Following our successful event in January with the ILC I have been reflecting on how we can elevate funerals up the social and political agenda. One issue that I return to again and again is the universality of some kind of ritual after someone has died, and the need to dispose of the body. My colleague, Dr John Troyer, has recently argued here that peoples’ unwillingness to talk about what they want to happen after they have died is not because it is taboo, but because they are not encouraged to talk about it enough. Certainly, this is what I regularly encounter in my day job: when I tell people what I research and ask for their opinion they are typically more than able and willing to discuss funerals they have been to and what they would like to happen at their own.
So why do funerals not attract more political attention and how can a clearer and more systematic approach to resourcing and providing support for bereaved people be created? At the event in January we focused particularly on the costs associated with dying and funerals, the role of the state in providing support for those who struggle to pay for a funeral, developing alternative burial and cremation options, and the responsibility of financial service providers to create simple and easy to understand products to help prepare individuals and their families. These are all positive moves, and have been complemented by the recent release of the joint Bereavement Services Alliance and Cruse document that sets National Standards for Bereavement Care Services. Common to all the work being done in this area is a message that reminds us of the need for the public, commercial and third sectors to work together to both prepare people for the end of life (and its associated costs both emotional and financial) and what happens after people die.
We cannot expect the state to be able to financially support everyone who is bereaved, yet nor can we expect that people who have very little will prioritise funding their death rather than living their life. Encouraging talk about funeral provision is therefore a delicate balancing act of managing priorities, expectations, obligations, burdens, and responsibilities, and the more that we can facilitate this openly and encourage people to engage with what will inevitably come their way the better. I hope that the upcoming Dying Matters Awareness Week with the theme of ‘You Only Die Once’ goes some way towards this.