What Makes a Good Funeral? 0

A wicker coffin decorated with flowers by the team at Full Circle Funerals

What makes a ‘good’ funeral?

Most people in the funeral profession have their own (usually quite personal) idea of what the answer to this question should be.

For the eco-minded funeral director, it’s often things like willow coffins and natural burials. Others pride themselves on their traditional horse-drawn carriages and excellent embalming. And there’s always the odd funeral director who seems to think it’s all about having a lot of cars (so many cars).

But what happens when we ask bereaved families what they think?

Dr Sarah Jones, funeral director at Open Circle Funerals and author of the excellent Funerals, Your Way, has just completed a study that did just that. A collaboration with Dr Julie Rugg from the University of York’s Cemetery Research Group, the research revealed the five key factors that matter to families most. We caught up with Sarah to find out more.

 

Hi Sarah! What inspired you to do this research?

Having started my working life in healthcare, I was ‘brought up’ to make sure that everything I did was based on evidence.

Once I began arranging funerals, I naturally wanted to take the same approach. So, I began looking at all the writing available on funerals. But what I found was mostly based on anecdote, opinion or the personal reflections of professionals. And even the more robust research made assumptions about what was important, without having asked bereaved people themselves. I thought we could do better.

 

What were you trying to find out through your research?

Ultimately, I’d like to understand whether a funeral has any impact on wellbeing at all. What difference does a ‘good’ funeral make?

But before we can look at that, we need to understand what a good funeral is. Which aspects of a funeral are most important to families? Only then can we establish if, when all these factors are in place, there is an impact on how bereaved people feel.

 

How did you conduct your research?

Dr Julie Rugg and I designed and co-lead the study with the University of York. We recruited participants using newspaper articles and social media and asked them open questions about their experience of arranging or attending a funeral. We spoke to more than 50 people. Meanwhile, we had ethical oversight from an advisory committee made up of industry experts.

 

People aren’t always comfortable talking about death. Was it hard to find participants?

Actually, no! We thought that it might be, but in the end we had to stop recruiting new participants once we had interviewed 53 people. People were surprisingly forthcoming, too: the average interview was around an hour and a half long. We gathered a huge amount of data from these ‘experts by experience’!

 

What did you find out?

Once our interviews were complete, Dr Rugg analysed them to understand what people consistently said mattered to them. The five themes that emerged were:An infographic showing Dr Jones' findings

  1. Were funeral wishes known?
  2. Were decisions inclusive?
  3. Was the funeral director responsive?
  4. Was contact with the body helpful?
  5. Did the funeral event meet expectations?

 

Why did it matter if funeral wishes were known?

People spoke in detail about how meaningful it was to be able to fulfil funeral wishes after someone has died. If their wishes were unknown, it often meant that the family worried about whether they’d done the right thing. Interestingly, it didn’t seem to matter if the instructions were detailed or not. It was enough to just have some direction.

 

What does it mean that decisions were inclusive?

How well a family worked together to arrange the funeral had a significant impact on how satisfied they were with it. Most families seemed to try hard to manage this. But in some cases, people felt deliberately excluded from arrangements, or felt that their opinions were ignored. These people were the most dissatisfied with the funeral.

 

Any key takeaways for funeral directors?

First impressions count. People often commented on whether the funeral director had got the tone right straight off the bat – and this initial impression seemed to set the tone for the relationship.

One thing that might surprise funeral directors is that while some people wanted to be given a lot of personalisation, choice and control over the funeral, others did not.

Essentially, funeral directors need to have the emotional intelligence and skill to be able to understand and deliver the kind of support that each individual family wants and needs. There’s no one-size-fits-all option.

 

You mention contact with the body: do families want more, or less?

It varied. While some people found being with the body consoling, others didn’t need or want that contact at all. But time and again we heard that it was important. Contact with the body of the person who had died, at the right time, was a key talking point. It matters a great deal to many people.

 

What about embalming?

Not wanting to bias our interviewees, we didn’t ask any direct questions about embalming. But the people who raised it themselves did so in a negative way – citing various interventions which had occurred without their prior knowledge.

 

Did any of your findings really surprise you?

For me, one of the most striking findings was that different people found meaning in very different elements of the funeral.

