Dying Matters Awareness Week 2024

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company remains independent and family-run, with the sixth generation of the Freeman family now working within the business. There are also now three further offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint. Today, Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, shares […]

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Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company remains independent and family-run, with the sixth generation of the Freeman family now working within the business. There are also now three further offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint. Today, Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, shares her thoughts ahead of 2024’s Dying Matters Awareness Week.

This year, the focus for Dying Matters Awareness Week is the idea that the way we talk about dying matters. For a service-based business such as Freeman Brothers, communication – with customers and suppliers alike – is key, and this is something that we focus on carefully when recruiting and training staff. The campaign aims to help the general public to feel more empowered when discussing end of life with healthcare professionals, focusing on the language that we use and the conversations that we have.

As part of this, Dying Matters conducted a survey, which found that 45% of people prefer to use direct language, whereas 33% prefer to use euphemisms. In addition, older people (aged 55+) expressed a preference for direct language, whilst younger people (aged 16-24) stated that they preferred euphemistic language.

At Freeman Brothers, our attitude is that we are all welcome to have our own thoughts, and that when communicating with a customer, we generally adapt to suit their preferences. We make no assumptions as to what their choice may be, instead waiting for them to make us aware of this.

Clarity of language is important in order to treat our customers fairly, and to ensure that they receive the service that they want. Whilst people may not find discussing the specifics of something like a coffin appealing, we cannot simply provide what might be perceived as the default option when there are many choices now available. When someone is reluctant to discuss something like this, it’s important to address the topic sensitively. We often do this by advising people in advance what we will need to know, and offering to answer any questions they may have. We can then present the available options, allowing them space to decide.

One way of going about conversations when there’s resistance can be to ask what people don’t want. We have found through experience that people are more inclined to express something that they dislike the thought of – for instance, ‘I couldn’t be buried, as I don’t like the thought of being underground, even though I will be dead’ – and thereby setting up a process of elimination.

Another option is to chat about what someone has liked or disliked about other services that they have attended. Whilst it may feel more familiar and comfortable to source preferences via social occasions which are typically regarded as positive and happy ones – such as weddings or birthday parties – it can happen with funerals too! It may be that there was a type of coffin that you hadn’t previously been aware of, or a reading that you found appropriate. It is very common for us to receive a request for the same celebrant or religious leader to conduct a service when they have previously led one for another friend or family member. Some of this is due to the relationship that has been built with that person during the previous organisational process, and it’s also down to the fact that their style and approach were appreciated.

As with many other aspects of life, celebrities can be another source of inspiration. Whilst, justifiably, some funerals of famous people are kept private, there are many which take place at least partially in the public eye. These can be just as good a starting place for conversation as any.

No matter how it happens, we would much rather that people have a conversation than not. Even if that conversation establishes something which is given space for on our funeral planning leaflets, and you learn that the person you’re talking to has no preferences, and would like you to choose whatever makes you most comfortable.

The way we talk about dying matters, year-round.

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

May 1, 2024

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