BBC Woman’s Hour on Bereavement

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint – and continues to serve local communities when the need arises. Death and bereavement continue to be reasonably taboo topics, so when there […]

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Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint – and continues to serve local communities when the need arises. Death and bereavement continue to be reasonably taboo topics, so when there is positive mention among the media, it’s great to be able to highlight this. Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, shares her thoughts on a recent episode of BBC’s Woman’s Hour which referenced bereavement…

Recently, I saw a clip of actor, Jill Halfpenny, discussing bereavement via social media. The clip was from an interview with BBC Woman’s Hour to promote a book she’s written on the topic, and I was instantly hooked by what she said. I then went in search of the full interview, to learn more about what had compelled her to speak on the topic.

I’m a huge Strictly Come Dancing fan, and Jill famously won the second series. I hadn’t followed her career or life since, so was unaware that she had been bereaved of her father as a child, and that her partner had also died suddenly – and in similar circumstances – in 2017.

Via Woman’s Hour, Jill shared what it was like to lose her dad at the age of four. She was honest about the fact that she doesn’t remember much: he died whilst playing a football match, and from her young perspective, it was simply that he left the house and didn’t return one day. Much of what she describes afterwards is how the impact of her mum’s response to the death of her dad affected her, and how this in turn shaped her own life in early adulthood.

Jill’s dad died in the late 1970s, and they’re from the north east of England. Jill herself describes her home environment at the time as being one which didn’t take the time to discuss feelings, and that adults in particular did not show their emotions in front of children. She recalls her only experience of witnessing her mum’s emotional outpouring, and that Jill was quickly waved away by the other adult present, which led to her interpreting the behaviour as the correct response to be to ignore things.

Later in the interview, she shares her experience of being bereaved of her partner, with whom she shares a child. By this point in her life, she still hadn’t properly dealt with her dad’s death, and it was the death of her partner that made her realise that this needed to happen. It was then that she made a conscious choice to ensure that she helped her son to have a different experience to her own, and to try to help him process his emotions effectively as they happened. Earlier, Jill had said that, during her childhood, she could tell that her mum was struggling, but what her mum said contradicted her behaviour, leaving Jill confused and giving her a poor idea of how to cope.

When it came to supporting her son, Jill resolved to be honest about her own feelings, letting him know when she’d had a bad day, and what she needed as a result, in order to model a positive coping strategy, as well as how to communicate regarding emotions.

I was surprised when the segment ended without the inclusion of the clip I’d seen on social media. It was incredibly powerful, and I’m sad that those listening via the radio, or the BBC’s streaming platform, will miss out on this.

What Jill shared in this additional anecdote was advice for those who know someone who is bereaved. In her opinion, rather than asking someone, ‘How are you today?’, to break this question down. She found it ‘too big’ of a question when people asked her that, and struggled to be honest or ask for help as a result. She instead offered that people ask about how a specific part of a person’s day was, for example, ‘How was the school run?’ or, ‘How was your meeting?’. I thought that this was a fantastic suggestion, and can relate to the feeling of a question being too big, and that you don’t know where to start with answering it for a number of reasons, including worrying about managing the other person’s emotions, when you’re the one ostensibly being offered support.

Both the episode of Woman’s Hour and the social media clip provided food for thought, and I’d recommend accessing both if you can!

At the time of writing, the full episode of Woman’s Hour can be found here and the social media clip referenced can be found here  

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

July 3, 2024

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