Category Archives: bereavement

Babyloss – a unique kind of grief

Friday, 23 June 2017

Yesterday, I spent the day visiting our latest funeral director who has joined the list of those who are ‘Recommended by the GFG’ – Bennetts Funeral Directors in Essex,  and met most of the lovely staff there, including Leigh Tanner, who has just recently set up a family support group for those who have been bereaved by miscarriage or stillbirth.

Leigh has personally experienced the trauma of recurrent miscarriages, so this is something very close to her heart. When she and her husband were undergoing the sadness of losing their babies there wasn’t anything available locally where Leigh could share her experience with others who had been through the same experience. She felt completely alone and unsupported, so the opportunity to create a support group for other parents was one that she jumped at.

Here’s Leigh speaking about the group in her own words:

‘So, at Bennetts we are very proud of our bereavement groups and that we are able to provide specialist services by people who have themselves experienced such losses.  My group, Tiny Stars, is a miscarriage and still birth group run by myself.  I personally experienced the trauma of recurrent miscarriages and found that there was no help out there locally for me and so therefore I felt very lonely and isolated. 

This group came about after I joined Bennetts and when I realised that they provided services for pre-term babies and miscarriage.  I instinctively asked Jane if I could learn more about this.  I explained that I had been through this and had never been given the opportunity to have a service or group support.  Jane asked me if I would like to be the primary arranger for babies and start a support group for families who have been through such loss which I was very grateful of such an opportunity. 

The word miscarriage is so taboo, with women and men feeling as if it’s something too common to grieve over but this is not the case.  We at Bennetts are fully aware that any loss is a loss and should be treated as such.  For a family to lose a baby to miscarriage or still birth brings such an enormity of grief that destroys the hopes of a future for a baby you have already fallen in love with, and luckily through Bennetts, I have been given this opportunity to offer support for parents who feel that isolation and loss.  

Our group runs at Merrymeade House, Merrymeade Chase Brentwood CM15 9BG on the 2nd Friday of the month from 9.30 – 10.30 in the tea room.  We have exclusive hire of Merrymeade House for the group and offer free refreshments to all guests.

I do of course understand that attending a group can be very daunting and so therefore if anyone would like to contact me prior to coming or just for a chat I would always be available to talk to someone on 01277 210104 or by email on leigh@bennettsfunerals.co.uk

This is such an important initiative, and the GFG is hugely supportive of Leigh and of Bennetts in setting up the Tiny Stars group for the community. If you or anyone you know in the Brentwood area has lost a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth, Tiny Stars could offer you a place where you can talk to others who have had a similar experience. Do contact Leigh and talk to her.

Leigh also told me about Aching Arms, a babyloss charity run by a group of bereaved mothers who have experienced the pain and devastation of baby loss.

The charity works with more than hospitals across the UK providing teddy bears for parents to take home from hospital when their baby has been miscarried or stillborn. Each bear is a gift from another family who has had a similar experience and who have donated in memory of their baby, and the bear given has the name of their baby on the label. The bears help to provide a connection for bereaved families and ‘to ease their aching arms as they grieve for their baby who has died’.

A bereaved mother explains how this scheme could have helped her:

“When I left hospital without my daughter my heart was broken and my arms were empty. Nothing could have fixed my heart at the point, but if I had had something to hold and cling to then the physical ache I felt so strongly in my arms as I clamped them tightly to my sides might have been less. As soon as I heard about the idea of giving grieving mums a bear to take home I knew that I would have been keen to take one to cuddle as I walked out of the hospital and to sob into in the dark days and nights that followed. Not to replace my baby – nothing ever could – but something to hold as I learnt to live with the empty space my baby left in my heart and in my life.”

The charity also offers every hospital participating in the scheme training for their staff in caring for parents bereaved by miscarriage or stillbirth.

If your local hospital isn’t on the list here do contact Aching Arms on info@achingarms.co.uk

Dates for the diary of every funeral professional

Friday, 3 March 2017

One of the organisation that we rate very highly here at GFG Towers, The Foundation for Infant Loss Training, is holding a series of practical study days for funeral professionals in infant loss training over the coming months, and has asked us to spread the word about them. These study days are a superb opportunity to gain valuable skills that will assist in giving excellent care to families following the death of a baby.

We are hugely supportive of the work being done by Chantal and her team, and will be going along to one of these days and writing about it here on the GFG blog.

