and which come together to give the funeral profession and wider bereavement community a call to action. A call that the NAFD is determined to help answer.
In recent years we’ve seen many of the taboos around talking about death and funerals slowly being removed, with increasing numbers of Britons becoming more comfortable in talking about the end of life. However, according to YouGov’s research for the NAFD, there’s still percentage of adults in the UK that say they have no intention of thinking ahead to their funeral – and a greater number who will only do so when prompted by serious illness, an accident or the death of someone else.
When YouGov asked Britons, in June, what would prompt them to think about their funeral, 12% said nothing and 9% said they didn’t know. 52% of respondents said when someone close to them had died, and 52% said they would only think about it after they had experienced a serious illness or an accident. These figures haven’t moved much in the last two years and so either we are educating people too late, or we do not have a strong enough collective voice to make a difference.
We also know that relatively few people have made financial provision for their funeral in the shape of a funeral plan. In YouGov’s survey, despite the majority of people (61%) accepting that it is their responsibility to make arrangements for their own future funeral – 59% of respondents in the survey said they had made no plans as yet.
This tells me that the battle is far from won and we still have a hard time confronting our mortality in this country, which leaves our loved ones ill prepared, emotionally, practically and financially, when we do die.
On to the second issue. In this magazine, and as an Association, we’ve also considered how far to involve children in funerals and how to support them when someone, or something, they love dies.
Increasingly, there are fantastic resources out there to support children, at home or in school, after a bereavement, through the work of charities like Winston’s Wish and Child Bereavement UK, books by authors such as Elke Barber and others. But I wonder if that’s enough? By the time they are dealing with their first bereavement, we’ve arguably missed the opportunity to give them an understanding and resources that will help them when a loss happens in their life, and will also help them to go on to become better equipped to face loss and their own death, as adults.
Winston’s Wish is currently undertaking some ground-breaking research into the long term effects of bereavement in childhood, working with adults who suffered loss when they were young. I am very much looking forward to learning the results of their study and sharing our own YouGov work with them to see what connections we can make between childhood experience and adult behaviour.
Click here to read the full story.
We’ve thought long and hard about the ‘banned’ advertising campaign concepts revealed yesterday, by cost-comparison website Beyond, before commenting. It’s vitally important to encourage people to talk about the end of life and sometimes the unexpected does help to unlock conversation. The NAFD has campaigned for years to encourage people to think about and put plans in place for what happens when they die. We’ve used eye-catching headlines of our own about unusual funeral choices, and how not putting plans in place can cause family conflict during a time of grief, to assist the development of a national conversation. But this is different.
Change is coming. Through sustained, well thought-through and evidence-based work by many different organisations, and the huge success of Dying Matters Week, more and more Britons are becoming comfortable talking about their eventual funeral. It’s no longer the taboo it once was. But the change is slow. That’s to be expected; it’s a difficult and, for many people, painful subject. A recent YouGov survey showed that 12% of Britons say nothing will ever prompt them to think about or plan for their own funeral – and 60% of Britons say they haven’t yet made any plans, so we still have a way to go.
However, funeral directors understand that while the change is slow to come, that doesn’t mean there’s a need for ‘shock and awe’ tactics, which risk trivialising one of the most sensitive of subjects, rather than making people feel comfortable in broaching it. And that’s what makes us uncomfortable with Beyond’s arguments about the artwork they wanted to run. In our view, in any communication about death it is always important to be sensitive to people who are already dealing with bereavement. There will be thousands of people travelling on the tube every day that have recently lost someone, or who will find the subject hard to contemplate for a whole variety of understandable reasons, and so we feel that Beyond’s attempts to be ‘edgy’ in their advertising campaign risks causing more harm than good. How about those people in poor health, for whom an advert suggesting that if you have a sore throat and cough you should be writing your Will might unnecessarily spark health fears?
By Alison Crake, Past President of the National Association of Funeral Directors
On behalf of the NAFD, this week I have been asked to participate in radio interviews, including on BBC 5 Live and BBC Radio Tees (click here to listen to the interview), commenting on the views expressed by Sky presenter Colin Brazier, who has recently lost his wife, that it is unfair on bereaved children to wear bright colours to a funeral and treat it as a ‘celebration of life’.
It’s made me think hard about the changing nature of funerals in the UK today and on my own experience as a funeral director of some 38 years. It is also part of a wider discussion about children and bereavement that the NAFD is actively pursuing at present in partnership with bereavement charity Winston’s Wish.
Firstly, I would like to extend the NAFD’s deepest sympathies to Colin and his family. Although as funeral directors we support families in his position every day of the year, I cannot begin to imagine what he and his children are going through at this time. I fully appreciate his perspective and hope he and his family are being well supported at this terrible time.
