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A funeral director's role in end of life care,

By Tom Johnson, E M Dorman Funeral Directors, Uppingham, Rutland


How do you describe the role of the funeral director in end of life care in Rutland in just 5 minutes? It’s very difficult. Impossible perhaps! It encompasses such a wide range of elements that it would be impossible to cover everything, particularly in detail. But hopefully I can give a broad overview of the role of the funeral director and how this applies here in Rutland.

First and foremost, our role as funeral directors is one of providing compassionate support and advice on all aspects of arranging a funeral while, behind the scenes, ensuring everything is managed on a families behalf to the highest professional standards you would expect. If we make a mistake, we can’t go back tomorrow and make it right – we get one chance and one chance only. As is the case with all those involved in end of life care, the role of the Funeral Director is both a personal and sensitive one, particularly in a small county like Rutland. In Rutland we have a population in the region of 30 thousand people. Death equates to 1% of the population meaning there is, on average, roughly 300 funerals a year in the County. Compare this to somewhere like Leicester with a population of 465,000, where there would be roughly 4,650 funerals, and London with a population of 8.7 million where there would be roughly 87 thousand funerals a year. It’s no wonder then when looking at these sorts of figures that you can see why our role as a funeral director here in Rutland is such a personal one. It’s not uncommon when dealing with families that they know someone who has used your services before or knows a member of your family or shares a mutual friend. That’s part and parcel of living in a smaller, more intimate community and what makes our job as a funeral director even more special.

But the role of the funeral director is also very complex and can’t be understated. Barry Albin-Dyer, author of the book ‘Don’t drop the coffin’ wrote – “ As a funeral director my job has many dimensions: I’m part counsellor, priest, doctor, lawyer, social worker, policeman, financial consultant, master of ceremonies, actor, chauffeur, travel agent, make-up artist, mechanic, removal man, diplomat, courier, flower arranger, salesman, exhibitor, choreographer, DJ, private investigator, linguist, photographer, fashion consultant, historian, navigator, excavator, clairvoyant and, occasionally, bouncer” – and this applies to all funeral directors, even here in our little county of Rutland. Though it has to be said that the role of bouncer, thankfully, is very rarely required! Though most funerals in Rutland remain fairly traditional, as attitudes change and different products become available, we are finding more and more that the role of the funeral director is becoming similar to that of an events organiser. A person in their 30’s arranging the funeral of their partner is usually looking for something a little different to a person in their 80’s in the same position. We organise everything you would find at a wedding for instance – catering, orders of service, transport, music, seating plans, flowers etc, only rather than over a period of what can be months or in some cases years, we pull all of this together in around 10 days. As a result, this means we make connections with lots of different people and businesses in the county, all whom support us as funeral directors and our often tight time frames.

In the book, Albin-Dyer goes on to write – “What’s more, caring for a deceased person and planning a funeral with their family is a very complex and personal business, with little room for error, and one that has to operate within a legal framework. The funeral director is at the centre of a network of professional relationships that might include doctors, nurses, morticians, coroners, pathologists, police, social workers, bereavement counsellors, the fire brigade, customs and excise, airlines, registrars, solicitors, bank managers, priests, vicars, and other religious figures, cemetery superintendents and grave diggers; not forgetting the companies that supply everything from hand soaps to coffin handles”. These networks and professional relationships operate here in Rutland, whether we are dealing with the Oakham Medical Centre on obtaining cremation forms, the Parish Priest in the local towns or villages to arrange funeral dates and pastoral care or ordering supplies from local businesses such as printers and florists. We liaise with a wide range of organisations and services to ensure a funeral is properly arranged, and remove the stress and worry associated with this so that those affected by bereavement can focus on themselves and those around them. When somebody dies, even when it is expected and may be a release for the person who has been ill, we are still never quite prepared for the emotional rollercoaster this can take us on and this alone can be very exhausting. We help lessen this by taking care of all of or as much of the arrangements as is required. There is a transition of care and responsibility from the healthcare professionals to the funeral director, who is entrusted with looking after both the deceased and their family throughout the funeral process and beyond. Perhaps the most important part of the funeral director’s job is to make sure that the wishes of the deceased and their family are respected throughout this process. Even here in Rutland, a county proud of its heritage and traditions, no two funerals are the same!

It is important therefore that we make every family aware of what options are available to them. Will the arrangements include a burial or cremation? Will the service be religious or non religious? Is a service at a church to be part of the arrangements? Is a traditional funeral even required? You don’t have to have a funeral at all and over the past few years we have seen a spike in Rutland families wanting a simple, what we call “Direct Cremation”. This is where no service takes place and no mourners attend. Sometimes this is as a result of financial reasons as this is a much more economical option, but often it is simply at the request of the person who has passed away. These are all things to consider and families often don’t realise how many option there are available to them. The funeral director is therefore a source of free and friendly advice for the people of Rutland, helping to remove the stigma around the subject of death and dying – just as this event here today aims to do.

Of course alongside this we can also guide you on how best to plan for your own funeral or that of a loved one, including options for spreading the cost of a funeral with a pre-paid plan and making a record of all your wishes. Being local people, living and working in the county of Rutland, we can offer unique advice on local services and provide contacts for people you may wish to speak to, whether this be somebody to take the service, a local charity or support group, or somebody more specific to your wishes.

This very broadly scratches the surface of the role of the funeral director here in Rutland, and as you can tell, to be able to talk in detail about funerals and the funeral director, you would need much longer than 5 minutes. But I hope I have managed to encapsulate what we do and the services we provide and have been able to give you an insight into the role of the funeral director. Should anyone have any questions, I will of course be more than happy to answer these. Thank you.

Tom Johnson, Cert.F.P.

Funeral Director

01572 823976

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