After the funeral

Complaints

There is only one chance to get a funeral right and all good funeral directors know this.

Sadly, mistakes do happen from time to time and can be difficult to rectify.

For families who do find themselves dissatisfied with the service they have received from a funeral director, there are a number of options available.

When using the services of a funeral director who are in membership of a trade association, such as SAIF or the NAFD, there is a system of redress.

The first step is to make a complaint directly with the funeral director in question. It is very important when appointing a funeral director, particularly if they are not a trade association member, to ensure they have a complaints process in place.

If the funeral director’s internal complaints process has been exhausted without resolution, then the trade associations might be able to assist.

The trade association’s professional standards committees will consider complaints and advise accordingly. In serious cases, they may recommend that a firm is removed from membership.

If this process fails to bring satisfaction, then there is the option of conciliation. The two main funeral profession trade associations work with the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution and provide independent mediators to help both parties reach an agreement.

Failing that, the final step is a process called arbitration. In this instance, an independent arbitrator will assess the dispute and make a binding ruling and apply a financial penalty against the funeral business if wrongdoing is found.

If the funeral firm is exonerated, the client will lose the fee but will not have a penalty applied to them. Both trade associations’ arbitration processes vary slightly in respect of fees payable by the client and funeral director.

Tip: If using a funeral director who is not a member of a trade association, ask them to provide full details of their complaints procedure and what to do in the event that a dispute is proving difficult to settle.

Family disputes

Family disputes are all too common and can become polarised when it comes to arranging funerals.

Funeral directors often find themselves walking a tightrope between warring families, having to balance the needs of their client whilst observing the law around next of kin. As difficult as it is, the funeral director is obliged to follow the instructions of his/her client, who is the person arranging the funeral and signing the legal documents, despite objections from other family members.

There are essentially three rules when it comes to bodies.

  1. No one is able to own a body – there is no property in a dead body
  2. The person entitled to possession of the body is the person under a duty to dispose of the body
  3. A crematorium authority must hand over the ashes to the person who signs the cremation application form.

If there is a Will, then the person named as executor is entitled to possession of the body. However, if there is no Will, an order of hierarchy applies in respect of relatives who may apply for a grant of administration.

In Scotland, the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 Section 65 provides a heirarchy of people who can make funeral arrangements.

The person who signs to authorise the cremation on the cremation application form has the legal rights to receive the ashes.

The ashes can only then be given to another person upon written instructions from the person legally authorised to receive the ashes.

Charitable donations

It is common for mourners to be asked to make donations to a cause close to the deceased’s heart in lieu of flowers.

Most funeral directors will assist with collection and processing of donations and will have a robust recordkeeping system in place to prevent losses or even theft.

However, mistakes and issues can arise. A way around this challenge is to use digital technology. Online fundraising platforms allow mourners to make donations securely.

If a funeral director has handled funeral donations, they should contact the family with an update on the total raised and confirmation from the charity in question that payment has been made.

It’s not unheard of for donations sent to charities by cheque to not be processed. Check with the appointed funeral director what they do in this instance.

Tip: Include details of an online donations site on the order of service and ask the funeral director to add any cash donations to the page.

Memorials

After a funeral has taken place, many people desire a memorial for the person who has died.

Memorials perform an important function in the grieving process – they’re a place to visit and remember the person and provide comfort. A person has died but they will not be forgotten by the generations that survive them.

Types vary according to taste and location of burial or cremation.

Traditionally, many people have opted for a stone memorial, particularly in graveyards, with an inscription detailing the name of the person who has died, their dates of birth and death and a sentence of tribute from loved ones.

There are also memorial plaques, benches and even trees.

A memorial doesn’t also have to be a fixed object. It can take the form of a piece of jewellery to be worn at all times.

Sometimes these can contain some of the ashes and give bereaved people a sense that their loved one might have died but remains close by.

Some cemeteries have mausoleums. These are fixed buildings in which people are interred or buried and serve as a monument.

Similarly, there is a growing reemergence of long barrows. These are an ancient type of tomb in which ashes are kept in compartments known as niches.

There is no legal requirement to have a memorial and there is no reason why a memorial shouldn’t take a form different to those described above.

The important factor to bear in mind is that it meets the needs of bereaved family and friends and that it complies with any rules and regulations of the proposed site. For example, most woodland burial grounds will not allow stone memorials and churchyards often won’t permit polished materials.

Understanding bereavement and grief

This is a huge subject and there are a range of supportive organisations best placed to help people after a bereavement. Links to these groups are provided on this site, in addition to a brief introduction here:

Most people expect to be very upset or distressed when someone close to them has died.

What takes many people by surprise is how strong the emotions can be, how they can change very quickly, and how long they last.

Everyone grieves in a way that is unique to them and their relationship with the person who has died.

Some people talk about stages in grief or a grief process. But bereavement isn’t something that people experience as a set of emotions that follow neatly one after another like a list of feelings that can be ticked off as they are experienced.

Even when a death is expected, it can feel like a real shock when it happens and be difficult to believe.

If the person has died completely unexpectedly, it can take some days or even longer to believe that it is true. Seeing the body of the person who has died at the hospital or funeral director’s premises can be very helpful for many people.

For many weeks and months, it is normal to ‘forget’ that the person has died.

It is normal to ‘see’ them in the street, or ‘hear’ their key in the door at the time they usually came home. These are not hallucinations; just an indication of how the person is being missed.

Many of the practical tasks that are necessary after a death can seem straightforward even if it seems hard to believe that the person has died. Do not hesitate to ask for help from family and friends if they are available.

Some people find they feel quite numb at the beginning. There are many other emotions that can be experienced in the first few days and weeks after the death, such as anxiety, anger and guilt.

Most people also have trouble sleeping normally when they are grieving. Try not to resort to medication or alcohol on a regular basis as both may result in physical and emotional addiction.

If the person who has died had been very unwell for a long time or had been suffering, it is very normal to feel a sense of relief after they have died.

Well-intentioned people may say, ‘time is a great healer’. Sometimes, however, it can seem that life becomes more difficult as the weeks and months go by. It may seem difficult to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning, take the trouble to eat properly or keep the house reasonably clean and tidy.

Different people find their own ways of getting through their experience of grief and some or all the following might prove helpful:

  • Talking with close family and friends. Sharing memories, of good times and bad, can help the bereavement process.
  • Take time alone to remember
  • Don’t be embarrassed to become emotional at times
  • Don’t worry about retelling the same memories over and over again – this is a way of beginning to accept what has happened
  • It’s okay to laugh and enjoy life
  • Do ask family and friends (if possible) for help, especially with practical tasks
  • Use photographs or special things to help remember
  • Be sure to eat, despite having little appetite and try to exercise
  • Learn a new skill or try a new hobby
  • Plan for special dates such birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas
  • Some churches have annual memorial services near the beginning of November. Some other faiths have specific prayers for anniversaries of the death.
  • Some funeral homes arrange memorial services, sometimes linked with a carol service
  • Some people find themselves talking with the person who has died as if they were present or using the phrase ‘..now what would …. have said about this situation?’
  • Be patient. Life will never be the same again after someone important has died but a new normal without them is possible.
  • Be patient with other people affected by the death. Everyone grieves in their own way.