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.

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Bereaved Families to Receive Funeral Expenses Payment Sooner 0

Family holds up piggy bank spilling out coins

Families in need of help with funeral costs will now receive it much sooner. The welcome move comes as a result of a change in the way the Funeral Expenses Payment is handled.

The Funeral Expenses Payment helps bereaved families on certain benefits pay for a funeral with a one-off grant. The average payment is around £1,500.

Previously, families had to have a date set for the funeral in order to apply. Now, they can simply give an approximate date, so long as the other details needed for the claim are all present and correct.

The change is expected to make getting help with funeral costs much swifter and less stressful for the 800 people a week who make a Funeral Expenses Claim.

DWP Minister Will Quince said:

These important changes will make the very difficult time of planning a funeral or cremation that bit easier for bereaved families. Helping families access Funeral Expenses Payments sooner and more quickly means they can focus on the much more important task of arranging a proper send-off for their loved one.

This update follows on from another important update to the Funeral Expenses Payment, which removed the need to submit a final invoice from a funeral director to make a claim. Instead, families can use the initial contract with the funeral director to act as proof of the funeral’s cost. This means that it’s now possible to apply for and receive a grant before the funeral takes place.

Together, the two updates are welcome news for bereaved families in need and for the funeral professionals who support them.

To find out more about the help available for funeral costs, take a look at our guide here.

We’re making Beyond free 1

Beyond mascot

At Beyond, we have been building a consumer brand for after life services since 2015.

Our mission is to overhaul a sector which has been left behind by digital progress, where the consumer has been disenfranchised of any power, choice or equity by market forces, and incumbent players desperate to maintain the status quo.

We believe that showing easily comparable online pricing for funerals is crucial to making the market fair for consumers and we’re proud that in the last 4 years, we’ve helped over 40% of funeral directors do so, (some unwillingly) on our price comparison website (PCW).

But 40% isn’t enough.

Where we can, we give back. Our digital will service was free for over a year, resulting in thousands of low-income users making wills and leaving legacy gifts to charities.

And in that vein, I am pleased to announce that today we are making our PCW entirely free for funeral directors (it has always been free for consumers).

  • All funeral directors can now maintain a profile and pricing on Beyond at no cost.
  • We will not rank any price-transparent funeral director over another. Pari Passu.
  • All website and phone enquiries will go through to the funeral director.
  • Our other services for funeral directors such as online obituaries and financing remain free

By providing this pro bono service, we hope to encourage the remaining 800 Dignity PLC, 1,000 Coop, 200 Funeral Partners and 2,000 independent funeral branches, who don’t currently show easily comparable pricing online, to take that positive step.

We urge them to take control of their profiles, to enter their pricing, edit their own business descriptions, and stand alongside the growing minority who are leading the industry away from obfuscation towards price transparency.

There’s really no legitimate reason not to.

Ian Strang

Beyond (Founder & CEO)