Here’s what’s on offer:

Bereavement Photography workshop – all props are provided including casting and inkless hand and foot print kits to demonstrate on our life like dolls
• Memory Making
• Angel Gowns
• Parents’ perspectives of their own loss, identifying good and poor practice from funeral directors
• Memory Boxes
• A demonstration of the Flexmort Cuddle Cot and its benefits
• Resources for a Baby’s funeral
• What is important to parents when their baby has died?
• The concerns of what to say and what not to say to parents
• Retaining a sense of innocence
• Caring for and handling a baby (including the baby’s likely physical appearance)
• The Child Funeral Charity
• Legal Viability, Legal issues, The Coroner, Registering baby and Post Mortem
• Signposting families to support following loss: Counselling, National Charities and Bereavement support

All delegates will take away with them our accredited Infant loss e-learning so that your funeral organisation can be fully trained in this area (unlimited numbers)

Venues & dates:

Exeter – Saturday 1 April 
Southampton – Saturday 22 April 
London – Saturday 29 April 
Cardiff – Friday 2 June 
Birmingham – Saturday 8 July 
Newcastle – Wednesday 12 July 
Manchester – Friday 2 September

10am -4pm

Delegate rate: £100 per head to include lunch, refreshments, E-learning, certificate and all materials and resources. 

Numbers are capped to 25 a session so early booking is advised.

Book now: Email – info@chantallockey.co.uk

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

It is high time funeral people got behind statutory bereavement leave

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

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David Cameron took 2 weeks off when Ivan died

A survey just out shows that 70 per cent of people support statutory paid bereavement leave.

The record shows that churches, celebrant organisations and undertakers’ trade associations aren’t remotely interested in offering any leadership in the matter whatever. Are you aware of anything any of them has said on the matter? 

This is curious. The vocational focus of people who work with the bereaved might be supposed to be the promotion of their emotional health. What else? 

Presently, a bereaved person has no legal right to take time off after a bereavement beyond time off to make funeral arrangements and time off to attend the funeral. More detail here. In the words of Acas: “Employees cannot expect to be granted leave automatically. When leave isn’t granted, they may have to use their holiday allowance.”

Did you sign the e-petition got up by Lucy Herd? If you didn’t, it’s too late now; it’s closed. 

What value can an employee offer when forced back into the workplace after a traumatic bereavement? Very little, you might think. But when presenting his private members Bill to the commons, Labour MP Tom Harris offered these examples: 

“In one case that was recently televised on an episode of Channel 4’s “Undercover Boss”, a driver for the waste disposal company Biffa was forced back to work just a day after the loss of his daughter. In another tragic case a father, a builder, was expected back to work five days after he lost his daughter to sudden infant death syndrome. Despite feeling unready to return to work, having barely slept, the man was told to resume work or lose his job. On yet another occasion, a parent was given just three days off after the death of his four-year-old son. The funeral was arranged on the fourth day, leading to the man having to use up his paid holiday leave to attend.”

Harris’ Bill is awaiting its second reading in the Commons on 24 January 2014. There’s time yet for celebrants and undertakers to get their acts together. 

Lobbying Parliament for an increase in the Social Fund Funeral Payment is all well and good. The campaign for statutory bereavement leave is the clear priority. 

 

 

 

Does death really matter so little?

Thursday, 13 June 2013

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Citizens of the UK have no statutory right to bereavement leave. Momentous as the event of a death may be, it is not reckoned to be of sufficient magnitude to enjoy equal rights with birth. Says a lot about our cultural attitudes to mortality, doesn’t it? 

There’s currently an e-petition calling for a legal right to take time off work in the aftermath of a death. It’s passed the 10,000 mark, triggering a response from the government. This is what they say: 

The death of a family member is deeply upsetting for those involved and the Government would expect any employer to respond to such situations with sensitivity and flexibility. However, the Government believes that all requests for leave related to bereavement are best left for employers and their employees to decide between themselves. The Government has not legislated for bereavement leave in any situation and there are no plans to introduce a specific right to support bereaved parents/relatives. In doing so we would be obliged to put in place limits, standards and definitions. The amount of leave needed can vary from one individual to another, and defining what family relationship would qualify for such leave, would be difficult, as it would be impossible to legislate for every circumstance. Whilst there is no specific right to “bereavement leave”, all employees do have a day-one right to “time off for dependants” which allows them to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with unexpected or sudden emergencies, including when a close family member dies. Time off will cover arranging and attending the funeral. Employees who exercise this right are protected against dismissal or victimisation. The right does not include an entitlement to pay. The decision as to whether the employee will be paid is left to the employer’s discretion or to the contract of employment between them. The Government hopes that employers are as sympathetic and flexible as possible in responding to employee requests for time off, particularly when bereavement is involved. This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.

There may be flaws in the government’s argument. The statement “defining what family relationship would qualify for such leave, would be difficult” applies equally to birth, doesn’t it? It isn’t difficult at all. 

You can sign the petition here. I hope you will. It won’t make the slightest bit of difference in the short term. We have to play the long game with this one. 

Here’s a reminder of the present status quo: 

Maternity leave

As an employee you have the right to 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave making one year in total. The combined 52 weeks is known as Statutory Maternity Leave. 

