Freeman Brothers was first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company now has a further three offices – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and continues to employ a team of local experts who are dedicated to their work. The BBC recently aired a documentary called ‘Inside the Undertakers’ which took a look behind the scenes at a funeral directors. Becky reviews it here…
My colleagues and I were intrigued when we learned that Stacey Dooley and the BBC had produced a documentary going behind the scenes at a funeral directors. Via our National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) connections, we know the company that Stacey spent time with, and first and foremost were pleased that she and the production company had selected an organisation which reflects our own caring values. A.W. Lymn serves a huge community in the Midlands, and it was also going to be interesting for us to see how different their customers are from our own.
It’s always difficult to witness your own profession represented in the media, whether via fiction or non-fiction. As time passes, and we gain more experience within our industry, many of us lose sight of what it felt like to not know how an organisation operates. Whilst my own role does not involve working in our mortuary or even making funeral arrangements with customers, I am well aware of what happens in those areas of the business, so nothing that was shown within the documentary was going to have any shock value for me.
In this scenario, Stacey, as the presenter, is the guide for members of the public, the vast majority of whom will never have set foot in a mortuary. Increasing numbers of the general public also won’t have seen a dead body – few people I know have been present at a death, or have visited with a Deceased person in a Chapel of Rest.
For the documentary, Stacey spent several days working throughout the Lymn business: she is seen with a funeral arranger and a customer, discussing details of a prepaid funeral plan; accompanying funeral operatives to collect Deceased persons from a hospital mortuary; witnessing the preparation of a Deceased person by a mortuary technician; making tributes with a florist; visiting families at their homes – on one occasion with a celebrant; supporting a customer visiting the Chapel of Rest; meeting two sisters at a crematorium, one of whom is terminally ill; and attending funerals.
It offers a good, and surprisingly extensive, overview of a funeral business. Stacey isn’t afraid to show her emotions during the footage, and this is admirable, as she clearly finds much of what she’s doing very difficult. Right at the beginning of the documentary, she shares that she finds talking about or contemplating death hard, and that the process will be challenging for her. Throughout filming, she is clearly distressed at several points, and this is often understandable. Stacey is a mother herself, and one of the Deceased persons being collected from the hospital mortuary is a baby. Later, the person being visited in the Chapel of Rest is a child. These parts in particular visibly impact her, and many members of the public would no doubt share her reaction.
However, I think it’s important to remember that her response is just that – her own. Others may have felt that they would respond differently, or experienced other emotions when watching various scenes, and this is absolutely acceptable. My perception was that Stacey often felt quite sad when working with the Lymn team, whereas the professionals mirrored the attitude of myself and my colleagues – that we take pride in our jobs, but that we also aren’t there to judge; we create a space where people can process whatever they’re feeling in their own way. We do see some sadness. But we witness many other feelings and experiences too.
What I particularly appreciated about the documentary was that it gave examples of different styles of funerals. One of those shown was a church service followed by a natural burial. The person who had died had close family members and a lot of friends, it was a large funeral. He had also been a keen cricketer, to the extent that some of this friends held their bats up in a guard of honour as he was carried into the church, which I thought was a beautiful moment. The burial itself was also very heartwarming – friends and family filled in the grave together, a ritual they took part in as part of their grieving process.
Overall, the documentary was probably the boldest and most truthful look I’ve seen behind-the-scenes at a funeral director in the UK, and I’m pleased to see the industry represented well. Hopefully it also helps some viewers to feel more comfortable discussing death.