By Tracey Harriman, Funeral Arranger – Littlehampton

On Wednesday 23 March, I’ll be joining Marie Curie to support the second ‘National Day of Reflection’ – the first was in 2021 to mark a year since lockdown. Alongside my Care Centre colleagues and colleagues across Co-op, I’ll reflect on the millions of people who are grieving and remember our families who’ve lost loved ones during the pandemic. 

I refer to our Funeralcare clients as our families because that’s how we feel about them. We often feel quite territorial and protective of them and feel it’s our role to support and protect them during a difficult time. Over the past two years we’ve not been able to do that as we’d like – we’ve not even been able to hold their hands. I know this has affected me and my colleagues. 

Every day I feel proud and humbled to support our families, even more so during the pandemic. Lots of industries were impacted or shut down and many people were furloughed, but the funeral industry carried on in a different way – we had to. 

Things changed overnight 

With the pandemic, everything moved so quickly. Changes to how we work usually take months to plan, but we needed to react almost immediately to the impacts of covid. As funeral arranger, many aspects of my role changed and I supported our clients’ understanding of the new rules and guidelines around funerals. 

I found myself having to say ‘no’ to our families’ wishes. I just wasn’t used to doing that, but unfortunately I did it an awful lot during that first year of the pandemic. Most of my funeral arrangements were conducted over the phone or by email, but I endeavoured to do everything I could and make the experience as normal as possible. At one point, only 10 could attend a funeral and that hit us so hard. 

Adapting and creating something beautifully intimate  

I arranged a funeral for a well-known local gentleman, where his family wished to have 150 people in attendance. With the covid rules at the time, it wasn’t possible. I explained this to the family and when I began to talk about the other restrictions in place, such as: no limos, no embalming and no donation box, the reality of the impact became quite overwhelming. Afterwards, me and my colleague had our heads in our hands with tears streaming down our faces. If it felt so devastating for us, how did it feel for our families? 

I don’t usually attend our funerals, but I decided to direct this gentleman’s service. There was certainly something beautifully intimate about the service and many others I arranged. I helped our families to adapt, but by not having such elaborate services and such a small number of close family members and friends attending, in many ways it did remove some pressure. Everyone has been incredible and so accepting and dignified, it’s been quite humbling to see. 

A much deeper understanding of grief 

For me, the National Day of Reflection isn’t just about the minutes’ silence – it’s an entire day of reflection. I know I’ll take the time to remember the families I’ve supported and all those who’ve lost a loved one during the last year. I’ll think about how, as a business, we’ve continued to support our country through an unprecedented time. 

Today, we’re largely back to normal with funeral services. But as a nation, as families meet up after long periods of separation, they’re beginning to reminisce and realise what they’ve missed. Lots of grief is now being realised which hasn’t been expressed yet. This was intensified through the media in recent months as news unfolded of people who’d not stuck to the rules during the times of heavy restrictions. This has upset many families who couldn’t say their best goodbye to their loved ones. 

I now have a much deeper understanding of grief – with a heightened appreciation for levels of anger and frustration. To support this growing tidal wave of grief, I took the decision to help others manage their grief. As a volunteer I joined Cruse Bereavement Support to help people who’ve experienced a loss and are struggling to manage their grief.  

You have the permission to grieve 

Some people handle grief better than others – you’ll know some people who may try to underplay how you’re feeling and perhaps encourage you to ‘get over it’. There’s no time limit to grief. 

Death, dying and bereavement are still very taboo subjects, but the ‘National Day of Reflection’ gives us all the permission to talk about them. If someone asks you ‘how are you doing?’, if you’re having a tough time, find the courage to say so. These conversations are so valuable and there’s so much to be learned: for people to become much braver in initiating difficult conversations and for people to become more honest and less frightened about sharing how we’re really feeling. 

I know that for me, this Wednesday will help me reflect on the grief I’ve felt and seen this past year. It’s been a tough time for Funeralcare colleagues and for some it’s impacted their mental wellbeing. It’s part of our job to control our emotions, but through the pandemic we’ve been exposed to grief in an extreme way. We must also remember that we haven’t only been supporting our families. We’ve lost family, friends and colleagues too.

More Information

For more information about The National Day of Reflection, visit the Marie Curie Website. For details on our partnership with Cruise Bereavement Support you can find out more here. There are also practical guides for colleagues which cover returning to work following a bereavement and talking to someone who’s bereaved – you can view this information here.