Paternity leave

As long as you meet certain conditions you can take either one or two weeks’ Ordinary Paternity Leave. You can’t take odd days off and if you take two weeks they must be taken together. 

Compassionate leave

If you are an ‘employee’, you have the right to unpaid time off work to deal with emergencies involving a ‘dependant’ – this could be your husband, wife, partner, child, parent, or anyone living in your household as a member of the family.  

When a dependant dies, you can take time off to make funeral arrangements, as well as to attend a funeral.  

EXCLUSIVE: It’s going to be one wacky sendoff for Downton’s Matthew

Monday, 1 April 2013

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The GFG can exclusively reveal that Downton star Matthew Crawley will be cremated in a way-out guerilla funeral on the ancestral estate in a ritual created by the grief-stricken family.

Devotees of toff-soap Downton Abbey were left dazed and heartbroken at the end of the 2012 Christmas special when heir Matthew Crawley was violently killed after his motor car flipped as it swerved to avoid an oncoming lorry.

Dan Stevens

According to plot notes for upcoming series 4, jotted by writer Julian Fellowes and seen exclusively by the GFG, a distraught Lady Mary will banish local undertaker Grassby’s men when they come to take Matthew’s body into their care.

In  heartrending scenes that follow, viewers will see Lady Mary supervise sobbing servants as they wash Matthew’s body, dress it in his favourite suit and lay it out in the state drawing room flanked by bowed footmen and surrounded by candles and essential oils. Here, it is reverently watched over by members of the family.

Meanwhile, it’s all hands to the pump downstairs as the servants are enlisted to build Matthew’s coffin and refurbish a derelict cremator (pictured) which was last used to cremate Lady Mary’s convention-busting great-grandfather Lord Bertram Crawley in 1882.

In a final agonising development, the funeral procession, led by butler Carson, is surrounded by police tipped off by villainous valet Thomas Barrow. After a tense standoff the proceedings are allowed to go ahead in a ceremony led by real-life funeral celebrant and GFG commenter Gloria Mundi.

RJC

The storyline is believed to be inspired by Fellowes’ near neighbour and cremation pioneer Captain Thomas Hanham, who lived just 20 miles away in Blandford Forum. Hanham illegally cremated his wife and his mother in the grounds of his estate. The authorities did not prosecute him and a few years later the first Cremation Act was passed.

The GFG believes that Fellowes intends to raise awareness of family-arranged or home funerals, sometimes termed DIY funerals. He was overheard at a funeral he recently attended to exclaim, “Why on earth do we hand over the whole bally shooting match to strangers? We really should jolly well do more of this ourselves.”

Fellowes’ plot notes reveal that he even considered cremating Matthew on an open-air pyre. A scribble in the margin betrays second thoughts: “No. A twist too far. Maybe for Maggie [Smith].” Dame Maggie Smith plays the part of the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

NOTE: Journalists and bloggers are asked as a matter of courtesy to acknowledge the GFG as their source when reporting this story.

I hated my brother. When he died, all I felt was happiness…

Saturday, 4 August 2012

 

 

Liz Hodgkinson writing in The Daily Mail 31 July 2012

The news came as a shock, yes, but it didn’t provoke tears, or even any sense of grief. I’d just heard from my niece that my brother Richard had died of a heart attack, aged 62, following an apparently minor operation. And all I felt was a surge of happiness and relief.

That day, five years ago, a long, dark shadow that had blighted my existence was lifted. You see, I hated my brother and he hated me to the point of pathology. So much so that we hadn’t even seen or spoken to each other for 20 years.

I imagine this sentiment will jar with many because it goes against everything we are  supposed to feel for our siblings. After all, it is meant to be the strongest and longest bond we will experience in life.

To admit such animosity is to break one of our strongest social taboos — but the feeling is far from rare, with psychologists estimating that in as many as a third of all families there is bitter hatred and rivalry between siblings.

Writer Margaret Drabble’s long estrangement from her novelist sister, Booker Prize-winner A.S  Byatt, is a case in point.

Their feud, which started at birth, is, according to Drabble, completely unresolvable, and has provoked much interest.

Ever since Cain slew Abel, stories and myths abound of siblings turning against each other. 

But what does it actually feel like to hate a sibling? Well, it’s something that is always there, lying dissonant and dormant in the background. You dread the slightest contact, whether by letter, email or phone call.

In my case, before my brother stopped speaking to me altogether, he would preface any communication by saying: ‘You’re supposed to be so clever.’

Harmless at first glance, perhaps, but words designed to fill me with rage. And they achieved their goal, unerringly.

When there is hatred at this level, you can’t even pretend that person doesn’t exist, as it burns a deep and lasting hole in your psyche.

 

The animosity between my brother and me stems from childhood. Apparently my mother had only wanted one child, so when she became pregnant with my brother while she was still breastfeeding me, she was distraught.

