Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company remains owned and run by a direct descendant of the original proprietor, and now has a further three offices across the county in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. With 2021 drawing to a close, the team has chosen to reflect on their most memorable moments. Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, shares their stories…
Last year, we shared some of our favourite funeral moments for the first time. This may sound strange to some people, as the necessity for a funeral is rarely a cheerful occasion, particularly with 2020 seeing the start of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, we were proud of the level of service we were still able to deliver, plus there were inspirational moments, from heightened personalisation to adapting to our amended circumstances. Our hope was to provide further evidence of the fact that funerals can and should be personal, no matter the extenuating restrictions, and I think my colleagues did a fantastic job.
This year has sadly seen similar elements to last year: here in the UK, we began 2021 in a strict lockdown, which lasted until mid-April (though some limitations were slightly eased during March). Funerals remained restricted for many months, with the most significant change coming, as to all industries, in late July. However, many people told us that they were still cautious, and with international travel in particular still presenting additional challenges, a lot has remained the same for funeral services. We’ve continued to see decreased attendances, and a much lower number of ashes ceremonies than pre-pandemic.
Despite our adjusted ways of working, and among the sadness of many stories, the team has risen to the challenge, and I’m pleased to share some heartwarming stories with you today.
A funeral which saddened many of us involved a young woman near the start of the year. Tina took care of the arrangements, and told me that the family were lovely. They were pleased to be able to choose a coffin which particularly reflected their loved one’s personality – opting for pink glitter. Due to the existing lockdown restrictions, attendance was limited, and so Tina arranged a specific procession, offering friends, colleagues and others who weren’t able to attend the funeral service a chance to be part of it.
Colourful coffins happened to be a bit of a theme for Tina: willow coffins have become an increasingly popular choice during the last decade, and we were all aware that they are available in a variety of colours, but typically customers opt just for coloured banding. However, one family this year chose a full-colour coffin and matching ashes casket – both were in a full rainbow, and were incredibly striking.
Also early in the year was one of Jennifer’s favourites, and incorporated a horse-drawn hearse. She had this to say about the occasion: ‘At the time – it was the most complex funeral I’d arranged. Vicky supervised and guided me but I coordinated the horse and carriage, the church and the cemetery myself, which was nerve-wracking but helped me prove to myself that I could do it.’
There was in fact an even greater level of personalisation, as Jennifer explained: ‘The funeral was arranged by the lady’s very loving son and his wife, who were keen to get every detail just right – down to choosing the colour of the wooden coffin to match their relative’s own living room furniture! As she loved horses, the family opted for a white carriage hearse and a pair of greys with purple plumes (again, her favourite colour) which looked especially romantic and picturesque on what turned out to be a crisp, snowy winter morning. Moreover, I had the added challenge of sourcing a CD copy of ‘Lily The Pink’ by The Scaffold for the church service – an unusual but fun choice!’
Alex was spoilt for choice last year, as he had arranged several funerals which proved highly memorable. We weren’t sure how any of them would be bettered, until a twist of fate brought him the following story in 2021, which he describes here.
‘The family in question initially got in touch via phone and, although the Deceased person lived in Horsham, their son, who would be making the arrangements lived in Gosport, so we agreed the easiest way for the family to make the arrangements was by taking advantage of our remote arrangement service,’ Alex shared.
‘Over the course of the next few weeks, we liaised via email and telephone. All the while the person I was dealing with was no different to any other family I would look after. However, after receiving an email from me, seeing my name made the man suspect that I could be a long lost relative of his wife. He didn’t mention this to me at the time and arrangements continued as normal,’ Alex continued.
‘A little closer to the day of the funeral, the Deceased person’s son and his wife came to visit in the Chapel of Rest and it just so happened that as they were leaving I was coming through the front door, as we came face to face we were both taken aback: it turned out that the Deceased person’s son’s wife was in fact my late Dad’s sister, my auntie! My father died in 1995 when I was 11 years old and I had lost contact with his family many years ago. Once we got over the initial surprise, the man revealed to me that after receiving my email and with not many people with my name in Sussex, they had a suspicion I would be who they thought I would be.’
Alex was able to further his connection with his family via the funeral: ‘I don’t always conduct the funerals I arrange, but the family asked if I could be there on the day. It was a difficult day as I wanted to be able to do the best for the family, I didn’t want the attention on me and I was also battling a lot of my own feelings and emotions about what it would be like to reacquaint with long lost relatives, however, the funeral went beautifully and after the burial I was introduced to lots of cousins whom I hadn’t seen for a long time.’
I’ll close with one of Abi’s favourite memories, as it’s a great example of something we regularly say. ‘Every question I asked of the family was met with a response to confirm that things had been discussed prior to the lady’s death. I found this so encouraging, as we do hope that people will be open regarding their preferences, but many do not learn this without having a negative experience. Happily for this family, the discussions had been had well in advance, and they were able to honour their loved one’s wishes,’ Abi shared.
As challenging as 2021 has been, we are all looking towards 2022 with hope. There have been many lessons learned, both personal and professional, and we continue to strive to provide the highest-quality service to each individual customer. Whatever happens next year, we will maintain an attitude of dignity and respect for those we are honoured to assist.