31 August 2017, The Tablet

Funeral workers need more counselling and face greatest distress, says survey

Funeral workers need more counselling and face greatest distress, says survey

Funeral directors should have access to professional counselling and they face more sadness than any other profession, according to a new survey commissioned by The Art of Dying Well website, run by the Catholic Church in England and Wales. 

The survey is designed to highlight a new Online guide to Catholic Funerals and Cremations which sets out a step-by-step guide to anyone who is organising a Catholic funeral. According to the poll of 2000 adults, almost half (44%) think that funeral directors should have access to professional counselling. More than a third (36%) feel that funeral directors must struggle with the constant theme of death and grief while almost 40% of people believe that they face more sadness than other professions. Just over 1 in 5 UK adults assumed that people working with funeral companies often do not have access to professional support if they have had a day at work.

As well as providing advice on how to plan funerals, the new guide includes “comforting rituals” for the families and friends of those people who have been affected by a bereavement.

“Very often, a funeral director is the first independent person that people have to talk to after a death and they often lean on us because we’re not part of the family and we’re prepared to listen” said Paul Allcock, a past president of the Society of Independent Funeral Directors. “We give our time and our ear to people but sometimes that gets beyond listening and it’s very difficult to draw the line and look at it totally professionally.” 

“We are not immune to grief ourselves and distress at some of the situations that we come across,” he said.

One of the challenges now is that people’s expectations around what a funeral should involve have grown, explained Adrian Forsey, who is the managing director of his family’s funeral business in Somerset. “It is like organising a wedding in a very short time, where people think about the service and a reception and how to make the event more personalised.” Even so, he added, there can still be a gap between a bereaved family’s expectations and what it is possible to deliver.

 In terms of funerals, one of the biggest changes that funeral directors have witnessed in recent years is that the “vast majority” of services now are conducted by civil rather than religious celebrants.

 Launched on All Saints Day in November 2016, the Art of Dying Well website is designed to help those grappling with issues around death and dying and offers practical and spiritual guidance to those facing death and their loved ones.

 It provides guidance to people of all faiths, or none. The website features advice from professionals in palliative care, chaplains and families and also covers historical and ethical issues. Catholics believe, said the website “that death opens the way to new life. In dying, we close our eyes for the last time here, in order to be able to really see for the first time there.”

Further reading: Ways to say goodbye: the gap widens between family expectations and what the church is able to deliver



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