I am really pleased to share that this month I received my Diploma in Funeral Services from the British Institute of Funeral Directors (BIFD) and I am now a Licensed Member of the Institute.
This was a private journey of studying and assessments, but very important to me. Here is my comment about this award:
Why would you need a diploma to be a great funeral director? The simple answer is, you don’t. But it helps.
There are many brilliant undertakers who have never been anywhere near formal study and who have absolutely no interest in having letters after their names. And there are plenty of qualified funeral directors who hold certificates and diplomas but who aren’t necessarily the people who would be your first choice to look after someone who has died.
A piece of paper doesn’t bestow gifts of empathy, intuition and understanding, all of which are essential in the best undertaker. But what achieving a diploma does is to illustrate dedication and commitment, and a determination to completely understand the role of a funeral director. The effort involved in studying, learning, completing assignments and attending study days is considerable, and for those who fund their studies themselves, there is also a personal financial investment that runs into thousands of pounds.
Achieving a diploma in funeral service demonstrates how seriously an individual takes their role, and how important it is to them to acquire as much knowledge and understanding of every aspect of their work as possible, and to prove that they are fully competent to others. It is an indication of serious commitment, and therefore probably good character in a completely unregulated sector.
The funeral industry likes to describe itself as a profession, but it doesn’t quite fall into the definition of 'a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification’, not least because the use of a funeral director is not compulsory, or even necessary in some instances. Families are perfectly able to look after their dead themselves, though most choose not to these days. And anyone can carry out the necessary tasks involved in disposing of a body legally.
This has a downside; anyone can call themselves a funeral director and set up a business offering undertaking services, no matter what their background is. A convicted criminal could leave prison one day and proclaim themselves a funeral director the next, taking custody of the dead and selling services to the bereaved perfectly easily.
In Scotland, an inspector of funerals has just been appointed, and after a period of consultation, she will be making recommendation to the Scottish government about regulating funerals, and the possible introduction of licensing. It is very likely that England and Wales will follow the lead of Scotland by introducing regulation of some kind, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the requirement for some kind of formal qualification will form part of this.
Funeral directors holding diplomas will not need to worry about the approach of regulation, but those without may well find themselves unable to continue serving the bereaved in a few years time. Achieving a diploma now shows not only commitment and dedication to the work that a funeral director does, but also foresight, and a willingness to adapt in the rapidly changing world of funerals.
There is never an easy way to approach a subject which is as deeply personal and intense as the loss of a pregnancy, stillbirth or the death of an infant. However, steady progress is being made and the silence surrounding infant loss is clearly breaking. There are many more resources, organisations and charities available today than there were just a few years ago. Education has served to decrease the incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and preventative maternity care is helping to reduce the risks of loss during pregnancy. Nonetheless, “the death of a baby is not a rare tragedy: around fifteen babies died before, during or after birth every day in the UK in 2015” (sands.org.uk).
At such an emotionally bewildering time, it is easy to see why families often opt to use the funeral services offered by their hospital. Indeed, for many, this is exactly what they need. However, for some, the need to mark the life, and loss, of their child with something more personal is important for several reasons, not least as a passage for their grief.
We recognise that planning a funeral for a baby or child requires specialist care and Dandelion Dreams has been established to provide dedicated support to families in their time of need.
Ellen and Jack, parents of Oscar who was born sleeping at 32 weeks after a diagnosis of Trisomy 13, have asked us to share their account of planning a funeral for their son below, in the hope that other parents will feel empowered to make the choices that best suit them at this difficult time.
Being guided through the process of creating a perfect service for our son has meant more to us than we could have imagined.
Having Jo, from Dandelion Dreams, at the end of the phone enabled us to discuss any thoughts, ideas and feelings we had, directly and confidently with someone who completely understood what we wanted so that we didn’t have to explain things several times to numerous professionals.
We were supported to make our son's funeral personal and purposeful without being pressured into conforming to 'normal' services, and we were made to feel comfortable with our own feelings and wishes.
Being able to meet, and make the arrangements, within our own home was unbelievably helpful; not only from a physical point of view (having just given birth) but also emotionally as we didn't have to go to an unfamiliar place to discuss our plans.
Dandelion Dreams led a completely transparent service and this helped us feel in full control.
We were able to see our son when we wanted within a relaxed atmosphere in a non clinical setting which helped us feel more like a normal family. We were also able to invite people to visit and it gave us invaluable, extra time to share with our son.
It was important to us that our son's service was held within a certain time frame and Jo was able to support us to ensure that was met.