He was born 18 months after me, following a very difficult birth which nearly killed our mother. Right from the start, I was the firm favourite of both parents and the question: ‘Why can’t you be more like your sister?’ was often asked.

Such favouritism, I believe, is the crux of it. American psychologist Jeanne Safer’s latest book, Cain’s Legacy, explores this very phenomenon.

Writing from her own experience of being estranged from her brother since birth, she believes it is favouritism that causes such bitter sibling rivalry. ‘When this happens, it sets you up for a lifetime of strife,’ she says.

‘The bond can never quite be severed, yet the bitter hatred gets ever worse. Because it happens before you can speak, it goes far deeper than anybody ever realises and can never be healed.’

 

Read the whole article here

Learning to dance with death

Monday, 25 June 2012

 

Posted by Vale

 

I was reading the vision statement for the Dying Matters Coalition recently (as you do) and stubbed my toe on their ambition to address death, dying and bereavement in a way that:

’will involve a fundamental change in society in which dying, death and bereavement will be seen and accepted as the natural part of everybody’s life cycle’

It made me wonder if there are any model societies where – in the terms of the Dying Matters Coalition – they have got it right.

I had the same reaction to those Tory statements about ‘Broken Britain’. I always wanted to ask when they thought it broke and when it was last ‘whole’. (My sneaking suspicion is that it was at about the time that this verse – never sung now – of All Things bright and Beautiful was written: ‘The rich man in his castle/The poor man at his gate/God made them, high or lowly/And ordered their estate’. But that’s a whole other argument).

Has there ever been a society with a truly healthy attitude to death, dying and bereavement? It would be interesting to hear some suggestions: is it Mexico with its Day of the Dead? Or Ghana with its glorious coffins?

My own mind flew back to the middle ages in Europe. It was a culture steeped in death and dying and supported by the consolations of a universal and unchallenged faith, but I am not sure they managed to naturalise death even then. The Danse Macabre – so often a representation of death-in- life – is no celebration of bereavement and dying, it is much more a metaphor for death’s disruptive power and the universality of its challenge.

Nothing, it seems to me, has changed.

Post mortem photography

Monday, 20 February 2012

Posted by Vale

We had quite a debate recently when we published some recent post mortem photgraphs.

They were respectful, intriguing and, some of them, quite lovely in their own way. But they made us – and some of you – uneasy. Did the photographer have permission to publish? Was it right to expose the dead – so vulnerable in their invulnerability – to public gaze in this way?

We weren’t always so squeamish. Back in the days when photography was still a new art, the idea of photographing the dead was seized on as something that, like embalming, preserved ‘the body for the gaze of the observer’. The quotation is from an interesting essay by an American, Don Meinwald, about Death and Photography in 19th Century America.

The photographs were for private consumption rather than public sharing and Meinwald links them to the Ars Moriendi tradition of funeral portraits. Photographs of children were especially treasured:

These photographs served less as a reminder of mortality than as a keepsake to remember the deceased. This was especially common with infants and young children; Victorian era childhood mortality rates were extremely high, and a post-mortem photograph might be the only image of the child the family ever had. The later invention of the carte de visite, which allowed multiple prints to be made from a single negative, meant that copies of the image could be mailed to relatives.

The quotation comes from a portal site over on Squidoo with lots of links. Fascinating. Macarbre. Unbearably poignant.

Symbols of loss and mourning

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Posted by Vale

We use signs and symbols in our daily lives all the time. A green cross outside a shop means a chemist; a green P on a car is a new driver abroad; a twist of pink ribbon somehow signifies breast cancer. But what are our symbols of loss and mourning?

We used to have plenty. Whitby – and it’s jewellers – grew rich on them in Victorian times, but they have almost all gone now – but wouldn’t it be nice, sometimes, to be able to let people know that you are still grieving, remembering, letting go?

There are symbols out there. You can buy a mourning cross from this website here. Not for me – but maybe you like it?

In a way though, it sharpens the question for the secular mourner – where is the non-religious symbol of mourning or remembrance?

It’s a slightly tangential thought but I came across the the West African tradition of mourning robes decorated with Adinkra symbols recently.

The name Adinkra comes from a legendary King conquered by the Ashante people, who, so the stories tell, wore luxurious patterned fabrics. Adinkra also means “goodbye,” and the special cloth, printed with Andinkra symbols, was reserved for funeral garments. The symbols themselves are rich, expressive and beautiful. The selection printed on the mourning garment were supposed to describe the particular virtues and qualities of the person mourned. Here are a few:

 

There are more of the symbols here.

There’s a challenge in these lovely shapes and signs – what symbols can we make to mark our loss? How do we show the world that – for a while at least – there is mourning here?

In the light of Charles and Jenny’s comments here is the other funeral symbol made by the good people at Mourning Cross:

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