Funeral Directors Suffer  Too!

Believe it or not, many funeral directors are suffering mentally and physically through this pandemic! why wouldn’t we after all we are human beings, we feel, we hurt, we cry, we struggle, yet through most people’s eyes we are solemn, unwavering folk, it really couldn’t be further from the truth.  

When the government started advising us on how the virus was spreading back in March 2020, for me as a funeral director massive concern started to come over me. Everyday reports of infections and death rates climbing quicker and quicker, I like everybody else watched our country being consumed by this aggressive, invisible killer. Being the father of a young child, I immediately went into protection mode, wanting to ensure he was safe as well as the rest of my family. My mother on the critical list to shield, my father who given his age I was massively concerned and worried for his safety and wellbeingall the while my mind spinning, what will happen at the funeral home? How will our industry cope? How will we be protected? What can or cant we do now? Numerous other worries and apprehensions, not unlike I’m sure my colleagues all over the country have felt at some point. 

As the situation escalated from bad to worse across the country and in fact the globe, I went into a kind of automatic pilot, not knowing what lay ahead and the overwhelming safety implications that lay before me. As a funeral director, my task was to keep my teams and my families as safe as I could. Document upon document was dispatched from our health and safety teams changing weekly as the virus’s grip tightened 

Obviously, our role is to reassure our families and to make sure we fulfil those final wishes of the sadly departed person to the very best of our ability. Even that was removed in so many ways; when my local crematoriums and cemeteries dropped attendances to 10 mourners it added increasing pressure on arrangers and funeral directors alikechurches closing, no singing, no bearers allowed, no viewing, etc.  

Inside I was screaming. I’m a person and there is a fine line between remaining calm and collective whilst being nervous and apprehensive about the unfolding pandemic which could claim any one of us as a victim sadly. 

You probably don’t need me to tell you that the pandemic has not been great for anybody, that’s about as obvious as the nose on my face. Everyone is feeling the impact in some way. Many I know, including me, have been feeling incredibly sad, angry, and anxious. A lot have been spending time spiralling about the future or worrying about our safety, as well as that of others. Many, just like me, weren’t eating properly and were sleeping much more or much less than normal and yet still I somehow managed to maintain the stability to conduct my funerals professionally I won’t lie it was and still is, extremely hard. 

So much has occurred throughout the pandemic, our industry has lost great people to the virus. Some have sadly passed away and many others have left because the burden and strain became too much to bear. It does not make them weak; it actually shows great courage to admit that you can no longer cope and need help. 

I personally admire all that spoke/speak out and bring their fears and concerns to the open.  

We’ve seen all year numerous frontline workers being applauded for the work they do; on television and radio, posters and billboards, it is everywhere but rarely is there a mention of the incredible work we do For many this blanket of ignorance was demoralising, even though we know the importance of the responsibility we carry, and how critical we are in the chain. For many the exclusion from recognition increased those anxiety and depression levels. I personally haven’t heard a single celebrity applaud the work done by the funeral industry. I’ve heard them thank the NHS, Police, Fire, Ambulance, shop workers, delivery drivers, even bin men and council workers but never an FD or and FSO, arranger, embalmer etc. Its sad and I do understand how this impacts peoples already fragile mindsets.  

I cannot speak for everyone in our industry but for myself and many I know it has been a daily struggle that we have simply had to learn to live with and manage. Yes, it has brought inherent problems and I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve sat with my head in my hands wondering why.  

The anguish from families who have been unable to be close to their loved ones throughout this pandemic, each story as harrowing as the last one. Profound sadness at unanswered questions, rules changing weekly, lockdowns and then lifted restrictions, tier systems, 2nd lockdown measures implemented and then a 3rd lockdown – it has just gone from bad to worse.  

Yes, those of us who have a corporate arm of the business, have received regular updates of the dos and don’ts etc. I just find the void in the middle difficult to comprehend. From those working at home daily not having to be outside, not having the worry and concern that the next family coming into the branch to arrange could very well be carrying the virus that I could catch, sending directions that I disagreed with for safety reasons? Its been an extremely stressful set of principles to follow and has raised numerous lengthy, sometimes heated respectful debate. What exactly constitutes best practise and keeping our people safe  

I’ve felt so bitterly sad for my families given the restrictions they’ve been placed under, when saying a last goodbye to their loved ones. I’m pleased in some respects at the levels my company has worked to with regards to managing the pandemic and our teams and our clients safety Then there are other things which leave my mouth agape scratching my head as it completely contradicts the good measures in place I’d like to think and hope that those in our industry find the courage to speak out and open up their own individual thoughts and concerns, speak to the relevant departments within your businesses, talk to HR or any other confidential department I hope and pray they do not sit in silence and allow the worry and stress to consume them and take away their opportunity of a normal life.  

This pandemic has and will affect us all in some way, no matter how hardfaced you think you are. I thought I couldn’t be fazed, I believed I would easily ride through this as strong and composed as normal. It was the most stupid thought I could possibly have had because I felt quite the opposite. Remember, we are professional at what we do, we care immensely about our families, we want to do the very best for those we are looking after. Let’s not doubt the gravity of this pandemic, its hit us all hard and we are hurting but finding ways to come through. We are human beings always remember we are not infallible.  

Stay safe  

Paul Sargent 

Funeral Director 

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