As a business, much like many others, we deliver all children’s funerals free of charge for our services and all third-party expenditure charged to the family at cost. Of course, it’s our decision to do so but we do so willingly and have no intention of changing that practice. Why? It is central to our Corporate Social Responsibility policy that we will not profit from a child’s funeral. We feel it’s simply the right thing to do and we know that many follow this practice including some crematoriums and cemeteries, but it is worthy of wider debate perhaps across the industry.
The cost of a child’s funeral can be the very last thing that any parent wants to compromise on but has rarely considered. What parent anticipates losing a child? There are funds available to help out, through government schemes such as The Children’s Funeral Fund for England, and other grants, and we will always make clients aware of these avenues but these are designed to contribute and potentially will not cover the full cost dependant on the choices made by the client.
It’s a difficult and sensitive subject to tackle and our team is mindful that communication with parents at this time can take a little longer and require a more sensitive approach. Staff training that focuses on managing these very poignant events can be truly invaluable and give team members the level of confidence they need to provide a steady and steadfast service throughout.
However, we are all aware that every child’s funeral is unique. From the moment the team takes the initial call, we understand that the arrangements, the logistics and detail will be intensive and often complex. We may work with the family’s extended support network of doctors, care workers, hospice staff and teachers to select ways of personalising the funeral such as a very special route for the funeral, perhaps past a school or special club or association or hospital. Our role is to be flexible, open to all requests and offer up any bereavement services that we think could be helpful either in the short or longer term.
In fact, our own Child Bereavement Book was born from a need to offer up additional support to the young family and friends of the deceased, about how to break the news, how to explain what happens at a funeral and what behaviours and responses to look out for. We have the book freely available on the website, but we’ve also distributed it to our local schools so that they can be used as a resource for teachers.
Managing the funeral of a stillborn child can be particularly difficult and thankfully in these times, there are far better support systems than ever before and getting better. Bereavement Midwives play an essential role in educating parents about the choices available to them and as a result we are seeing more and more parents wanting to be part of organising and attending the funeral of their child. Grief counselling around these sad occasions requires a specialist and should be a given. Again, we are noting that this service has been more widespread but are concerned that any funding cuts could affect future provision.
Looking at recent review of innovation to the market, we see colour continuing to play a massive role, more often influencing the mood of the day. Our funeral team will often wear different colour ties for the day, different lapel flowers or even no formal uniform at all. And it has become standard practice for us to use our white funeral fleet rather than the standard and more sombre black with extra choices for young people close to the family also a possibility.
We have a specially designed chapel of rest for children with beautiful lighting to create a space where family members can spend as much time as they like in very comfortable surroundings and with our team of dedicated colleagues on hand to support them every step of the way.
And these very personal choices are also extended to coffin selection. We are seeing more parents opt for choices that include coffins designed and decorated in favourite football strips, Disney and comic characters and more. We also see coffins ordered and finished in a very plain design to allow family and friends to draw their own pictures, stick on photos and leave very personal messages. This practice does mean that we have to be extra vigilant with young people visiting our chapel and we work with the parents and family friends to ensure that the experience is empowering rather than scary and distressing.
Coffin choice leads us into another complex area that’s always under review. A child’s memorial or headstone is hugely significant for a parent as it marks where they are resting which is hugely important and reflects the memories of that child. We manage many requests for personalised headstones but some changes in dioceses rules has meant that some of these bespoke designs are not allowed at Church of England cemeteries – leaving parents more likely to select a local authority or other privately run cemetery as the resting place for their child, where rules about headstone design tend to be more relaxed. This situation is one we are watching carefully as we navigate between the wishes of parents and the regulations of the church.
So, what learning do we take forward? That as a business operating in a community, the cost of a children’s funeral has to be responsibility we can surely share; that presenting choices to bereaved parents to create a special and bespoke funeral is a driver for the service we offer; that mental health and wellbeing has never been so important – for our clients and for our staff – particularly so when dealing with the funeral of a child of any age.
Bereavement support has a major major role to play and in this we will continue to invest as there are always new learnings to consider and embrace, to better help the parents of a deceased child and the close family and friends left behind. We should, as an industry, lead the way for our communities.