Thinking about your own child’s death and funeral is unbearable. But for some people it is a reality. Every year in England and Wales just over 5000 children die and, while it may be difficult to think or talk about, for every single one of those children something needs to happen to their body. There may or may not be a public funeral service but there will certainly need to be a cremation or burial which, of course, costs money.
Funerals are not called ‘distress purchases’ for nothing
Research that I and others have conducted over the years has repeatedly shown that emotional and financial preparation for funerals for adults, let alone children, is far from universal. Despite funerals costing on average £3500, many people are unprepared for the costs involved and can end up making financial commitments at a time when emotionally compromised. Funerals are not called ‘distress purchases’ for nothing.
Imagine adding to this the funeral being for your child. The sense of a child’s death being out of sequence with ‘the natural order’ is, from my experience, an almost unanimously shared belief. With huge advances in public health and sanitation over the last 200 years, death in childhood is now rare. As demonstrated by the need for and work of this charity though, it still does happen.
Imagine too adding to this the likelihood that you are of working age and have rent or a mortgage to pay. And that it is probable you will need to return to work to be able to maintain an income and put food on the table in the not too distant future. And then add in finding £3500+ for your child’s funeral.
The Children’s Funeral Fund must not get lost in the political wrangling over Brexit
It is laudable that the Children’s Funeral Fund for England was announced in 2018. Yet over a year later it has yet to be implemented. During this period thousands of families will have experienced the loss of their child and will have organised and funded some sort of funeral.
We need to make sure that the pledge for a Children’s Funeral Fund in England does not get lost in the current political wrangling over Brexit. This is too important to let it slip.
In the interim we need to continue to enable honest and kind conversations that can help to prepare parents and families for what might be involved if and when they need to organise a funeral. Do they want burial or cremation? At a particular place? Do they want a very public funeral where everyone is invited, or a quieter more private occasion? Do they want an opportunity to be with those attending afterwards? Agonising as it may be, there can also be relief in making these decisions, or at least starting the discussion – with the child and siblings if appropriate or feasible. Together for Short Lives, local hospices, community nurses and hospital palliative care and bereavement services can all help these conversations to begin.
Starting the most difficult conversation
Although I am writing this blog post as an academic who has over the years worked on the issue of funeral costs, I also write as a Mum of a little boy who was born with a life-threatening condition. I truly hope that he and his sister have to organise my funeral; that the natural order is upheld in our family and we, the parents, die first. But I also know my son is at high(er) risk of dying and that is a reality that we live with, day in day out. The anxiety and pain of knowing that can sometimes overtake me. It is even difficult to write it here. But I know I have to practice what I preach and so after I have written this I am going to talk to my husband about what I would want for our son’s funeral, should we ever have to make solo decisions. I want each of us to be able to make those decisions with foresight and confidence, knowing that we are honouring our son and each other’s wishes.
Dying Matters Week provides the opportunity for reflection on our mortality and recognising the needs of those facing dying as a daily reality. Most people are lucky enough to not have to until old age. But for those that do, I think we all have a responsibility to help support and provide at a time of massive distress. Certainly, I sincerely hope that the Children’s Funeral Fund in England is made a reality in the very near future. Removing such a financial worry at one of the worst moments of someone’s life is the least we, as a civil society, can do.