The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Exploring the stigma around baby loss

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Big Buddha Films

Guest post by Debbie Howard – Director/Producer –  Big Buddha Films

During the making of my previous short film Peekaboo, I had already built up close relationships with many families who had lost babies, so I had their trust from the beginning of this documentary and was able to gain remarkable access to their personal lives. I had become passionate about telling these parents’ stories over the past six years, as I had discovered how much of a taboo talking about stillbirth is and how this impedes the healing of the families involved. I had met courageous, humorous and generous people and desperately wanted to share their stories with others.

Over 3,500 babies are stillborn in the UK every year – shockingly, the highest stillbirth rate for any country in Europe. Approximately 15 babies a day are stillborn in the UK.  Only 10% of stillbirths happen because of a genetic problem that meant the baby had no chance of surviving. The reality is that with more awareness and more research, thousands of babies’ lives across the UK could be saved. Taking ten times more lives than cot death, stillbirth is more than a personal tragedy, it is a public health crisis. Urgent advances are needed to understand and raise awareness of the causes of stillbirth and how it can be prevented.

“…This is one of the most neglected, marginalised, stigmatised issues in global health today. We simply don’t talk about stillbirths.”
Richard Horton, Editor in Chief, The Lancet

People need to understand that it’s not abstract when a baby dies. It’s someone’s child that has died. Saying things like ‘never mind you can have another’ aren’t helpful, in exactly the same way that we wouldn’t say that to someone who lost a ten year old child. We need to be able to feel comfortable to talk about their babies, to say their name. I hope this film will bring much more understanding around what happens in a family when their baby dies.

In Still Loved we focus mainly on three families’ distinct and unique stories, supported by other families to punctuate and enhance the three main narratives. These are cleverly woven together into one story arc, telling a common story with different voices. This helps to illustrate the frequency of baby loss and how it affects so many more people than just the parents, including siblings, extended family and friends.

We look closely at the role of the fathers. Dads often feel marginalized when a baby dies, most of the focus being on the mother. In Still Loved the dads express their feelings about losing their baby and about the way our culture and society expects men to handle this, not really giving them a place or time to grieve. We are passionate about giving the fathers a voice in this film and they relish the opportunity to speak candidly about how they really feel.

The challenge I face is to engage audiences to watch a film about such a difficult subject matter and for this film to have further reach than those that have lost a baby themselves. In order to tackle this, I chose stories that offer hope, love, resilience and courage. Ultimately it’s a human story uncovering the incredible ability to triumph over adversity. The participants are very candid about their feelings, and although heartbreaking in places, we use humor to offer relief and create light and shade throughout the film.

Watch the trailer for Still Loved here: https://vimeo.com/145618118

We are about to release Still Loved into cinemas during October, for International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. This has been extremely difficult due to the subject matter being too much for people. A lot of programmers simply wouldn’t watch it, or just told us “There is no interest in this subject.” This was challenging, being that they are the Gatekeepers, a big wall between our audience and the film itself. Only a handful of cinemas came on board to screen the film, so the rest of the screenings we have booked through Ourscreen. The cinema books you in and you have to pre sell a lot of tickets through your own networks two weeks before the screening or it’s cancelled. This is incredibly difficult, because very few people book cinema tickets weeks in advance and no press will cover the event until it’s confirmed.

We have been doing a huge amount of promotion and publicity ourselves, with the support of Tommy’s and Sands. But we want to reach a wider audience. It’s no use preaching to the converted. Those that have lost babies know exactly what happens when a baby dies. We want the film to reach those that don’t know. It’s an incredibly valuable film for midwives and health care professionals, but also for anyone supporting someone through a loss. Ultimately it’s a film for anyone who has ever, or will ever lose someone they love.

