The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Does distance disadvantage the bereaved?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

telephone image

 

Guest blog post by civil funeral celebrant Wendy Coulton

More often the next of kin I work with to plan non-religious funeral ceremonies live in another part of the UK but this week I have had my first experience of discussing and planning arrangements with relatives living on two different continents!

Creating trust and an open dialogue through long distance telephone calls and email communication is more challenging than a conversation in person. A lot can be gleaned from reading facial expressions and body language or observing how relatives interact with each other. There is also of course the power of silence or pauses which can reveal so much about relationships or emotions which may not be as comfortable on the end of a phone line.

I ask the client how they would like to communicate and whether they would like the planning of arrangements to be broken down into bite-sized chunks or prefer to do it in one long conversation or email.

Some clients drip feed me questions or responses by text and others co-ordinate contributions from other people who contact me direct. Offers to skype have not yet been taken up.

Personally for me the most difficult aspect of the ‘remote conversation’ is the tribute research and feeling I have captured the real essence of the person who has died.

It does feel different meeting a client for the first time minutes before the funeral starts but there is a notable shift by the time our shared funeral experience ends. And it’s possible that some prefer the detachment of long distance preparation.

I don’t want my clients to feel disadvantaged in any way because they live so far away and I hope communication technology doesn’t dilute my warmth and professionalism. Any tips or guidance would be welcome.

 

2 comments on “Does distance disadvantage the bereaved?

  1. Quokkagirl

    Tuesday 25th March 2014 at 7:13 am

    I too have always found the phone call meetings the most difficult. I always offer Skype so that they can see my face and get a measure of who they are dealing with but they more often than not refuse Skype. In an ideal world with a little bit of time spare, I tend to chat briefly and generally in the initial phone call to ‘warm them up’ and then fix a date and time to chat again properly (I I always joke that I’m going to keep them talking and they may need a cuppa and a slice of cake ready for the phone call. It makes it all much more cozy and friendly somehow.

    There’s no right way to do this and it’s never ideal but I have had some lovely, long and revealing conversations with families in these circumstances. What’s more, upon meeting we have embraced like old friends.

    This line of work is about having so many skills …most of which have to be natural – they can’t be learned….the honesty and kindness in your voice being just one of them. That cuts through barriers in an instant – whether on the phone or face to face. And none of that cloying singsong sympathy. People don’t want that ‘funeral voice’. They want someone they feel comfortable with, who they can chat with….. and laugh with…ultimately cry with and someone to whom they can speak the truth safely and with confidence that you won’t misuse it.

    In a phone meeting, your voice has to convey all of that…and if the first call doesn’t work – set a date for another one – they might be in a different mood next time. And think of the petrol money you’ve saved!!

  2. MC

    Friday 21st March 2014 at 1:25 pm

    You’re doing a great job Wendy. Not everyone wants to meet face-to-face even when the distances aren’t too great. I have met people in motorway service stations to discuss funerals – not ideal and, on reflection, Skype would’ve been better! My heart sinks when families suggest Skype but it often works out really well. It’s not always possible, but you could see if they’d like to meet up on the day of the funeral for an informal chat over a cup of tea in a nearby pub/cafe.

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