We’ve come a long way

The attitudes of society have changed a lot in the 65 years I’ve been working in the funeral industry. But I think that one of the most important and most welcome changes is our attitude towards bereavement and mental health. Talking about death is one way to overcome the some of the fear of it.

In the past, death was a bit of a taboo subject. While people would make great efforts to give their loved one a “good send-off”, the causes of death and the feelings that went with it were rarely discussed (and certainly not in public). The result was, most people agree, unhealthy for both grieving people (most especially children and young people) and society as a whole.

The change in attitude hasn’t come easily, or quickly, but we’ve come a very long way and it has certainly been for the better.


The first time I remember the funeral industry making a concerted effort to change attitudes about grief and mental health was in 1995, during my year as Chair of the NAFD (National Association of Funeral Directors). I hosted the AGM in Brighton and as a part of our meeting we had a special Bereavement Conference. It was the first of its kind in the UK, as far as I remember, and we had the late Claire Rayner as the keynote speaker. She was a very well-respected agony aunt in her day and a champion of speaking freely about death and dying.

Contacts and resources

We still give people a ‘good send-off’, but now there are groups and organisations dedicated to helping people prepare; the Samaritans, Macmillan, and the hospice movement. There are more councillors available, and movements like Dying Matters and The Compassionate Friends offer excellent resources. We have a page dedicated to bereavement support on our website where you can find more contacts and resources.

Training and delivery

At the Hunnaball Family Funeral Group we believe very strongly that all of us should be able to speak freely, and respectfully, about every aspect of death and dying, and so we’re active in supporting bereaved people and families. All of our staff, from first responders to funeral arrangers, are trained to deal with grieving people, which is one of the reasons that we have such an excellent reputation for compassion and professionalism.

The funeral celebrants and clergy we recommend have been vetted, to make sure they offer the very best support before and after a funeral. Melanie, my wife, is an enthusiastic member of the Dying Matters movement, and members of the Hunnaball work family have spent many hours visiting schools, colleges, and other institutions, to answer questions and help people to talk more freely about death and dying.

We’re always there

After the busyness of the funeral has died down, families and loved ones visit our branches for a chat, where they’re warmly welcomed by the team. In fact, many of our branches host groups for the bereaved, where there is coffee, chat, an understanding ear and, where necessary, a shoulder available. Covid has affected these groups significantly, but they will be back as soon as possible.

I would say that the ability of society to talk more freely about death and dying, and the greater availability of support for those who are going through the challenges of losing a loved one, is worth celebrating.