A-Z

Bereavement due to traumatic death

The role of the funeral director

The people we talked to had all been bereaved through a sudden and traumatic death. They were shocked and needed a lot of support. If a post-mortem investigation was needed people often had to wait for a while before they could arrange the funeral. In other cases a funeral usually followed fairly soon (see ‘The funeral or commemoration’).
 
Most people had asked a funeral director to help them arrange the funeral. Some were not sure which funeral director to use. One of Sarah’s sons rang round half a dozen people and got prices over the phone and then chose one with a name he liked. A college chaplain recommended a good funeral director to Godfrey.
 
Pat also rang several funeral directors and was guided by her ‘gut reaction’ to the way some responded over the phone. It mattered to her that the death was not treated as routine even though she realised that the directors deal with death every day.
 
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Pat was upset by the brusque manner of some of the funeral directors she phoned. She was also...

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Age at interview: 62
Sex: Female
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The other thing I would just say about funeral directors is that I rang several funeral directors and was very much guided by my gut reaction to how they responded on the phone and there were one or two that I just would not have anything to do with. Just because of the way the reception person spoke to me on the phone. And I think that’s as good a reason as any not to choose one and to go for whoever is, is chosen. Because in amongst all this, this, shock and, and horror, comfort is, is grasped, bizarre though it, it is, in choosing things that, that one thinks that one’s loved one would like or would approve of, or would be, would, would find acceptable, or would choose.
 
So what put you off some other funeral directors? The, the way the receptionist…
 
Yes just…
 
…their choice of words? Or…
 
Their, yes, their, their brusqueness, their coldness, their, yes their choice of words. That although one knows as an adult that, that death is an everyday occurrence, it is not to the individual who is having to, having to arrange the funeral of a loved one and it should never, ever, that message should never, ever be given to a bereaved person, that this is, this is a matter of, um] officialdom, it’s run of the mill, and there’s almost a ‘next please’ mentality about it. And that should never, ever happen.
 
So I did avoid those people that gave me those messages. And there is some comfort drawn, as I say, from, from choosing things, choosing flowers, choosing arrangements, choosing what should happen on that dreadful day.
 
And subsequently just on that subject, when my son was brought from the hospital to the place where he last lived, which was somewhere, that although it is 25 miles away from where I live, was the place that I decided was the place he would be buried because he had, we had lived there when he was a child. He had lots of friends there. It was his last address where he lived. And I felt there were so many connections for him in that place.
 
That it was the appropriate place for him. And although I would have liked him to have been nearer me, the place I lived didn’t mean anything to him. So I felt it was appropriate he should be in, in this other place.
 
So when Matthew was brought, and again that was another thing, why couldn’t we bring him?
 
I mean, I know that practically it’s not easy but we weren’t even invited to go along to collect Matthew, by the funeral director. It just struck me that I was told by the funeral, funeral director, “We will be going to collect your son this afternoon.” And it was as if somebody, well it was just as if somebody else was responsible for my child and it was nothing to do with me. And that jarred, that jarred with me as well. 
However, most people said the funeral director that they chose was sympathetic, kind and very helpful. They valued the many services that the funeral director provided. Some were glad that the funeral director dealt with the coroner’s office and found out what was happening to their relative’s body and when it could be released for the funeral. Others were grateful for all the support and advice that they received. Funeral directors helped them select a coffin and to contact ministers (including humanists) to conduct the service. The funeral director also arranged transport to the funeral, either one or more cars or in one case a glass horse-drawn carriage.
 
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The military chose a funeral director who was sensitive and kind. Carole said he drove miles to...

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
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He [the funeral director] was marvelous and compassionate. The Military chose him at, it was when they came to see us and they saw funeral directors round the corner and they asked if we had any preferences, and we said, “No”, because they sorted everything out, and he was a very, very good, very sensitive, because he had to drive a long way to collect our son, and he informed us of every move that was being made. And when he was brought back to our city, a family friend asked if they could see our son, and he [the funeral director] did advise him not to, because after this length of time, obviously it probably wasn’t wise, and yes he was very sensitive, and since then he has actually donated  a memorial book to SAMM. [Support after Murder and Manslaughter], for our memorial service, to have…
 
Oh that’s nice.
 
