Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. The company now has further offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint – and employs local people who relish serving their communities. Today, Becky takes the opportunity to reflect on the events of the past year, as the UK takes stock at this stage of the coronavirus pandemic…
Today, we mark the anniversary of the beginning of the UK’s first lockdown, a measure which was put in place to contain COVID-19 transmissions and establish a national response to the issue. I’ve found the approach to this date a mixture of things, as I’m sure many have: disbelief that it’s been quite so long since we first began to live in this way; shock at the number of deaths which have happened; and a combination of unease and anticipation of various activities beginning to resume.
Earlier this year, Marie Curie announced that they would be leading a National Day of Reflection, which we at Freeman Brothers felt was only right. The introduction of lockdown restrictions for the first time was a landmark for the UK: we are incredibly fortunate to live in a generally-unrestricted culture, and to have our freedoms and businesses curtailed in this manner was something the majority of us had never experienced. Some have drawn similarities with living during World War II, but I think that’s overly simplistic, and not fair to either generation.
Those living in 1940s Britain had very different lifestyles to those we’ve adopted today, even prior to the war. Without even mentioning things we consider very basic technologies today – such as TV, the internet, and even small household appliances – people did different jobs (and many women didn’t work at all), were educated differently (if at all), and therefore also migrated differently. Leisure time was further spent differently via the nature of air travel not being possible; something that many of us have missed is the ability to hop on a plane, sometimes at very short notice, and experience a different place for a few days, or visit loved ones living further afield.
In 2020 and 2021, many people have experienced lockdown at a significant physical distance from family, friends, colleagues and other people they regularly relate to. Equally, those of us who are part of a larger household have found ourselves spending a greater amount of time with our fellow occupants – I don’t think I’ve seen so much of my parents (who I live with) since prior to my teenage years! Both extremes have created pressures, as we’ve all discovered whilst adapting to our new way of living.
The other significantly different factor between the present day and the 1940s is the media, and how we consume it. We live in a culture of 24-hour news which isn’t just delivered via audio from a large box in the corner of the room. It’s fed to us via our social networks – both those we have personal relationships with via messaging, and those we follow on social media – as well as through official news channels such as print, digital, and television journalism. Propaganda posters which were used in public places and print media in the 1940s are still well-known today, both as historical artefacts and the basis of a lot of contemporary design. But during World War II, they were part of a much smaller range of options for disseminating information than we have today.
Today, the news and information cycle can feel inescapable – from our phones pinging with notifications from all kinds of apps, to rolling coverage across several TV channels, and social networking sites displaying trending topics about pending announcements. To that end, we’ve been unable to ignore the issues at hand, whether it be a debate about where and under what circumstances face coverings should be worn, to the efficacy of vaccines, and how many people are allowed to gather in a public place.
The general public has also been faced with statistics about daily deaths in a way which has not been seen in this country for generations. From our perspective as funeral directors, every death since March 2020 has been impacted by the virus, whether the death was a direct result of it or not. This is due to funerals and funeral arranging being subject to social distancing restrictions, and attendance at funerals being limited by our ability to travel, or our own health occasionally.
There is no doubt that, for this and many other reasons, the last year has been a stressful one. It is something worth recognising. Our collective efforts in combating the virus, whether we work in a position directly linked to healthcare or other ‘keyworker’ roles or not; our main contribution may have been as straightforward as limiting social contact, and practicing enhanced hygiene measures. Everyone has made sacrifices, from annual holidays abroad and postponing social functions, to setting up offices at home and being unable to see loved ones in person. And in addition to this, many of us have experienced bereavement during this time, and supported others who have been bereaved.
In recognition of this enormous social and cultural change, we have been contemplating a memorial for some time, and I’m pleased to confirm our plans today. As the National Reflection Day campaign has been created by Marie Curie, daffodils are being used to symbolise the occasion. Our branches have been decorated with daffodils today – if you happen to be passing any of them, we hope that you enjoy them; we will also be sharing photos via our Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn pages, so do look out for these. My colleagues who are working on our funerals today will be wearing yellow ties and daffodil buttonholes, as a subtle mark of recognition.
We are also committing to creating four permanent memorials, one for each of our offices. These will comprise of a plot of daffodil bulbs, which we hope will continue to flower each Spring, and a plaque created by our colleagues at J.Gumbrill. Each memorial will be sited in a public place, so that if you wish to visit, you may do so at any time of year, to pause and reflect. We hope that, when the stones are ready to be laid and it’s time to plant the bulbs, we will be able to invite you to join us for a brief service, although this will depend upon social distancing restrictions at the time. We will be documenting the process either way, and will share images and videos with you.
The memorials will be located at:
- Hills Cemetery, Horsham
- St Mary’s, Billingshurst
- Locations in Crawley and Hurstpierpoint to be confirmed
For us, this is a community memorial, a shared space where it’s acceptable to pause and take stock. Whether you are remembering someone you knew who died during this time, or reflecting on your experience of how your life was impacted in other ways, any response is valid, and all are welcome to spend time.
However you are spending today, we hope that it passes peacefully for you, and we look forward to gathering together when such things are again safely possible.