Why would a Funeral business want or need to be dementia friendly?
The best way to answer that is to describe three recent funeral arrangements, all of which involved a person living with dementia.
The first example was an elderly lady who asked us to arrange her husband’s funeral. He had died in a care home from dementia. The lady, let’s call her Joan, was as grief stricken as any other new widow that I have worked with in over 30 years as a funeral professional. However she had an additional burden in that she had been parted for many months from the person she had been married to for very many years. She was parted from him to begin with by the dementia, which gradually, over time, robbed her of the man she knew. She never stopped loving him, but he wasn’t the same. Over the months he was less and less able to remember who she was: his behaviour became erratic and at times aggressive. Finally she was parted from him when his care became just too much for her and he was admitted into a care home. This final parting left her feeling inadequate and guilty, emotions which are now added to her very natural grief at his death. This complicated grief may take considerable time to work through and may even require specialist support.
Tony has vascular dementia. His wife, Sally, was his carer. Sadly Sally became very ill and in a matter of weeks from the onset of her illness, died in hospital. During her hospital stay Tony was cared for by family and professional carers who came in for an hour each day. His daughters were with him when I visited them at home to arrange the funeral. Throughout the hour or so that I spent with him he would veer from being fully engaged in the conversation to getting up and wandering off to another room. He seemed to have grasped the fact that Sally had died one minute and then the next spoke as if she were in the house somewhere. It was very important to the family that he was included in the decisions that were being made but we were careful not to give him too many choices that he may find hard to process. For example he was asked ‘Would you like this coffin for Mum?’ and ‘Shall we sing All Things Bright and Beautiful?’ In consultation with the Minister, the service was kept fairly short with no long eulogy and the use of photographs on a screen helped him to cement the memory
Richard, a widower, had been diagnosed with dementia six months before he called me to arrange a funeral plan. At the time he called he did not mention his dementia, however when I arrived it was one of the first things that he told me. Once I had that information I was very careful to ensure that he had sufficient mental capacity to make the required decisions. I asked him if he had discussed this with his children and he said that his son was aware of his plans. As he was adding his son’s contact details to his plan application, I asked him if he would mind me speaking to his son before I processed the plan. I told him that his diagnosis may cause a problem if any of his family believed that he had, in any way, been coerced and this was really for his sake as well as mine. He was more than happy and suggested I called his son there and then before we completed the application. His son was very grateful for my call and appreciated that I had checked his Father’s capacity. He was quite happy for me to proceed.
Every day funeral Directors up and down the country are dealing with those living with dementia, either because they have been diagnosed or are caring for somebody who has. 850,000 people are living with a diagnosed dementia in the UK today, and it is estimated that several thousands more are as yet undiagnosed. By 2020 it is likely to top a million people. Every single one of us can make a difference by becoming dementia aware and by making our businesses as dementia friendly as we can. We could all do at least one thing. Why not begin by becoming a dementia friend? It’s so easy to do and you can find out how by visiting https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk
My business is working to become dementia friendly, is yours? Funeral Directors United Against Dementia.