I would strongly recommend this type of service to anyone in a similar situation.
It simply empowered us to make our own choices and feel in full control of the last thing we could do for our son.
Taking care of funeral costs in advance just got a whole lot easier!
Perhaps this may sound rather an odd thing to enthuse about…
The thing is, we are frequently asked about funeral plans. Often people are rightly concerned about taking care of their own future funeral costs and are anxious about this financial burden landing on their children. It makes perfect sense - much anguish could be saved if more people took this approach (and also let their family know their wishes, but that is for another blog…!) The trouble is that prepaid funeral plans can be problematic.
Why? Well….on the whole they tend to be somewhat restrictive and expensive, working more to the advantage of the funeral director than the consumer. Rigidly set ‘packages’, unclear charges and inexplicably high costs are part of the problem. Not to mention the inevitable sales incentives, for which the customer ultimately foots the bill, in what has become a feverishly competitive, complicated and cut throat market.
But my main misgiving is that these plans effectively tie people to a package of things that, when the time comes, may not be what is helpful or wanted. People move away, new options become available (perhaps a natural burial site opens up near by) or the carefully selected funeral director may change hands – or die first! Families are deprived of the ability to “shop around” to suit their needs as they are at the time.
That is why I have tended to advise people to just try to put some money aside for funeral costs if they have concerns, but of course this is easier said than done.
So thank goodness for the folks at the Good Funeral Guide (GFG), who have recently launched the ‘GFGPlan’ in response to this gap in the market.
“We couldn’t find a funeral plan that delivers everything it ought to… …so we created one” Charles Cowling, Consumer Champion and Co-Founder of the Good Funeral Guide.
The GFGPlan is so simple. Money is invested into a trust fund where it has the chance to grow and keep up with changes in prices. It can only be used to pay for your funeral expenses and interest earned (at nearly 4% mind!) is tax-free. It is that simple.
You can create an incredibly detailed plan with all your wishes described. Or simply say “this money is for my funeral. Do what you like!” And there’s a single, one off admin fee. No commissions paid to sales and marketing teams.
No need to buy from a choice of packaged funerals – you have the freedom to choose whatever you wish to be included from (natural) burial / cremation to style of coffin to method of transport. Your wishes can be recorded in as much detail as you want, and the money you set aside will go towards meeting your wishes. The extent to which these wishes can be met will depend upon the amount of money you put in the pot.
This truly is about as flexible and transparent as it is possible to get in the world of funeral plans. From a personal point of view I feel that I can truly promote this in good conscience. So do get in touch if pre-paying for your funeral is something you have been meaning to get around to.
It is now 18 months since Dandelion Farewells was launched and I am often asked how the business is developing. There have been so many milestones and personal stories of the people we have been invited to support.
We will again be attending the Good Funeral Awards 2016, further to our nomination for ‘Most Promising Funeral Director’.
I was asked to present an overview of Dandelion Farewells, which I share with you here. We think it has been quite a remarkable journey so far… here are some of the details…
Since the inception of the idea for Dandelion Farewells at the beginning of 2014, to the business model being developed and established, Dandelion Farewells has gone from strength, I have continually strived to develop professional understanding, skills and experience in the many aspects of funeral planning. I am involved in all the aspects of care for the person who has died and their family. Dandelion Farewells provides a fresh, transparent and flexible service to bereaved families, with an entirely personal touch. Through this holistic, bespoke approach Dandelion Farewells provides comprehensive care for individuals, families and communities.
Dedicated much time and energy to traveling to learn alongside the very best in the industry - those with many years' experience and others who themselves have begun their business oa few years earlier - I have developed strong relationships with other professionals. I am able to draw upon a valuable network of colleagues, suppliers and mentors. Similarly, I have also been called upon to support the work of other funeral directors who have identified my professional and interpersonal strengths to work alongside particular clients. Coupled with valuable empirical learning alongside others, I have completed several formal training programs to provide a firm theoretical and professional foundation to my work and upon which to build my business. In September 2015 I took a substantial time and financial commitment begin studying for the BIFD Certificate of Funeral Services, which i successfully completed in March 2016. Furthermore, I am now on the pathway to achieve the Diploma qualification in 2017. In addition, I have also attended supplementary training courses for bereavement care.
Most recently I have secured a unique premises from which to provide modern funeral care for the families whom I serve. Dandelion Farewells is now well-positioned to build upon its firm professional foundations and secure business structure to achieve great success in the coming months and years.
