Talking about death is important

At IDR Law we believe in communication, in talking about death before it happens, in planning for death to reduce the emotional (and financial) cost that can come from losing someone you love.

We’ve recently had the pleasure of speaking to Sarah Jones, Director of Full Circle Funerals, who kindly shared her story with us in the Q and A below. It was clear from the offset that Sarah is a person who cares deeply for others and does everything she can to support individuals and families as well as working to improve the way funeral care is delivered for society as a whole.

How did you come to start Full Circle Funerals?

My mum is Dutch, a lot of my family are Dutch, and the Dutch have different conversations about end-of-life care. Society there interacts with death, dying and bereavement in a different way to the UK. I think, because of this, people experience end of life in a different way and can be more accepting that the person has died.

I started my career as a medic in healthcare and moved to social care, supporting adults with learning difficulties. I realised quite early on in my working life that I was comfortable having difficult conversations, talking about end of life and with expressed emotion.

I had a couple of friends who had organised separate funerals and they both said to me, independently, that they didn’t know how the funerals had turned out the way they did: both funerals were very similar, yet they were for very different people. I started looking into things and realised I wanted to create a funeral service that was based more on health and social care principles and supported people in a way that’s helpful for them going forward.

It’s not about delivering a specific type of funeral but about giving people the right kind of support and information, so that they can create a funeral service that’s right for them and reflects the person who’s died. And that’s how Full Circle Funerals was born. Our first service opened in Guiseley in 2016 then Bramley in 2018 and in 2020 we opened in both Harrogate and Halifax. We’ve just turned 5 – it was our anniversary on the 5th of September!

I imagine funeral care can be emotional?

In many respects our job is really positive as we’re supporting someone to put something meaningful and helpful together to reflect the person who died. When there have been really sad circumstances surrounding the death, we’re there to help people to create a funeral that is meaningful and helpful and sets a positive tone for their ongoing grief journey.

The process of organising a funeral can be really cathartic for those involved – we talk about emotional labour in organising a funeral such as choosing music, choosing clothes and words; going through these processes can really help people. There are tears of course, but lots of laughter as people share stories and memories.

Do you support people after the funeral?

We have a strong sense of what helps people after a bereavement and always try and share a bit of information about grief with people.

When someone you care about dies, you can fluctuate between experiencing a strong sense of loss and coping, and this can change day to day. Part of what we do is to let people know this is normal – that people experience grief in different ways – and we help people to feel more confident to support their children after a bereavement.

People are all different – we are very sensitive to the stage that people are at and how they feel about ways of remembering people who have died. We open the door to ideas which can help them either now or in the future. Some people come back to us weeks or months after the funeral service, at a time when they feel ready to access support.

There’s a concept called continuing bonds – the idea that, after someone dies, your relationship with them changes: it’s still there and can still be strong but it changes. For example, we cook the recipes written by my husband’s mum before she died and even though my children didn’t know her during her lifetime, they know her now and she’s still part of our family.

How do people know how to organise a funeral?

It can feel really daunting for people when someone they care about has just died and they are faced with having to organise a funeral. People don’t always know where to start, how to choose a coffin, how to carry out the wishes of the person who had died, etc. It was with this in mind that I put together a little book, called Funerals Your Way, to give people guidance about what they might need to think about. It’s a little handbook really. Anyone can buy it and all proceeds go to charity – this year our chosen charity is The Swansong Project, a Yorkshire-based charity who write songs with people facing end of life.

When people are arranging funerals it’s very helpful to know that person’s wishes. When people arrange their own funerals, this takes care of that element and helps that person who is at the end of their life as well as their loved ones. For example, someone might feel strongly they want a funeral which will have little environmental impact. They can choose this and feel happy they are helping the planet even after death.

People who do come to us to arrange their own funeral usually find it really helpful – they feel very satisfied with their funeral choices and find that it’s been a really positive experience for them. Perhaps, as we talk more about end of life as a society, more people will get involved in organising their own funerals and see it as a positive experience for them and a gift for those left behind.

Do you offer ‘green’ funerals?

We offer them as a service along with more traditional funerals. We can offer a mix of elements according to people’s wishes and can let people know the environmental impact of the funeral they are planning and discuss offsetting it if they wish, but there is never any pressure to do so.

As a company we’re trying to do our bit for the environment as well as society – we have a fully electric hearse and limo and we recently applied to be a B Corp, which we’re really excited about. We’ll keep you posted on that one!

How are funeral services regulated?

They’re not. Most people think they are, but anyone can open a funeral service.

As funeral directors it’s important we support people to be involved in decisions as much as they want to, and we have a responsibility to care for people in a way which they choose. Very little research has been done surrounding funeral care. I approached the University of York and together we carried out research looking at what best practice is in funeral care and what “good” looks like so as funeral directors we can reflect on our practice and how we support people in the best way.

I’m using the results of the research to develop a funeral satisfaction tool, in conjunction with the University of Bradford, to assess how funeral care affects people’s wellbeing. The purpose of this is to support health care and perhaps be used for health economics. It’s not a marketing tool for funeral directors.

We want to make a positive impact on the people we’re supporting, but there’s also an opportunity to have a wider impact than that, to raise awareness of what best practice looks like and the benefits of good funeral care for all.

How do you feel about talking about death?

I think we should have more conversations about it and prepare our families and children for that eventuality (which, of course, comes to us all). Talking about death and about our wishes upon our death can be beneficial to the person who is near the end of their life and to their loved ones who can feel reassured they’re carrying out the wishes of the person who has died.

Thinking about death and dying a little bit can be very life enhancing and if you know what is possible then you are much more likely to have your needs met when we do need the support of a funeral director.

You can find out more about Full Circle Funerals here, head straight to their contact page or email Sarah at [email protected].

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