Booking a funeral (part two) – your questions answered

Abi Pattenden follows up on her recent post on the increasing wait between death and the funeral by exploring the role customer choice can play...

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Abi Pattenden, Manager of Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
Abi Pattenden, Manager of Freeman Brothers

Freeman Brothers has been based in Sussex since 1855 and has been funeral directors serving our local communities ever since. Our offices in Billingshurst, Crawley, Horsham and Hurstpierpoint strive to step beyond simply offering a funeral to providing meaningful information not only at the time of need but also in advance of such a time. Manager, Abi Pattenden follows up on her recent post on the increasing wait between death and the funeral by exploring the role customer choice can play in this.

‘I wanted to talk a bit more about how choices around the funeral, and a customer’s circumstances, can really have a bearing on how long the period between someone dying and their funeral can be.

‘This is best illustrated by comparison, and I’ve chosen to reflect on the changes between the year I started at Freeman Brothers, 2007, and today. I’m assuming that a person died on a specific day and looking at choices between that and the funeral. We’ll assume the people had expected deaths, in local nursing homes, where the funeral is a cremation at the local crematorium.

‘Let’s talk about a fictional person who died on a Saturday, the first day of any month, in 2007. We receive a telephone call from the nursing home to collect them and bring them into our care in the Chapel of Rest. The Sunday, where nothing can happen due to lack of availability of doctors, registrars, and the crematorium to make a booking, is (by my definition of not including the day of death itself) day 1 of the ‘waiting time’.

On Monday, day 2, the family collects the death certificate from the GP and telephones Freeman Brothers to have a provisional conversation. The Registrar has no appointments that day but can see them on Tuesday, day 3, so they come to see us afterwards. They don’t want the funeral too quickly, but otherwise don’t mind when, so their arranger suggests a week might be an appropriate length of time. They agree, and the crematorium has timeslots available, and so a booking is made for Tuesday 11th, day 10. They wouldn’t have wanted the service at 9.00am but consider 11.00am to be suitable – late enough that everyone can travel after rush hour. The wait between the death and the funeral is therefore 9 days.

This family, like most families in 2007, has chosen a veneered coffin from the standard range which can be furnished by day 5 at the very latest. They are happy to have the service conducted by their local Church of England minister, or a member of the retired clergy, as most people then were. This means the service is broadly set – they are able to choose which Bible reading they want and to provide information enabling the minister to include a short tribute. The service will usually include a hymn, and there is a standard repertoire of these that the crematorium organist can play. They don’t feel the need to choose any special music so ask their funeral arranger for some ideas – she suggests a favourite, appropriate piece. There is some paperwork to complete which needs to be at the crematorium during day 9, which is also when the music needs to be advised. She does that by phone, as is normal. In reality, everything was ready for the funeral to take place by day 6.

Let’s consider the same scenario for a fictional person who dies on Saturday – the first day of any month in 2019. Again, the count starts on the Sunday after they have died. Again, the family member calls Freeman Brothers on Monday but now things are different. Far more GPs now work part time, and the only one who can complete the certificate won’t be working until Wednesday. The Registrar has no appointments until late on Wednesday and so the funeral arrangements are made on Thursday – already day 5. Like many families, they choose a willow coffin, which won’t be received until day 10 (as they take 3 working days to make and deliver), and also want a visual tribute and to choose all their own music. This affects the crematorium booking because, as well as there now being paperwork which has to be received there three days beforehand, there is a 72 working hour deadline for receipt of the photos for the visual tribute. Because of these two factors, the funeral cannot now take place before day 11, or Wednesday 12th. The 9-day timescale of 12 years prior is now impossible to achieve.

As is increasingly common, several other family members wish to be involved in the meeting with the Celebrant, and as they all live a distance away, this can’t happen until the weekend. Because he then needs time to create the service, and might need the family to make further decisions after their meeting (which takes place on Sunday, day 8), the arranger knows a few days will be needed for this. Decisions about music probably won’t be made before this meeting; it then needs to be ordered online and recorded on a form for the crematorium. The family will also need time to source and upload the photos for their visual tribute. She therefore suggests Friday 14th, day 13. However, the crematorium doesn’t have a slot available after 11.00am.

Our family in this case study really wanted the service on a Friday afternoon because of the simplicity of the logistics. Attendees who don’t have to fly in can travel on Friday morning so don’t miss work on Thursday. The reception can go on for as long as people wish to stay and those who want to can make arrangements to stay locally on Friday night and go home over the weekend.

The reception is increasingly important as a chance to catch up with people who we see in person less often due to increasing distances between families. The world of work is different too, and many people feel they are not able to have more than minimal time off to attend a funeral service. The likelihood of family members abroad is growing all the time as people increasingly move further away from their home area.

This is a common request: Friday is now the busiest day for funerals for Freeman Brothers and many other funeral directors. The arranger discusses the possibility of a service on Monday 17th, day 16. This would mean attendees are able to travel the previous day if needed, but the family wants the reception later in the day (to offer afternoon tea not lunch) and doesn’t want people to feel they need to be leaving early to be back home before work on Tuesday. They decide a few extra days is not an issue – enabling them to have both their preferred day of the week AND time of day, giving them extra time to plan the service and the reception. It’s also more time to decide the music and gather photos. Therefore, they decide on the afternoon of Friday 21st, day 20 – although the funeral could have physically happened at any time after day 11.

Of course, families have every right to make these decisions, and the implications of them are for the funeral director to explain and manage. There are considerations such as the need to store a Deceased person respectfully and appropriately for a longer period of time, and the effects that the delay may have on their condition. However, as the considerations around dates and times become more personal, as funerals are, there is no reason to suspect a reversal in this trend, and therefore the logistical considerations for funeral service will have to alter too.


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Written by Abi Pattenden


January 10, 2020

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