…something written in every year and that was from the funeral director that we had. But I just visited him to ask him if he knew where we could get a large memorial book, and he said, “I’d like to donate that.”
 

There was lots of paper-work but the funeral director helped. He let her see Ben’s body when she...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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What about the role of the funeral director, the undertaker?
 
He was lovely. Had a young man who was probably in his late 30s, he’d had two sons himself, he had a lot of empathy. He was lovely.
 
And he cried with me. And they were very, very good at,  letting me go, just ringing up and letting me go and see Ben. And the service, everything, I couldn’t fault them they were fantastic. Yes.
 
Did they help you organise the service then?
 
Yes. They, they did everything really because I couldn’t really, I, I’d never planned a funeral before and it’s very difficult when you’re in such a distressed state. So they just asked me what music Ben liked, did a [service] sheet for him, asked me if it was OK. And they did everything.
 
Did they?
 
Yes, yes, which was very good.
 
So was his funeral held at the crematorium or….?
 
It was at the local Catholic Church.
 
Oh how lovely.
 
Yes.
 
So the funeral directors helped you find that, the church?
 
Yes, sorted out the church. The priest came round to see me. They were, they were very good, and what day I wanted. I wanted it on a Friday. Yes, great.
 

 

So did the funeral director then go and collect Ben’s body from the hospital?

 
Yes, they did. They collected the body from the hospital. Then they came round to see me and I filled in all the paperwork. Which was quite, you don’t realise how there’s so much involved. Because then you’ve got to choose your plot and you’ve to apply to the council for your plot of land where you want the burial.  Gravestone, they did everything. Even where to get a gravestone from, because I didn’t know. And, and, you know, help you with the wordage and what do you think you want on it. And things that you want to put in the paper. So he, they were very good.
 
Do you mind me asking how much it all cost? Because some people might not realise how much…
 
The funeral?
 
Yes, the funeral director and everything that he did to help you.
 
The bill was just under £3000. But that, that’s reimbursed because, because Ben was murdered, the criminal injuries pay for that. We, we outlayed it at the time obviously and they reimbursed us about a year after.
 
 
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William wanted his daughter's body to lie in an open coffin in her room until the day of the...

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Age at interview: 48
Sex: Male
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And as a result of the post mortem activities, the face tends to have the appearance of bruising, which I wasn’t really prepared for until I saw her. So I asked the undertaker to put a wee bit more make up on her, and I figured you know cover what appeared to be bruises, then we’d be able to have the open coffin. So she was lying in her bedroom and then when it came for the time for the funeral, the undertaker arrived and we placed a few of her wee favourite nick nacks, her favourite CD, stuff like that in the coffin. And then they put the lid on the coffin and took it out to the hearse and we walked behind it.
 
 
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The funeral director was very good. He helped Sally to choose a coffin. On the day of the funeral...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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What does the funeral director have to do exactly? In case somebody’s thinking, you know, what is a good funeral director? How did you? Why did you say he’s so good?
 
Well I think he’s good because I think, he was just, he said, “You have to understand because every, everyone’s different on a, on a death of someone that dies, and so you have to get, try and get to know the person they leave, pretty quick, to work out what’s the right things,” but again he was on the phone, just saying, “Don’t worry about anything. Don’t worry, just get on with your life I’ll ring you whenever I need anything,” He just rung me at every step of the way really, saying obviously things that I didn’t think about then is, your coffin. And then, “What colour do you want the inside of the coffin?” “Oh, I don’t know what colour,” …so, I went along there and he’s got all his silks out, and he’s just, he was just fine, he was not pushy with anything, he just said, “You know, just take your time, and don’t worry about anything, I’ll sort this out, I’ll sort that out.” And he done all that he could really, that was capable for his doing, but he just said, “You know your Mum’s safe, she’s here, we’re looking after her.” I don’t know, he was just, I just think that they were all really good people. The funeral directors.
 
 
And then what else did the funeral director have to do? Did he come here on the day of the funeral? Or did you meet there, did you go down there?
 