During the last twelve months I have consolidated many strands of learning, influence and ideas and the professional model that I have developed encapsulates the essence and purpose of my work through Dandelion Farewells, as I support the families that I work alongside. I believe that each of these three areas of support is equally valuable and I have developed skills and resources to meet the needs of individuals in these circumstances.
The Support Circle
Pre-need In response to trying to guide families to plan a funeral where no wishes were known, and to empower people with information and advice to make their own choices, I have developed a planning workshop for small groups, called My Wishes My Way. This was launched during Dying Matters Week this year. The core of this session is to freely provide information about end of life choices and funeral planning and encourage people to write down their wishes (refer to letter to hosts attached and the feedback from people who have attended). I have also been asked to facilitate GraveTalk sessions in our community.
At need Dandelion Farewells provides personal, meaningful funeral occasions, whatever form this will take for each individual family. It is an unhurried approach to spend time listening and working alongside the people making the funeral arrangements, to ensure that their decisions resonate with their lives and preferences. The person who has died is cared for with tenderness, kindness and dignity. I am entirely transparent regarding arrangements and costs.
After Care The funeral marks a clear milestone in the change that has occurred and assists the assimilation of the loss, but I continue to support the families beyond the day of the funeral. This may be through meeting at intervals after the funeral; sign-posting them to appropriate bereavement services, providing literature and resources. During the last twelve months I completed the facilitators programme for Grief Journey UK; attended a Cruse training day and completed the Sage & Thyme listening skills training. I have provided bereavement training for the pastoral group of a local church.
We would like to invite you to gather together a few friends for a couple of hours - around your kitchen table, in your lounge or at your local pub - to do something extraordinary. To begin ‘The BIG Conversation’…
'My Wishes, My Way' is an interactive workshop created by Dandelion Farewells, to help you understand and explore the many funeral choices that are available, both for your own funeral and also the arrangements for a loved one.
We have developed 'My Wishes, My Way' as a free workshop for anyone who is willing to learn about the decisions that will need to be made on your behalf, the choices and costs around funerals and the things that your family will need to know about your wishes.
We are available to come and spend a couple of hours with you and a few friends to share information so that you can make a few notes, and leave some helpful information for your family. By learning about what is possible, and maybe even planning ahead, not only can you save your family the worry of trying to second-guess what you would have wanted, you could also put your stamp on your last celebration, ensuring that it reflects what is important to you.
The format for the workshop is very informal; it won’t be depressing and is very likely to include a good deal of laughter! We’re happy to meet wherever you feel most comfortable, morning, afternoon or evening. We estimate that the session would take about two hours, and it would be good to have 4-6 people, so everyone has a chance to chat and ask questions.
There is no charge for the workshop. We believe this is such an important conversation that every family and community should have so we are offering our time for free, ‘paying it forward’ in our community. If you, or any of your guests who come along, ‘valued the value’ of the workshop, we would love you to support the work of Winston’s Wish, the child bereavement charity, and there will be an opportunity to make a private donation if you would like, but it is not obligatory.
‘The Big Conversation’ is a campaign of the organisation ‘Dying Matters’ – this also covers the broader issues of end-of-life care, organ donation and financial planning. We will have information available on these issues too.
We would love to hear from you if you would like to invite Dandelion Farewells to help you host a 'My Wishes, My Way' Big Conversation for your friends.
It could be the most important conversation you ever have.
The Fair Funerals pledge has been launched by anti-poverty charity Quaker Social Action. The campaign is working with government, charities and the funeral industry to tackle the growing problem of funeral poverty. Dandelion Farewells has joined the national campaign and pledged to provide a fair deal for local people. Central to our business profile are the principles of affordability and transparency.
A little background (from the QSA): ‘Funeral poverty exists when the cost of a funeral is beyond a person’s ability to pay. One in seven people now experience serious financial difficulty when paying for a funeral and the cost of dying has risen seven times faster than the cost of living. Over the past ten years the cost of a basic funeral has risen by 80% - from an average of £1,920 to £3,551.
At the same time, the grant from the state, available to people on very low incomes has dwindled. It now only covers around 35% of the overall cost of a funeral. Often people don’t find out if they are eligible for support for three weeks, by which time they have had to commit to funeral costs having no idea if they’ll get any help towards them.
Buying a funeral can be expensive and confusing. Bereaved people don’t often make savvy consumers, and our squeamishness around discussing death and money can mean we have very little awareness as consumers about whether a price is fair and reasonable. There is a lack of clear, comparable information about prices which make an already stressful, disorientating time worse for people. And there are big differences in what funeral directors charge.’