“The subject matter of Still Loved is emotionally challenging, it should be, this is not a film to make the viewer feel comfortable. To make progress, we must break the silence, the stigma and the taboo that surrounds the death of a baby, Still Loved begins this process it provides an accessible, original and profound insight into the effects of the death of a baby.”
Alexandra Heazell, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Obstetrics and Clinical Director of the Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre

If you would like to see a screening of Still Loved please see the screening list on our website and follow the instructions on how to book:

http://www.stilllovedfilm.com/screenings.html

To find out more about the film visit www.stilllovedfilm.com

Best Maker of Hand Carved Memorials in an Indigenous Material

Sunday, 25 September 2016

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Hannah Wessel of Stoneletters

Fergus Wessel, founder of Stoneletters, is a master of his craft, and provides a personal, sensitive service for bereaved families. He operates from his workshop in the Cotswolds with his small team, and prospective clients are encouraged to go and meet him there to see his work up close and discuss the options.

Fergus believes in a personal service and that the best ideas for wording for a headstone come through talking and learning more about the person the stone is to commemorate.

Slowly, through exploring choices of the different materials, ideas for wording and different designs, Fergus and the client together create a memorial that is totally unique: “As the maker, I feel a strong obligation to talk through every aspect of the inscription with the client so that every mark we make on the stone is purposeful and deliberate.”

Always using British materials wherever possible, every headstone is made with love and care from conception to completion, in close collaboration with the client, and with no limitations on the size or shape of inscription.

Stoneletters believe in choice without boundaries, and that almost anything is possible, but at the same time Fergus and his team have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the necessary requirements of local authorities and Diocesan regulations.

 

Runner Up in this category: Bierton & Woods Stonemasons

Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death

Saturday, 24 September 2016

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Amanda Woodward of Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Service

Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Service is leading the way in working with their local community to understand the myriad of emotions and potential difficulties they may have to endure during a bereavement.

Around six years ago, the company took the bold decision to invest in this area of communicating knowledge, and opened a bereavement service in the centre of Tamworth. This was launched in the local press, inviting people who had any type of question relating to a future or past bereavement to simply walk in their door and ask. Initially there was much skepticism over the idea, but in a short space of time, with regular newspaper prompts reaffirming that free advice is just a phone call or step through a door away, many people of Tamworth use the bereavement centre for guidance and advice. Cheryl Dutton, who mans the centre is not only part of the dedicated staff, but also a trained counsellor available to offer a listening ear and gentle support when needed.

Tamworth Co-op also use social media as a way of linking with the local community, not just as a vehicle for promoting their business. They offer innovative awareness raising events, support local organisations working with bereaved families and host many physical events that encourage bereaved people to come together, giving a greater understanding of perspective and in turn helping individuals find some company and comfort.

The judges felt that this low key, community based, thoughtful approach to bringing the difficult subject of death and bereavement into general awareness is of huge value, and believe the work being done by Tamworth Co-op deserves to be widely applauded.

 

Runner Up in this category: Beyond Goodbye

Best Alternative to a Hearse

Thursday, 22 September 2016

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Gordon Tulley of Respect Bentley

Gordon’s 1948 Bentley Birkin Special is this year’s classiest and most distinctive addition to the range of alternative hearses available to bereaved people who want to personalize their funeral.

Gordon Tulley is a restlessly entrepreneurial innovator in the funerals business. He owns natural burial grounds, is a specialist in direct cremation and direct burial and he is inventor of the Respect Everybody shroud – http://shrouds4all.blogspot.co.uk/

Gordon’s hearse is a 1948 Bentley Birkin Special, one of only 20 survivors. The bier is from a 1912 Viceroy carriage and is suitable for most coffin sizes. It is available nationally.

In launching his vintage Bentley hearse, Gordon has married his love of motorcars to his commitment to offering bereaved people imaginative ways of personalizing the sendoffs of their loved ones.

Gordon is a huge character.

respect-bentley

Runner Up in this category: Harrison Funeral Home Electric Vehicle

 

Best Funeral Caterer

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

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Sandy Weatherburn accepting the award on behalf of Dawn Thompson of Claret Catering

What sets Dawn apart is her vocation to create and cater for appropriate and meaningful funeral after-parties.

