HAYES IN THE HOUSE: Paying tribute to funeral service employees
Over the past year, death – the definite destiny of us all – has become a present spectre in our communal consciousness.
The departure of each unique and precious soul brings the pain of loss along with a chance to reflect for those who remain.
Amongst the pandemic’s tidal wave of grief across the country, those whose work is to provide a final send-off for those who loved and lost, whilst ensuring the safety of staff and mourners, have gone to extraordinary lengths to support bereaved families.
With quiet dignity and enduring courtesy, clergy, funeral directors, morticians, undertakers, staff at crematoriums, and bereavement counsellors endeavour to avoid standing out from the crowd.
Perhaps that is why their work often goes unnoticed by those in the corridors of power. However, in my role as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement, I have gained an important insight into the lives and work of those who shoulder the burden of death each and every working day.
Though Covid-19 has hit our country hard, with 90,000 deaths here at home, we are fortunate indeed to have the societal and cultural infrastructure required to weather the storm.
Around the world, 2020 has placed enormous strain on funeral provision. In a number of countries, this has been overwhelming, leading to the sad indignity of hastily dug mass graves.
The restrictions on the number of mourners permitted to attend the funerals of those they love has, inevitably, resulted in distressing decisions for families.
Despite these challenges, I have been struck by the ways in which professionals has been able to keep these funeral services as special as possible.
This has included the livestreaming of services to friends and relatives at home and across the world, taking a cortege to pass directly by a vulnerable relative to
enable them to pay their last respects, or making an extra effort to deliver a personal request, such as the funeral director who printed out scans of family members’ hand prints to place over the coffin, because touching it wasn’t allowed.
It is vital therefore, that those essential workers involved in the provision of
funerals are indeed considered essential. This means that they must be part of the conversation regarding both the provision of PPE at
affordable prices and priority for vaccination. Worrying about their own exposure to the virus and witnessing the grief of families on a daily basis has come at a price for many within our society.
Though nurses, doctors, and paramedics and those in the care sector are trained to cope with trauma – emotional and physical – the sheer scale has taken its toll. They cannot be praised too much or too often. Funeral directors too are exhausted and saddened by what they have been through.
Their overriding commitment to supporting those who are grieving has maintained them, alongside the equally pivotal work of our nation’s bereavement counsellors, the patience and compassion of whom has helped restore and revive those numbed by despair.
It is time we as a community and nation paid tribute to the 20,000 funeral service employees in the UK – many of whom work for independent, family-run businesses, passed down for generations.
With care and courtesy, those that officiate, organise and administer funerals, and who provide comfort to the bereaved, have been there for us throughout; their reassurance and kindness now still more important than ever.