Dandelion Farewells has signed up to the Fair Funerals pledge to help tackle this problem.
We pledge to:
Dandelion Farewells is committed to providing the information and choices that enable bereaved families to make empowered decisions.
Call us for a private conversation if you are worried about paying for a funeral.
At the heart Dandelion Farewells is our connection with the families we support. We endeavour to serve families with sensitivity, and kindness; professional knowledge and skills. In addition, the relationships we have with other professionals and organisations that we work alongside, matter a great deal to us. Therefore, we are delighted to have been recognised in two recent awards programmes, thank you to all those who have nominated us, we sincerely appreciate your support.
The Good Funeral Awards are wholly independent of the funeral industry and supported by consumer advocates the Good Funeral Guide and the Natural Death Centre. Dandelion Farewells was shortlisted for the category ‘Most Promising New Funeral Director 2015’.
The Good Funeral Guide http://www.goodfuneralguide.co.uk/ was the core inspiration for Dandelion Farewells, so to be recognised in 2015 for the quality of the support we offer, is wonderful. We are thrilled to have come this far since January!
Founder of the Good Funeral Guide, and chief judge, Charles Cowling:
“Since first meeting Judith in 2014, when her concept for a modern funeral service was mostly embryonic and uninformed by hands-on experience, I have followed her progress with great interest. Here, I thought, is a person who marries ideals with market awareness, altruism with outcomes; a person propelled by values of the heart harnessed alongside a shrewd awareness of logistical and consumer realities. Her high intelligence and her background in social work predisposed her, in my view, to create a sound, much-needed, contemporary business model which would be both admirable and successful.
In the short time since she launched, Judith has more than fulfilled my expectations. Having trained with conventional funeral businesses and learned the ropes, she has connected collegially with experienced, thinking funeral people throughout the country. Her offer to funeral shoppers is neither niche nor iconoclastic, but progressive and attractive to a broad mainstream, and this accounts for her rapid take-off. She has great gifts of warmth and empathy together with a cool-headed mastery of unrelenting logistics. She has brought to market a funeral service of high social value underpinned by business savvy. I take my hat off to her.”
In the spring, Dandelion Farewells was invited to contribute to a Business Affairs Programme for local radio. The download of the interview has just been received, so I have included it here as a great overview of the origins and vision for Dandelion Farewells. I hope it provides helpful insight and some pointers for developing ideas for a funeral.
Please just excuse the stifled coughing fit and any dithering to find the right words for the answers!
Watch out Sussex…I’m heading to your local radio station next…
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One of the most challenging tasks on the original list of ‘things to do’, as I developed ideas and concepts for the new contemporary funeral business that I wanted to establish, was to decide on a company name. This was laboured over for weeks, involving much tea/wine/chat and frankly some really awful suggestions! Many traditional funeral businesses use their family name, but there was no history of funeral directors in my family, and let’s face it my married name didn’t lend itself well – Dandy Funerals??! Also, family names don’t really say anything about the ethos or concept of the company, so I wanted to choose something that I felt to be meaningful and personal.
Time and time again I came back to the image of the dandelion clock as the seeds are gently blown. Several myths and legends have developed about the significance of the dandelion: in Victorian flower language the dandelion symbolises love and was often woven into a wedding bouquet to represent good luck for a newly married couple; when dandelions appear in dreams, they are thought to represent happy reunions; historically they have also been a symbol of grief. And here’s my favourite: ‘When the seeds of the dandelion are blown it is said to carry thoughts, affections and dreams to a loved one’. This idea of a gentle, progressive ‘letting go’ and expressing wishes on parting is such a significant element of the funeral occasion and indeed the process of arranging a funeral. When someone we love has died, assimilating the loss and expressing grief is a journey over time toward acceptance of the change that has happened. Each seed could also represent a moment, an anniversary, a significant conversation, which enables a person to adjust to the new pattern for their life.
Dandelion Farewells seeks to take a little part of this journey with families, to help enable people to make personal choices that are right for them, to honour the person who has died and mark their departure. To enable people to truly to engage with the process of making informed choices about the care of the person who has died and their funeral ceremony, will contribute in a very valuable way to equipping them to feel that they have ‘done a good thing’ (as many people reflect on the funeral they have arranged) and to move forward in the days, weeks and months that lie ahead.
So, when I am asked to explain how ‘Dandelion Farewells’ was decided upon, I share the significance of the name, which I believe reflects the intentions and concerns at the heart of our business.