The NAFD’s view, and my own, is that any decision about what happens at a funeral must be for each family to make, just as Colin has done, and must be based upon what is right for family members – including any children involved.
A survey of local authorities out today (8 February 2018) by the LGiU think tank and The Municipal Journal has revealed the extent of the pressure local councils are under to balance their books and the degree to which this is leading them to levy additional charges on local communities. The 2018 State of Local Government Finance report highlights how councils are not only intending to increase council tax, but are also draining their reserves and looking for additional ways to increase charges to residents too.
A target for these rises is often bereaved people. In recent years the National Association of Funeral Directors has seen countless examples of local authorities introducing double above-inflation (and often double digit) rises for burials and cremations as well as introducing fines for late running funerals and excess charges for out-of-area funerals.
In fact these kinds of third party charges now account for a third of all funeral costs and are the fastest rising cost connected to a funeral. In 2017, both burial and cremation fees attracted above-inflation price rises (Royal London reported burial fees up by an average of 3.5% for residents and 5.3% for non-residents and cremation fees up by 5.4% in September 2017).
Christmas is a time for family. The swapping of gifts, a festive pint down the pub, noisy and competitive board games, trips to the panto, walks in the winter countryside and so on. Indeed, we are relentlessly informed of our duty to gather for the annual turkey bun fight and battle for control of the remote, by a myriad of soft-focus television commercials from major retailers – which seem to start earlier every year.
However, for millions of people every year there is an empty seat at the table and Christmas celebrations become anything but. As funeral directors will know, Christmas is often one of the toughest times for bereaved people, especially the first festive season after a death.
The sense of grief that many bereaved people feel is often magnified at Christmas, and those closest to them don’t always know how best to support them or, indeed, sometimes what to say or how to behave. Now that we’ve dispensed with the tradition of wearing black for a longer period of mourning, the world around them may not even be aware that they are grieving. The result can be an even more profound sense of loss and isolation than they may already be feeling.
By Jeremy Field
Past President, the National Association of Funeral Directors
Earlier this month, there was a rash of newspaper articles decrying fast food chain McDonald’s for including the example of a young boy, struggling to connect with his late father, discovering they shared the same taste in burger in one of their advertisements.
“McDonald’s accused of exploiting childhood bereavement” shrieked the press and critics called into question the judgement of McDonald’s and its advertising partners for using bereavement to sell burgers.
Something about this response troubled me. There is no doubt that it was a risky move by McDonald’s to so closely link the loss of a parent with the opportunity to buy a Fillet-o-Fish. However, as a profession, we know only too well that opening up any kind of discussion around grief and loss is all too hard – and especially in young people. Look at footballer Rio Ferdinand’s raw grief, in the recent BBC documentary Being Mum and Dad, as he struggles to help his older son open up about the loss of his mum. Why as a society are we so incensed that McDonald’s has not shown bereavement the reverence we have come to think it deserves? Frankly it SHOULD be discussed over a burger, over a cuppa, while waiting for a bus, in fact anywhere, everywhere and all the time. It is only by tackling the taboo we have built around the subject of death that we can hope to support people when loss occurs.
It’s World Book Day today (2 March 2016) and, as in any aspect of life, a well written, thought-provoking book can be of real help to people at a time of loss.
The NAFD is often advised of books, written about bereavement and grief, that people have found to be profoundly useful. Please click below for short guide to some of the books that have been recommended to us recently.
It was encouraging that the ITV documentary ‘Funerals: A Costly Undertaking?’, broadcast on 3 November 2016, highlighted the importance of the work undertaken by funeral directors to support families in saying farewell in the way that they want to, and that there is much more to a good funeral arrangement than handing a coffin catalogue to a bereaved person.
The programme also made some very important points about the need for Britons to think about their eventual funeral, revealing data which showed that almost three quarters of adults hadn’t done any research on the subject and two thirds didn’t know how much a funeral would cost.
However, despite highlighting these important truths about the British reluctance to plan for their funeral, the programme failed to reflect the hard work of NAFD member firms across the UK and instead allowed anecdotes and allegations made by a small number of interviewees to prevail largely unchallenged.
The choice to have a direct cremation or burial is made by a small number of people in the UK each year. A direct cremation is where a body is taken directly to the crematoria and cremated with no funeral service or mourners present. Indeed the family will not see the person who has died again once they are collected by the funeral director from the place of death. The cremated remains are either returned to the next of kin or scattered.
The French writer and philosopher Voltaire once wrote: “One great use of words is to hide our thoughts.” Voltaire’s words are a great and simple explanation of why people use euphemisms, in that they allow us to substitute a word or phrase that we find difficult to articulate for something less awkward, tricky or upsetting. And surely there is no other topic of discussion that makes us feel more uncomfortable, in the UK at least, than death and funerals.