This week, Dying Matters marks the middle of the campaign year with ‘#IRemember’ – Becky explains more…
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. Today, the company has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint – and employs people local to these areas, who serve their communities with great dedication. For the past three years in particular, the organisation has participated in the annual Dying Matters Awareness Week campaigns, which take place in May. In order to continue to encourage these important conversations throughout the year, the campaign’s organisers have recently implemented an activity called ‘#IRemember’ mid-way through the year. Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, explains more…
This week, Hospice UK is promoting ‘#IRemember’ in order to encourage people to talk about those loved ones who are no longer with us. As we move towards winter and the end of another year, many people find themselves reflecting on the past, and this combined with 2020’s unique social isolation can cause increased feelings of loneliness. We are encouraged, however, to find our memories uplifting and positive, and to consider how fortunate we are to have loved someone in order to feel the loss of them.
Many people are indeed sharing their memories this week via social media using the #IRemember hashtag, and I hope that it’s providing a sense of comfort for those who are concerned that they are alone in their sadness or bereavement at this time of year.
For us at Freeman Brothers, the critical part of the Dying Matters campaign is encouraging members of the public to discuss their funeral wishes. Our experience has often been that this is something that people are reluctant to do and, subsequently, when a death occurs, there can be debates or arguments regarding the funeral arrangements that the Deceased person would have preferred.
Although death and dying have been high on the conversational agenda throughout 2020, it’s been within a very specific context. The international impact of COVID-19 has led to an increased number of deaths in many countries and, as such, many of us are talking about those deaths which have occurred this year. A huge part of the work that I do at Freeman Brothers is encouraging people to be more open about discussing death, and many people think that 2020 has done my job for me… but it also hasn’t.
What I’ve seen this year is an increased number of people sharing that someone close to them has died during the pandemic – whether from coronavirus or due to another incident or health condition – but we still aren’t discussing death as we should be. We’re still very much bound up in the moment, which is unsurprising. Changes are still occurring daily, with the UK’s government in particular likely to make spur of the moment changes to how we live our lives and go about our business, and a continued question of, ‘what will happen next?!’ We’re very much in the situation of feeling unable to plan much, from when or where we’ll go on holiday, to who we’ll meet up with at the weekend, or around which table we’ll eat Christmas dinner.
And whilst all of this is happening, few people are contemplating having these challenging conversations about death and dying. Our minds are very much focused on those close to us who may be approaching the end of their lives anyway, but still not on discussing their wishes with them, or even sharing our own.
Because, unfortunately, death can still occur to any of us at any stage during our lives. Admittedly, at the height of lockdown, when traffic was eerily quiet, the likelihood of being hit by a bus felt particularly slim, but the threat of other life-changing (or ending) circumstances remains.
Many people would say that it’s even more difficult than usual to set out our funeral wishes, given that what is possible is particularly changeable due to social distancing. Our advice would always be to ensure that you record your absolute ideal wishes and that you make clear what you would gladly compromise on and what is more important to you. Because, even without a pandemic changing things, there could be other reasons for plans having to be changed.
Bequeathing bodies to medical science is increasingly popular but there are many reasons for this not being possible in the event of a person’s death. These range from the ultimate condition of their body – grounds for rejection range from body mass index (BMI) being too high or low, to recently having undergone surgery, and many other circumstances – to the date of their death – bodies are actually gifted to medical schools, and are unable to be taken into the school’s care during holiday periods and this, clearly, is a factor which isn’t able to be controlled!
Another example is something within my own preferences: I’m keen to make the most of an environmentally-friendly option, such as Resomation (alkaline hydrolysis, commonly referred to as ‘water cremation’) and cryomation, neither of which are currently available in the UK. However, they may be by the time that I die, so I have made mention of this request in my current plans, and will update it as necessary, because in addition to circumstances surrounding legality changing, my preferences might too!
The feedback that we’ve received from many of our customers this year has been that, despite the restrictions on funeral service attendances, and our ability to be able to meet with customers face to face, we have continued to deliver an excellent service. Funerals have been described as intimate, and heartfelt, and even peaceful. We are still able to personalise services, by choosing the music you’d like, dressing the coffin with flowers in a favourite colour, arranging someone to lead the service who will tailor the content appropriately, and many other ways.
However, in order to personalise these elements, it is necessary to have had a discussion with the person who has died. Whilst conversations about death and dying can feel uncomfortable, there are many benefits to having them. It’s important to remember that talking about death doesn’t make it happen, and we here at Freeman Brothers are living proof of that!
If you are looking for a way to frame the conversation, look no further than our ‘Big Deal, Small Talk’ leaflets, which provide a space to note your funeral wishes, and asks the questions which require answers. As I mentioned previously, I would advocate for planning with the assumption that you will be able to have the funeral that you’d like, but to be aware that amendments may have to be made, and to therefore inform your loved ones of where you’re happy for compromises to be made.
This leaflet should then be stored in a safe place, but somewhere which is accessible in the event of your death. Many people assume that their solicitor is the best person to hold such a document, but this actually isn’t the case – most funerals take place before probate is fully handled, and it is perfectly safe to have information pertaining to a funeral stored separately where it can be accessed swiftly.
We are looking forward to a time when it will be safe to open funerals up to larger gatherings again, and to hear about stories and memories being shared at receptions. But before that time, it’s important to keep talking about death, dying and bereavement, in order to appreciate that we aren’t alone, and there’s no need for it to be a taboo.
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