(This post was originally written for an industry blog, but will hopefully be of interest to others in funeral and end of life care organisations).
Do you sometimes wish you could do more for bereaved families?
Not in the sense of the actual funeral arrangements, which naturally will be carried out to the best of your (and your company’s) ability, but more to help the distressed family or individual in front of you to carry the burden of bereavement. I have talked at length over the past few years with many funeral directors who have expressed a wish to be able to ‘do more’ to support their clients within the resources that they have available.
We know that bereavement is one of life’s great stresses and while many people get through the very acute grieving period with the help of family and friends, some of us will need a little extra support to help us to come to terms with our ‘new normal’ and all that the death of the person we loved means for us. A wise man once said that bereavement is all about the relationship that has been lost, and when we can answer the question ‘what have I lost?’ (and understand that this could mean love and affection, our home, financial stability, hopes and dreams or a thousand other losses) only then can we understand the impact of the bereavement on our lives and begin to find new meaning.
Although funeral services staff witness the difficult experiences of death and bereavement on a daily basis and may be somewhat accustomed to this, they are not immune to the distress of those they serve. What does strike me however, is how often funeral staff are themselves largely unsupported, even though they offer such important emotional first aid to their clients at this most difficult time. Added to this, any funeral director will tell you that some deaths strike ‘closer to home’ than others, or may have a special resonance or poignancy that means they stay with them for longer, or are more upsetting or more difficult to leave at the door of the workplace.
So how can we offer better bereavement support to our clients and at the same time ensure that we support ourselves? The answer is not a simple one and as with everything in life depends on the time and resources you have available. Let’s start with information – bereaved people need information and wherever possible education about grief, its potential effects and how to find additional support should it be needed. Start with your website – every funeral director should have good quality, well written information for bereaved people about grief and sources of additional support after bereavement. If you can’t write this yourself, find someone who can or even copy something that is already out there – anything on the internet is in the public domain, so as long as you acknowledge the source of the information you should not find yourself in difficulty. Next, consider offering clients leaflets, or even a reading list with website links and useful resources; there are some excellent ones out there. Google your local bereavement organisations – they will be charities, church groups or based in hospices or hospitals. Many NHS Acute Trusts have a bereavement service – where possible make a local connection and ask who else is out there to help you support bereaved families. Use the resources offered by large charities such as Cruse Bereavement Care and Child Bereavement UK – they are normally free and often downloadable. If you would still like to do more, consider setting up a coffee morning for bereaved families, or even a bereavement group or grief education course such as those offered by Grief Journey. These are much more resource intensive, but if there is little other provision in your community then they will pay dividends in terms of community profile, customer retention and also job satisfaction.
The key to improving bereavement care is planning – thinking about what support you have observed that people want and need – and of course budget. Sadly, very little comes for free these days, but as a hallmark of a caring business, offering good bereavement care to your clients should more than pay for itself. Likewise, make sure you offer the same opportunities of care for your staff; access the resources that are already out there through member organisations – for independent funeral directors SAIF offers ‘SAIFSupport’ a free counselling service for staff from member businesses – or if you cannot access these then consider buying into an employee care scheme, or ensuring that staff have emotional support from a manager, chaplain or other appropriate person. By improving care for funeral services staff, you will ensure that bereaved families experience the very best service that your business can offer.