The theme for day four is supporting those who are estranged from or have no family – Manager Abi Pattenden takes us through this topic
Coping with bereavement is generally thought to be one of the hardest times in a person’s life. The death of someone close to you can be a complicated time, and the lack of a support system or longstanding difficulties within a family can only exacerbate these complexities.
It should not be assumed that someone with no family has no support network. Many people form lifetime bonds with friends or have the support of their religious community. However, there is something different about family ties and being the last person in any group is bound to feel poignant; once the last of your family is gone, you become the gatekeeper of all of that history which inevitably puts pressure on that funeral and your feelings around it.
There are practical considerations specific to estrangement within families; when someone is cremated, the person who authorises this has to complete legal paperwork in which they must declare if the person who has died has close family who are aware of the proposed cremation and – if they did have that family, but they aren’t aware, why not. This obviously causes dilemmas – not only in the awkwardness of having to explain difficult circumstances but because of the implication that relatives who have not been seen in many years should be contacted, difficult or painful as this may be.
There are other things to be thought about in arranging a funeral where few people will be expected to attend. The temptation might be to scale down the arrangements, even if that’s not what is really wanted, as the chosen funeral might seem extravagant or silly if there are only a few attendees. This might lead to feelings of guilt – especially if the person who has died was quite clear about their wishes for a funeral. Research shows people who know these wishes tend to want to follow them and so this might make what is already an emotionally difficult time, harder.
Sometimes a person may be faced with arranging a funeral for someone with whom they have not had much contact – for example, a very elderly relative or someone who lived a long way away. The latter is becoming increasingly common as people now move all over the world for work in a way which would have been unexpected a few years ago. It may be hard to know what the person who died would have wanted, and facilitating the arrangements may be made harder. Again, there may be feelings of guilt at not staying better connected, or even resentment at taking on a difficult responsibility. It’s worth knowing that the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and gov.uk website both have practical, factual guides on what needs to be arranged after someone has died – and your funeral director can guide you, too.
The advice it’s possible to give for these situations is fairly simple, as very little of it can be general – much of it will depend on the specific personalities and circumstances we encounter. However, there are some rules of thumb which might be useful.
Firstly, for those people who have few relatives and are considering their own arrangements: be pragmatic. Keep your plans under review. It’s excellent to decide some wishes for your funeral but ensure you regularly consider whether they are still what you would like. Our ‘Big Deal, Small Talk’ leaflet – which we suggest is one way in which people might like to outline some funeral plans – has a ‘reviewed on’ date, so the person who makes your arrangements will know when the document was last considered. They might feel better about the provision of the horse-drawn hearse or string quartet if they know you still wanted it, even if there aren’t hundreds of people to experience it as there may have been when you first thought about it several years ago. Consider proximity – both physical and emotional – of Executors when making a will- and do re-make it if one of your Executors dies or relocates. You might want to move ‘down’ the generations – if your godchildren are now in their sixties, might one of their children act instead? A pre-paid funeral plan such as the one offered by Freeman Brothers might be a useful way to remove financial responsibility from someone who you might feel is already going ‘above and beyond’ in agreeing to act on your behalf.
For those who are arranging a funeral without support, try to be kind to yourself. Even if the person who has died is not someone to whom you are especially close, the death of someone you knew can be expected to bring up feelings. These may be related to your own mortality or connected back to the death of someone else. As long as you do your best with the knowledge that you have, no-one can expect any more of you. Your funeral director will be full of advice and tips on how to make a funeral unique. A skilled officiant can make a service personal and meaningful even if very little is known about the person who has died. With limited information about a person, you can convey a great deal – if they grew up in the countryside, for example, you could have a painted coffin with a farmyard or woodland scene. Or what about playing a selection of music from the year they were born? Sometimes all that’s needed is a bit of imagination.
Ultimately, every funeral is unique, and the circumstances behind it are part of what make it that way. As with every funeral the most important thing is to be open about these circumstances. Support is there for you, and asking for it is nothing to be ashamed of.
Freeman Brothers is celebrating Dying Matters Awareness Week by hosting a series of ‘Big Deal, Small Talk’ events. These are free to attend and open to all who are interested. With events in a variety of locations and at different times, there should be one to suit everyone – you can find details of the events here.
Tel: 01403 254590
If you have an urgent query, please call 01403 254590. This number is answered by one our staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the quickest way to reach us.
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