For some people, this happened at the time of death.  For others, it was the act of carrying the coffin, writing the eulogy or lovingly preparing the written service booklet.  Some people found the choice of coffin or flowers important; others couldn’t even remember what had been chosen.

 

What would you like others to draw from your work?

Funeral services are under a lot of scrutiny at the moment. It’s the perfect time to reassess the kind of support we offer bereaved families. And there’s no denying that the people who shared their accounts with us really challenged some of the current thinking about funerals and what people want from a funeral director.

What I’d like this study to do is help people in the funeral profession benefit from the perspective of bereaved people. After all, we all want to offer the best possible support to the families who place their trust in us.

Want to find out more about the study? A full report can be downloaded for free here.

Previous ArticleNext Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comparing Attitudes to Wills 0

What happens after we die?

It’s a spiritual question for some. For others, it’s about what happens to our money, belongings and reputation – the mark we leave on the world.

The UK's Attitude to Wills

Ready to make your will? Step this way

At Beyond, it costs just £90 to make a will from the comfort of your own sofa. 

Every will is checked by our in-house experts, who are on hand to answer your questions every step of the way. 

So, why wait? Click here to make your will today.

The Unexpected Rise of Cremation Jewellery 0

cremation jewellery
If you stopped someone on the street 15 years ago and asked them whether they had any human ashes on them, they would have thought you were mad.
 
Now – well, they’ll probably still think you’re mad – but you’re far more likely to get a “yes” for an answer. More and more people are carrying a loved one’s ashes with them in ‘keepsake’ jewellery. A once-tiny industry is suddenly flourishing. But why this, and why now?
 

Memorial jewellery has a history

This is not a new thing. The Victorians (ever morbid) were keen on memorial jewellery of all kinds. Often made from jet and other black materials, these pieces fit with the strict mourning dress code of the day
 
At the time, British cremation was still in its infancy. So, Victorian memorial jewellery didn’t usually contain ashes. But many pieces contained a small memento, like a lock of hair. They were a way to show the world that you treasured a loved one’s memory.
 
Eventually, memorial jewellery fell out of fashion. People were living longer, and by WWI the culture around death and mourning had shifted. But the precedent was set…
 

Attitudes towards cremation have changed

Cremation was controversial at first. The British Home Office banned the first crematorium from use shortly after its construction. It took years (and lawsuits) before cremations could regularly take place.
 
But, by the late 1960s, the number of families choosing this option had overtaken burial. And as that number grew, there was a gradual shift in what people decided to do with the ashes, as well.
 
In the 60s, around 80% of families buried or scattered ashes in the remembrance garden at the crematorium. Now, that figure is completely reversed, with 80% of families taking the ashes away with them. 
 
Preferences have also shifted away from the big-urn-on-the-mantlepiece towards scattering. People often don’t want the ashes (and there are alot of ashes) in the house. While it can be comforting to keep a loved one close by, large urns can be intimidating, and the question of where to put them equally daunting
 
By comparison, scattering the ashes on a hillside or river has real romantic appeal. It can feel like more of a final resting place. A small ceremony, somewhere that resonates with the person they love, can offer a kind of closure. In fact, 79% of people who want a cremation would like their ashes scattered.
 


A happy medium

Ashes jewellery

But scattering does have drawbacks. More than a few people who have scattered ashes have found themselves missing them. By then, it’s too late to do anything about it. So, many of us have started to wonder if there was a way to do both: put the person to rest, but also keep them close. 

 
Enter ashes jewellery. Families can scatter most of the ashes, and keep a small amount back to place in a locket or ring. And over the last few years, this way of memorialising someone seems to have blossomed. Now, there is a wide selection of ashes jewellery to choose from. From hollow pendants to clever pieces with the ashes held in glass or resin, there’s something for everyone
 
But, unlike Victorian memorial pieces, these new designs are subtle. Rather than broadcasting the owner’s loss, they allow the wearer to feel close to their loved one – without anyone the wiser.
 

Future or fad?

Only time will tell if ashes jewellery is a brief fashion or here to stay. But most people are at least aware of the option, and a number of companies have sprung up to meet this need. It’s also possible we’ll never know quite how popular ashes jewellery is. After all, with the new pieces being so discreet, who else is to know you’re wearing them – unless you tell them …