National Grief Awareness Week 2020

National Grief Awareness Week 2020 begins today - Becky shares how Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors has chosen to mark it

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Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
Becky Hughes of Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors

Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855.  Today, the company is in the hands of the fifth generation of the Freeman family to operate the business, and has further offices in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint.  With 2020 having been a year like no other, the organisation has, like many others, taken a different approach to promotional and marketing activities.  Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, gives some insight into what it’s been like to have death, dying and bereavement pushed further into the media spotlight this year, and how Freeman Brothers has responded…

Today marks the start of the second annual National Grief Awareness Week, organised by bereavement charity, The Good Grief Trust.  When we marked the inaugural National Grief Awareness Week in 2019, none of us knew what was in store for 2020.  This may seem like an obvious comment to make, for it is, in fact, always the case.  However, several words – such as ‘unprecedented’ – have truly been attached to 2020 in a way none of us could have imagined.

Following the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the planet, bereavement has impacted us as an international community like never before.  Plans have been disrupted and lives changed – whether this is due to turning our homes into the multi-purpose unit that is an office, school, and restaurant, or because we have contracted the virus or experienced the death of loved ones due to it, everyone has been affected somehow.

Whether we have been bereaved or not this year, bereavement has been a topic which we have experienced by way of the media.  Many of us will easily recall the devastating images which emerged from places such as Italy in the spring of hospital staff struggling in full PPE (another term which has entered common parlance!).  All of us in the UK have, at some point, been subject to a stay at home order, meaning that we cannot socialise or shop as we would expect to be able to.

The campaign message for National Grief Awareness Week this year is, ‘Distance shouldn’t mean we can’t share our grief’.  I think this is a great choice, clearly bearing how 2020 has led us to lead physically-distanced lives.  It’s been a time when the internet has been used as a force for good, with many people who hadn’t previously getting to grips with video call and livestream technologies, in order to continue to feel close to people and subjects they love.  It’s also how we’ve remained informed.

In addition to events and social lives taking place online, the internet has become a newer broadcaster.  All sorts of organisations – from those who were already proficient in the medium to those of us who are taking our first tentative steps – have taken advantage of the ability to share their message easily and quickly with the world at large.

Bereavement and other topics around death and dying still seem to have a PR problem, and are topics which remain less appealing to the casual viewer.  However, we’ve again been shown how many different ways there are of framing a conversation.  For example, here at Freeman Brothers, no fewer than three film crews have visited throughout the course of the year: first on the scene (and pre-COVID!) was Silvertip Films, who shot a short promotional video to advertise the fact that we would be sponsoring Horsham Film Festival.  Next was BBC South News, who recorded the story of a funeral which took place during our first national lockdown.  Third was an independent filmmaker, producing a documentary on keyworkers during the pandemic.  What was most surprising for us was that two of these organisations approached us, rather than us reaching out to them.  It became clear that there was a burgeoning appetite for our story to be shared.

With this in mind, I’ve adjusted our social media and blog content this year, offering different insight into the lives of myself and the team.  I spent time encouraging my colleagues to share their personalities, and learned a lot more about each of them myself in the process!  It’s interesting to find that, because you work alongside someone, you believe that you know a lot about them, when often this isn’t the case.

Being a fan of social media, I find it quite easy to share parts of my life and personality online, but I recognise that this isn’t something that everyone finds appropriate or comfortable.  Indeed, there are boundaries that I draw as well.  But there is a level to which it’s right for us as a business, and I’ve found my colleagues to be forthcoming when shown that it has a positive impact.  I think that some of them had just assumed that nobody would be interested in learning what kinds of cakes we like to bake when stuck at home in lockdown!

Something which was unthinkable for us a year ago was sharing footage of a funeral procession online.  Through respect for those involved, we wouldn’t have captured this kind of footage, but things changed when funeral attendances were restricted, and people still wanted to see what happened.  Having shared footage of a procession for a postman’s funeral, we captured more later in the year, when a young biker’s funeral took place.  People reacted positively rather than negatively, and we were again encouraged to think about plans for how we could support people digitally.  Knowing that we’ve helped people is satisfying, and whilst we still weren’t sure that there would be much interest in attending a service shown online by a funeral director, we decided that if we didn’t do it, we wouldn’t find out!

Following much planning and preparation, the service which we would’ve liked to have shared in person with everyone broadcasts tonight.  We contacted our customers prior to the service, asking whether they would like their loved one’s name read out, and we were overwhelmed by the response.  In addition, this meant sending participant packs to those who replied – I’m so pleased to know that there will be people sat at home watching and joining in.  It isn’t the same as a live event for any of us – I kind of wonder whether this is what it’s like if you are involved in TV production – but it’s great to know that people are keen.

The service broadcasts live on YouTube this evening, and we’d love to know what you think of it, so do let us know either here, via email, or by sharing your thoughts on social media using #FBRemembrance.  If you hadn’t been able to get in touch to have your loved one’s name read out, there is a dedication page to accompany the event, where it’s free of charge to leave a message for someone you miss.  This is also how we’re raising funds for our nominated charity, Jigsaw (South East), which supports bereaved children across the region.

National Grief Awareness Week continues all the way through to Tuesday 8th December, and I’m looking forward to this important campaign continuing to highlight an issue which we all face at some point.  Hopefully, when the 2021 Awareness Week rolls around, we will be able to share together in person, and have a different experience again.


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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

December 2, 2020

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