Our first online Dying Matters Awareness Week events took place recently – in case you missed them, here’s what happened…
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. The company has expanded to now also operate offices across the county in Billinghurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint, employing a team of over 20 local people. With many changes taking place during the last year, the team has adapted to new ways of working. Earlier this month, that included running live online events to mark Dying Matters Awareness Week. Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, continues the story…
Having held our first Dying Matters Awareness Week events in 2018, we were on a roll, with more following in 2019 and planned for 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we were forced to cancel our plans, and Dying Matters Awareness Week was a very quiet affair – we were sadly very busy at the time, and it didn’t feel right to promote ourselves heavily at that point.
We had hoped that things would be different by Dying Matters Awareness Week 2021, but with the UK still being under significant social distancing measures, we had to choose between another year without events, or moving them online.
Our successful online event in December 2020 gave us the confidence and inspiration to run more online events, and we decided to organise two – one where we’d host a panel of experts from the industry, and another focusing on our own business specifically.
And so it came to be that, earlier this month, we did just that! It’s unlike anything else I’ve done in my career as an event manager: one of my greatest worries is always that the time, effort and expense that goes into putting on an in-person event is wasted if turnout is low on the day; to me, this felt much lower risk as, although it might not have been nice, we at least wouldn’t have had the financial burden to consider!
We were all thrilled when we had several registrations for both events, plus interest in receiving links to the recorded versions, it was very encouraging. I assembled a panel to include a range of industry businesses, in order to give guests as interesting an experience as possible. Everyone logged on promptly and with only a couple of the standard wi-fi glitches and, ‘we can’t see you’ moments before any guests joined us, we were off.
Abi hosted our first event, posing questions to the panel including asking them how they came to be part of the funeral industry, and what changes they’d seen during their time in the industry. It was lovely to hear that, having entered from different backgrounds, all participants found the funeral industry to be welcoming and kind, and valued the service that independent funeral directors such as ourselves provide. They’ve all been keen to listen to what customers want, which has made them excellent suppliers to work with over the years.
Several noted that they’d seen an increase in personalisation of funerals, and greater diversity in wishes. Felicity, one of our most popular florists, attributed this to the influence of social media, and Anthony of Somerset Willow echoed this, noting that those who have seen something at a funeral they’ve attended have been inspired to seek it out when in the position of arranging a funeral themselves.
It was also fascinating to hear our celebrant, Terri, say that in her first six months as a celebrant, she conducted two funerals. This was because, 18 years ago, many funeral directors didn’t know what a celebrant did, never mind customers, but having got the word out, she became incredibly busy. There was also talk of big changes in how people handle bereavements, and involve children in the process of funerals. Abi and I were both excited to hear from our guest Clare Shaw that she’s soon to publish a bereavement book specifically to support teenagers. Clare’s children’s books aimed at younger children have been incredibly well-received by our customers and local primary schools, and I have no doubt that the latest addition to the range will be excellent.
Later in the week, Abi and I shared another open conversation, this time about Freeman Brothers and funeral directing specifically. Having discussed our routes into the funeral industry, we talked about changes which have taken place for the funeral sector during our respective tenures at Freeman Brothers. Some people may be surprised to know both how extensive these are, and how they are and aren’t linked to changes enforced by circumstances throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abi shared that, when she joined, the vast majority of funerals in our area involved a church service, and that even the hymns used were from a rather short list of options! Slowly, people have started to make different requests, and felt far less pressure to have a church service, instead choosing to have a religious or non-religious service at a crematorium, and incorporating music personalised to the tastes of the person who has died.
More people are now discussing their funeral wishes prior to their death, which is something that we’re pleased about. Research has shown – and our experience matches this – that the most important factor for those arranging the funeral is that the Deceased person’s wishes are followed. And in order to do this, a conversation needs to have been had prior to their death! Whilst this is still incredibly challenging – and even impossible – for some people, progress has been made, and people are also now more aware that there are alternatives to chatting; it is possible to make a record of your wishes, or take out a pre-paid funeral plan, in order to ensure that they may be carried out.
Our final point of discussion was the one thing that we’d like people to have thought about which could make things more straightforward. Abi’s response was something I’ve heard her say several times previously – so I know it to be an accurate reflection of her thoughts! She wanted to again impress upon people that talking about death doesn’t make it happen, and that there is only benefit in speaking about funeral wishes. I wanted to take this a step further with my response, and point out to our audience that it’s prudent to have an ideal set of wishes, plus a contingency.
This is something which we had always advised in certain circumstances, but has become more relevant during the pandemic. For example, more people than ever before would like to donate their bodies to medical science. It’s important that those with this wish know that they must complete the paperwork themselves, prior to their death. It’s also worth knowing that their body may be rejected by the medical school when the time comes, through no fault of their own, and this is where many sadly come unstuck, as their loved ones do not know their alternate wishes.
With restrictions changing quickly and frequently throughout 2020 and so far in 2021, many have been faced with compromises they wouldn’t like to make, and so again, it’s been important to have a Plan B, plus a reasoning as to why your wishes are as they are, so that a substitute may be found if possible.
Our Dying Matters Awareness Week events have again been a great success – dates for our 2022 events will be announced as soon as we can make arrangements, and our fingers are firmly crossed that we can again meet in person!
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