Dawn is unusual among caterers in having a special calling to cater for funeral after-parties – wakes, teas, call them what you will. For Dawn, catering is not just about feeding people on happy occasions. It has always been her ambition to be the person whom families call to cater for all the special occasions of their lives from birth to death.

Dawn said: “I am not afraid to talk about death, nor do I shy away from those who are bereaved and grieving. It is my policy to always visit the family members who are arranging the wake. I am happy to sit for as long as is needed, talking and more importantly, listening to stories and memories of a person I will never meet but who will be the centre of my attention, making sure that ‘what he/she would have liked’ is catered for and taken care of. A wake is part of the rite of passage which, after the funeral, gives people “permission” to move on with their lives again.”

Dawn has even looked after the family dog whilst the bereaved family is at the crematorium.

 

Runner Up in this category: Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Service

Best Internet Bereavement Resource

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

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Jonathan Davies of MuchLoved.com

MuchLoved, the UK’s best and most ethical memorial website, is ten years old this year, and has facilitated more than £25 million of donations to charities. The award celebrates these achievements together with the unpaid input of co-founder Andy Daniels.

Andy Daniels, who founded MuchLoved.com with Jonathan Davies, and is the technical brains behind the platform, is stopping day-to-day work with MuchLoved this year after more than a decade of unpaid volunteer work helping to create and then develop the service. He’s lost thousands of hours of sleep in the meantime. Andy has played a leading part in getting MuchLoved.com to where it is today.

MuchLoved was conceived and founded by Jonathan Davies after he suffered the sudden death of his brother Philip aged just 21 whilst at University in 1995. MuchLoved is the working name of the MuchLoved Charitable Trust which was awarded registered charity status early in 2007. It is run by a board of trustees.

Jonathan Davies said: “In the mid and late 1990’s I lost both my brother and mother in quick succession. My brother’s death at the young age of 21 was in particular sudden, unexpected and overwhelming in shock.

“I was keen to create some sort of online memorial to him, a legacy that could show many of his happy years and make it easy for his school and university friends in particular to view, make contact and send in pictures and thoughts of their own. After some research I found however that there was no appropriate service available and I also felt that the technology and cost needed to create the type of tribute I wanted was prohibitive.

“I was also preoccupied with my own grieving and sense of loss and imagined that people were maybe not yet ready for the idea of an online memorial. After a few years my life started to move on again in a positive direction, with marriage and children, but the idea did not go away. In March 2000 I registered the domain name MuchLoved.com and a couple of years later started to meet with my friend and computer programmer Andy Daniels to discuss actively making the idea a reality.”

MuchLoved.com is a labour of love. Andy’s volunteer work is matched by the commitment, hours of unpaid work and thousands of pounds of his own money that Jonathan Davies himself has poured into this project.

 

Runner Up in this category: Funeral Stationery 4U

Crematorium of the Year

Monday, 19 September 2016

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Martin Birch of Thornhill Crematorium, Cardiff

This year’s winner is particularly praised for addressing funeral poverty in imaginative ways, not least through participation in the pioneering initiative of the local authority funeral scheme, which challenges the rising cost of funerals, while making the funeral purchase more transparent. Approximately 12% of cremations carried out at this crematorium use this service.

Performing around 2,700 cremations annually, Thornhill Crematorium has a 98% satisfaction rating from families who choose it

Rated as providing gold standard provision for both cremation and burial under the Charter for the Bereaved criteria, recent outstanding improvements to their premises have included refurbishing both chapels and changing the structural layout at no additional cost to the Authority through an innovative budget strategy.

With strong environmental awareness and a comprehensive recycling scheme, this year’s winner has attained Green Flag status, an acknowledgement of being one of the best green spaces in the country.

Runner up in this category: Mortlake Crematorium

Category sponsor: Scattering Ashes

Cemetery of the Year

Sunday, 18 September 2016

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Mohamed Omer from Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery

Against all the odds the Trustees of the Gardens of Peace have transformed wasteland into a beautiful and sustainable burial ground.

