Business and pleasure: AGM weekend

Grand Central Hotel

March 13 to 15, Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow

SAIF members and associates will be gathering in Glasgow to review the year and thank National President Jim Auld for his year in office. SAIF’s 2nd Vice President, Jo Parker, will be introducing this year’s workshop – on a topic close to many members’ hearts

You can kind of put to bed most deaths, but a death by suicide is really difficult to get your head around. The ripple effects are far bigger, and those deaths tend to stay with you.

As an industry we have a duty to care for our families, and ourselves, too. We need to be able to acknowledge that some deaths cross the line of being ‘normal’, that sometimes our feelings sit on us too heavily. We need to learn coping strategies for dealing with the effect some deaths may have on us. We’ve moved out of the Dark Ages!

Unfortunately, here in Tonbridge and the surrounding villages, we have experienced a number of suicides over the years by young people and it hits us all hard.

We all have our own families with children, some in their late teens and others off to university, so as a company, suicide support and suicide prevention is important to us. We work with a local suicide prevention hub to share our knowledge, particularly of secondary suicides and I am particularly keen to hear Holly and Sarah share their knowledge at the SAIF AGM workshops on how we can look after families and ourselves.

While the majority of deaths by suicide do tend to be mainly young men, we have experienced a number of young girls taking their own lives in our area.

I remember looking after an 18-year-old girl from our local secondary school sixth form. It was a heartbreaking experience – a lot of her friends came to our chapel of rest to see her at what, of course, was a very vulnerable time for them all.

Naturally, our staff used all of their skills to support the young people and offer sanctuary if they needed to discuss their feelings. This is especially important as we all know that problems we faced as an 18-year-old ended up being possible to overcome, despite how impossible they seemed back then.

Quite recently a young family man took his own life, leaving his young wife and daughter. We spent a lot of time with them guiding them slowly through the funeral process, chatting and listening.

It was a few weeks later that one of my funeral arrangers said, ‘I just wish I’d had an hour with him, I wonder if I could have made a difference’. It had clearly deeply affected her and was still on her mind – and if that’s how the funeral arranger was feeling, you can only imagine how the family was coping.

A death by suicide affects us all – everyone from the funeral arranger to the bearer, to the celebrant and, of course, the families.

The emotion that comes with a suicide are far trickier than the general feeling of loss. In our profession, our removals teams can be called upon by the Coroner to sites of deaths along with the police, ambulance or fire services. While the emergency services have counsellors to go back to, for our people it can be more difficult to look after their mental health. SAIFSupport is a fantastic tool for our staff but sometimes people don’t realise they need more help until things overwhelm them.

I spoke to one member of the funeral sector who mentioned a member of his staff that tries to avoid a certain route home as it was the scene of a particularly traumatic suicide. The death was years ago, but it still affects him even now. If help had been given at the time things might be easier for him now.

The whole process of asking for help can be traumatic, too. Seeing a doctor can be difficult, time pressures may mean people push their thoughts to the back of their minds.

Suicide and its complex web of grief for survivors is particularly difficult to deal with. Survivor guilt is a common reaction. We need to learn how to look after our families whilst looking after ourselves.

Friday’s workshop: ‘Everyone has their breaking point’

1. How suicide and traumatic death impacts funeral professionals Chris Parker, Principal of the IFD College; Past President & Fellow of SAIF; Dementia champion and founder of bereavement charity

2. Staff and client wellbeing in traumatic death cases – why it’s important by Dr Sarah Bates, Executive Lead, Support After Suicide Partnership (SASP)

3. Traumatic death statistics across the UK – the hard facts by Dr Sarah Bates

4. How do we support our clients well within acute cases of death? Paul Allcock, former Chairman of CRUSE, East Anglia; past President SAIF

5. Practical tools for self-care, colleague and client care in traumatic endings Joanna Williams, author and Head of Counselling with Professional Help

For more details about the SAIF AGM, click here.

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