Yes we went up there, yes the day of the funeral, and again there’s a lot of respect there, when they pulled out, they walked for half a mile in front of the funeral car, which, which I thought was really nice, you know everything stopped, and just half a mile, that was all, and then we all got in our cars and which I thought was really nice, but we met him up there, and then he came and had a drink with us afterwards as well, at the wake, it was just all the way through, they just seemed, the support really.
 
 
 
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Rachel found the funeral director helpful. He asked her if she would like to have a lock of Dave...

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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And did they dress him in any particular way [for his funeral], or did you have a chance to dress him as you wanted him?
 
Yes, yes. I don’t, I don’t know what day it was, I was obviously given the clothes that he was obviously brought home in, and I was asked, did I want them? Obviously I was told that they were, there was a lot of blood, and they obviously had to be cut off, they could get rid of them, there wouldn’t be a problem, they would get rid of them for me, or did I want them? And I chose I wanted them. And so they were all wrapped up, neatly, and put in a bag for me, and the clothes I took in were the clothes that, his Arsenal shirt because he was a keen Arsenal supporter, and I put the clothes in that I know he wanted to be, to be dressed in.
 
And so did the people at the funeral parlour dress him for you?
 
Yes, they dressed him.
 
Were they, were they helpful?
 
Very helpful. Very very helpful. They, and they took some cuttings of his hair for me, they were very, very helpful, for all his friends that went up there, because there was lots of items that went in the coffin, including cider and keys to the local pub that he always drank in. They went in there, and there was lots of things went in there. Yeah, lots of gifts went in with him.
 
So the role of the funeral director, or the people who worked there is quite important isn’t it?
 
Yes.
 
How would you sum up what makes a good funeral director or, the person that runs the funeral parlour?
 
…well obviously we could, very caring people and very genuine people with a job that I would wish not to do.
 
But you, you felt that they would always, even you might be thinking things, I think they sometimes knew what you’d be thinking, would answer your question before you asked the question. You know they, like the hair for instance. I would probably wouldn’t have thought about even that, but they asked me, “Would you like,”  you know, and that’s something I wouldn’t have probably, you know I wouldn’t have even have dreamt of, wouldn’t have gone through my head at the time. I might have thought of it afterwards.
 
They said, “Would you like a lock of his hair?”
 
Yes. Yes.
 
That’s a nice idea.
 
Yes, and how many did I like, how many did I want. You know because I got, I got several. And they were just really, really helpful. 
Dean referred to the local funeral director as the ‘family undertaker’ because he had helped them when other members of the family had died. The funeral director visited Dean and his wife at their home and discussed what they wanted for their son’s funeral. He was sympathetic and he was able to advise them on practical matters, such as collecting Andrew’s death certificate and registering the death. One day Dean hopes to place Andrew’s ashes in the sea, according to Hindu tradition, and he knows that the funeral director will be able to arrange a boat for that purpose.
 
Elizabeth emphatically did not want anyone else to take charge of her daughter’s funeral, but recognised that not everyone would feel the same. We talked to a few people who had made almost all of the funeral arrangements themselves. When Josefine’s husband died she said that she was going to be the funeral director (see Josefine’s account in ‘The funeral or commemoration’).
 
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Josefine thinks that funeral directors should tell families that they can choose what ever they...

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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I think funeral directors should always tell families that they have the right to do things themselves, and actually want to support them to do as much as possible for themselves. But of course funeral directors, unless they’re green funeral directors and influenced by The Natural Death Centre, will have a great interest to do as much, to earn as much money as possible, but I feel that’s grossly unfair and, you know, we don’t live in Victorian times and to most people Victorian outfit, Victorian attitude, well the interpretation of it, the somber talking and this ugly outfits and everything so, it doesn’t appeal. It shouldn’t be the rule of things and people should know what choices they have.
People who wish to organise the funeral themselves can get advice from the Natural Death Centre.
Funeral directors who belong to one of the trade associations are likely to follow certain codes of practice. These associations also provide useful information about the services that funeral directors can provide. The trade associations include:
  • The National Association of Funeral Directors
  • The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors

Last reviewed October 2015.

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