The story of the creation of the Gardens of Peace is one of gentle heroism.

The shortage of burial space in and around London is of great concern to many, and particularly to those faiths that forbid cremation.

The Garden of Peace Cemetery was originally a concept devised by a small group of people within the area that was able to identify an available piece of barren land and gain planning consent for a cemetery.

The small group enlisted others to form a Trust/registered charity and commenced the purchase of the land and its initial design. This was not without many problems in relation to the land itself being waterlogged, fly-tipped and in an appalling condition. A polluted stream also ran through the site.

There was also some local opposition and one instance of serious vandalism in the early days. Notwithstanding this the Trustees pressed on and were able to overcome these early difficulties. It should be noted that the Trustees sought no funding from the public purse and hence the project is a true community venture.

Donations were received from the community that enabled the laying out of the cemetery and the erection of buildings, all of which have strong environmental benefits, for example:

  • The buildings are constructed of natural timber and are as open as possible
  • The largest building roof has a green roof so that neighbours’ view is pleasant.
  • Buildings are clad to reduce noise.
  • Water is provided from a borehole.
  • Buildings are heated via solar panels.
  • Extensive landscaping to protect the green belt and wildlife and natural habitat
  • All the burials are conducted without the use of coffins.
  • Graves are covered with a sedum mat giving a natural country look rather than graves.
  • All the excess spoil is recycled using a soil grading machine
  • The once polluted stream that was void of any life at all received detailed attention to a point where plants and wildlife had re-established themselves. Unfortunately the stream was polluted by a business upstream, however the Trustees simply started again and restored the situation.

Recognising the need for support for Muslim Women who lose a child at any stage, Gardens of Peace set up Muslim Bereavement Support Service and work closely with all the national organisation as well as NHS so that spiritual bereavement support can be provided to mothers of the Muslim faith.

The Gardens are run entirely by volunteers headed by a lady Muslim GP.

Runner up in this category: Higher Ground Meadow

Gravedigger of the Year

Saturday, 17 September 2016

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David Homer

Nominated by many of the funeral directors he works with, this year’s winner set up his own grave digging business in 2007. David has quickly become the favoured contracted gravedigger for many funeral directors, both corporate and independent, in the Midlands area.

Digging by hand, and completing around 300 graves a year, and around 150 plots for cremated remains with his small team, David is highly praised by those nominating him for his professionalism and perfectionism.

Nothing is too much trouble and any time or distance is never a problem, nor the amount of time a family takes to say their final goodbyes.

An example of his thoughtfulness was a recent burial where one of the mourners was in a wheelchair. On learning of this, our winner laid lengths of his grass matting all the way from the pathway of the Churchyard to the graveside to ensure as smooth a journey as possible. He has a huge pride in his work and the highest of standards.

Runner up in this category: Martin House of Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground

Florist of the Year

Friday, 16 September 2016

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Debbie Western

Debbie has a particular personal passion and an unrivalled gift for creating floral displays for funerals. She has supplied flowers for the sendoffs of celebrities.

In an outstanding field, Debbie stands out because funeral flowers are her specialism. This is a matter of personal predilection rather than business opportunism: what Debbie loves most is creating floral tributes to people who have died. Her reputation for excellence has spread. Among recent celebrity clients she counts the late David Gest. Although she didn’t know she was creating the floral tributes for his funeral when she received the order, it was only when she delivered them that she found out.

Based in Rotherhithe, East London, Debbie works at the heart of a community that still believes in a proper sendoff – with banks of flowers. She recently supplied flower arrangements for the funeral of Bermondsey undertaker Barry Albin-Dyer. People love what she does. A characteristic testimonial sent to the judges reads: “The arrangement was SO impressive that a member of public en route called through the window and said how beautiful it looked!!!!!”

Debbie has been working with flowers for over 40 years. For 25 of them she was Head of Floristry at Southwark College.

Runners up in this category: Flowers by Susan, Inspired Flower Design & Tuckshop Flowers

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