Redefining compassionate communication

By Lee Bevan, the head of funeral at Central Co-op

As we enter Dying Matters Awareness Week 2024 (6 – 12 May), the topical focus of ‘how we talk about dying matters’ resonates deeply within the funeral industry today, shining a light on the language that we use and conversations we have around death and dying. As funeral providers, we should be redefining language in funeral operations, ensuring each word spoken holds dignity and worth for the families it serves.

In a world where conversations about death are often shrouded in discomfort or avoidance, this year’s focus serves as a timely reminder of the profound impact that language holds in shaping the experiences of grief, remembrance and ultimately, healing for the families we look after.

We hold a fundamental belief: words matter. In our funeral business, where empathy and sensitivity are at the forefront of what we do, the language we use can profoundly shape the grieving process. It’s not merely about sentiment; it’s about honouring the individuals we serve and ensuring their dignity is preserved throughout.

Common industry terminology such as “deceased”, “removal” and “viewing” are often used without much consideration for the impact they can have. At Central Co-op, we recognise that these terms risk depersonalising the individuals at the heart of our business – those who have died and their loved ones. To provide the level of care that every person deserves, we knew we needed to remove any language that could be dehumanising.


And so, we’ve created guidelines to help us get it right, both in our written communications and how we speak; to each other and to our members and clients across our 175 funeral homes. Whilst we’ll always be guided by the language our clients want us to use, and what they’re comfortable with, we worked to create a simple set of guidelines for best practice. They’re rooted in being open, inclusive and caring.


One of the cornerstones of our approach is openness. We understand that many individuals who come to us have never arranged a funeral before. Therefore, it is vital for us to provide clear, transparent information using language that is easily understandable. For example, we avoid terminology like “hygienic treatment” in favour of explaining embalming in straightforward terms, in as much detail as the family is comfortable with. We’ll also say “dead” and “died” instead of “lost” or “passed away”, as we know the grieving process is helped by using clear and factual language, which can empower families to navigate the funeral process with confidence and clarity.


Funerals are deeply personal events, and we recognise that one size does not fit all. To honour the diversity of beliefs and preferences within our community, we embrace inclusive language that allows individuals to make choices aligned with their values. For instance, we refer to “visiting rooms” instead of “chapels of rest” to remove the religious connotations and make people of all backgrounds feel comfortable and respected. We’re also committed to removing stigmas surrounding sensitive topics such as suicide, opting for “died by suicide” instead of implying a crime with “committed suicide”.


Above all, our language reflects our unwavering commitment to care. We always remember that the person who has died is still a person, and that their life mattered. To do this, we have discarded impersonal terms like “the deceased”, opting instead to call them by their name wherever we know it, or the “person who has died” if we don’t. Even seemingly routine terms like “removal” have been reimagined as “collection” or “bringing [name] into our care”, encompassing the gentle and respectful nature of our work. And we say “visiting” instead of “viewing”, as families are saying a final goodbye to someone who mattered to them, not viewing an inanimate object.

We believe that the industry needs modernising to be suitable for today’s society, and a small but effective way to make a change is by rethinking the language we use day-to-day, so that it supports the personalised care we all aim to provide.

In the realm of funeral services, the impact of language and communication cannot be overstated. When families are dealing with the death of a loved one, the words spoken by funeral homes carry immense weight. Clear, compassionate communication can provide comfort and guidance during a time of profound vulnerability, while insensitive or outdated language may inadvertently deepen the pain of grief.

It is crucial for the funeral industry as a whole to remain up-to-date and mindful of the terminology we use, recognising that language evolves alongside societal norms and cultural sensitivities. By staying attuned to shifting perspectives and engaging in ongoing education and training, funeral professionals can ensure that their language is always respectful, inclusive and empathetic. Through thoughtful communication, funeral homes can create a supportive environment where families feel heard, understood and honoured as they navigate the complexities of grief.

Our journey towards evolving language is not just about modernising our industry; it’s about fostering a culture of empathy and understanding. By rethinking the words we use every day, we are not only enhancing the funeral experience for the families we serve, but also playing a vital role in the journey of grief and healing.

As we observe Dying Matters Awareness Week, we’re encouraging the industry as a whole to reflect on the language we use and the profound impact it holds in shaping the experiences of those in our care. We’re committed to fostering a culture of compassionate communication – one where every word spoken is a testament to the dignity and worth of every individual we serve.

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