Why it’s finally OK to talk about death
Co-op funeral director Raegan Drew tells us why discussing your funeral arrangements shouldn’t be a taboo topic
In 2018, when Co-op launched its biggest ever survey into the subject, 18 million people said they felt uncomfortable talking about death and bereavement. The following year, that number dropped to 16.5 million. So, national attitudes to death are changing, but there’s still some way to go, which is why I always encourage people to find ways to get the conversation started.
Part of everyday life
It’s important to remember that death is the one thing that’s guaranteed – it's going to happen whether we want to think about it or not, so it’s important to normalise it. I’ve seen that happening through social media, with people posting about their grief or a funeral service. In fact, 26% of Co-op employees have known mourners to post on social media from the funeral itself.
Pop culture plays a huge part in bringing attention to the subject, too. We see soap opera storylines focusing on grief, and funeral processions taking place for celebrities, sportspeople and local heroes, where the public line up to pay their respects. We’ve also found our annual funeral music chart, where we rank the most popular song choices, has encouraged people to talk about death more in their everyday lives.
Communicate your wishes
Saying what you want to happen when you die is not something to be feared, and yet our 2019 survey found that 43% of people hadn’t done so. However, by not talking about it, you are leaving it for someone else to worry about after you’re gone.
When we sit down with a family who knows what the deceased wanted – for example, to be cremated and for their ashes to be scattered in a garden of remembrance – they don’t have to deal with the pressure of making those difficult decisions. After all, thinking about someone’s final resting place is a massive thing to do if you’ve no idea what they wanted.
Sometimes, when asked about their wishes, people say: ‘Oh, just put me out with the bins!’ Not only is that unhelpful, it’s simply not feasible. There are so many options, and I would encourage people to think about what they might actually want. It doesn’t have to be conventional – one in every 25 funerals arranged by Co-op are direct cremations, with no service and no one present. Instead, a celebration is held later on, perhaps at a favourite restaurant or natural beauty spot.
Start a conversation today
Even knowing what song someone might like played can be a great help to a person who is grieving. Feeling like they’ve been able to do something for the person who has died can bring them some peace of mind.
It’s the same for those who come to discuss their funeral plan with us. It’s not morbid – we have a cup of tea and a chat, and I think they leave with a sense of relief, knowing that everything is sorted. People worry about coming in but, once they’ve done it, they can't believe how easy it was. I'm speaking to a gentleman this week who has come back five times because he’s thought of additional things he wants. Being able to visualise the day and know what’s going to happen has brought him great comfort.
Start a conversation with someone close to you by finding an opener. I think music is great for this. Put a song on your phone and say it’s what you’d like played at your funeral. Then turn it around and ask what they might they like. It’s a light way to start asking some important questions.
Something you’ve seen on TV or read in the newspaper can also be a gateway into the topic. Or simply comment on some flowers they have on display – ask if those tulips, roses or daffodils are their favourites. It doesn’t have to be serious, but you are bringing the topic into the open while gathering little bits of information that you can draw on in the future.
Remember, it’s OK to talk about death, so speak to a loved one today and discover what options are available by learning more about our funeral plans.
All statistics are from Co-op’s Burying Traditions: The Changing Face of UK Funerals media report 2019