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“Sometimes, people just need to be really very sad together”

In this episode, we will be talking with funeral celebrant – or ‘funeralist’ – Andy Jones about funerals and mental health. 

We ask Andy what ingredients he thinks a funeral needs in order to best support the wellbeing of those that have lost someone.

We also discuss how, as someone who spends his life around death and grieving, Andy looks after his own mental wellbeing.

You can hear Andy interviewed on the Cinematologists podcast by clicking here

He will also be interviewed on an upcoming episode of the Endings podcast, which you can find here.

Follow @livelymindspod on X, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and more at  https://www.bio.link/livelyminds

Please note that this show does not constitute medical advice and is not a replacement for seeking professional help. You can find our more about the show and get signposting to support on our website anyamedia.net/livelyminds

Transcript

W: Hi everybody, it’s Will here. Just a quick heads up to let you know that in this conversation we do talk at one point about how to navigate funerals for people that we may have experienced difficult or even abusive relationships with, and the mental health implications around that.

 

Please take care whilst listening and as always sign posting to support is available on our website www.anyamedia.net/LivelyMinds

 

[music]

 

E: Hello, my name is Ellie.

 

W: And my name is Will.

 

E: You are listening to Lively Minds, the podcast about mental health challenges that go beyond the ebb and flow of the everyday.

 

W: The podcast that looks at how developing an understanding of our mental health challenges influences how we address them.

 

E: In this episode, we’ll be talking with Funeral celebrant Andy Jones about funerals and mental Health. Andy isn’t a bereavement counsellor, he is a funeralist, and we’ll discuss what that word means later in the episode.

 

W: We’re going to be asking Andy what ingredients he thinks a funeral needs in order to best support the wellbeing of those who have lost someone.

 

E: We’ll also be talking about how as someone who spends his life around death and grieving, Andy looks after his own wellbeing.

 

W: Welcome to the show Andy.

 

A: Thanks very much for inviting me.

 

W: It’s great to have you here and we should say that we do know each other Andy.

 

A: Do we have to disclose that.

 

W: We should disclose that. You’ve also met Ellie a couple of times as well.

 

A: I have met her, yes.

 

W: And the reason why, one of the reasons why we know each other is of course we work quite a lot on radio shows which listeners should check out.

 

A: They absolutely should.

 

W: We’ve worked together on radio programmes for the BBC World Service and one of those programmes was actually called Funeral Punks.

 

A: It was.

 

W: Which was all about alternative ways of saying final goodbyes to loved ones through imaginative end of life ceremonies. It was really interesting.

 

A: Or non-ceremonies.

 

W: Or non-ceremonies for that matter. Now I should also say that we are in real life, you and I are in real life right now right? We are. I think you’re sitting right in front of me.

 

A: Absolutely.

 

E: I have FOMO again, I’m just sat on a screen as usual.

 

W: Ellie, you’re with us in every respect other than physically.

 

E: I know.

 

W: But Andy, thank you very much for coming on and I think we’re both really interested to talk to you about that kind of of intersection between funeral ceremonies in particular and the lead up and the aftermath of those, and how that relates to the wellbeing, the mental wellbeing of the people that are attending that funeral and also for your own mental wellbeing as well as somebody who leads those things.

 

E: So just to begin with, I’m just going to read a quote from your website. So you say,
“A few years ago I attended several funerals in a short space of time either as a mourner or in my work producing factual film, TV and radio programs. Some were wonderful life-affirming events that left everyone present with a sense of the uniqueness, beauty and fragility of our lives. Others, for whatever reason, failed to connect the people present with the life of the person who died. In 2018 I decided I wanted to help families to organise better end-of-life events, whether traditional or otherwise”.
Could you expand on that a bit and tell us also why the career change?

 

A: There’s a combination of factors but I can remember a distinct moment coming home from a service that I’ve been to for a friend and just not feeling quite like it had been done right. And saying to myself, “I could have done better than that.” And then Ellie, my wife, saying, “I actually think you’d be quite good at that and you’ve been talking for ages about wanting to do something different, I think you should look into it”, or words to that effect. And in 2018, I signed up with Humanists UK to train as a funeral celebrant, is the terminology. And that’s something we can maybe get into a bit. Funeral celebrant, somebody who leads funerals, somebody involved in helping families organise end of life events. That thing about connecting with the life of the person who died, I think that’s a real key, that it does feel like there’s a connection in the service, the ceremony, the ritual, the moment, whatever people decide they need, that has to connect with that person, who it’s all about.

 

W: You sometimes refer to yourself as a funeralist. How do you define the term funeralist?

 

A: Okay, so a funeralist is somebody who helps in the process of funeral conduct.

 

W: Yeah.

 

A: And I think I should probably point out there’s not many people use this term, but I’ve been really struggling to find the right one. But it comes from a dissatisfaction with the default being celebrant.

 

E: Right.

 

A: And this, I think, potentially sometimes quite trite way that people have a saying, oh, we don’t do funerals. We want a celebration of life. And I can see how sometimes that feels like the right thing to do, but I don’t think it should be the default because sometimes people need to be really very sad together.

 

E: Yeah.

 

A: And so the default being a celebrant just doesn’t feel right. And sometimes when you go and meet families for the first time, almost always they’re in a great heightened sense of emotion and immediate grief. And that can obviously vary depending on the circumstances. But very often what people want to talk about is what they’ve just been through.

 

E: Yeah

 

A: And the death and that death and the experience that they’ve just had needs to be acknowledged and having a stranger who validates that, whether that’s a funeral director or an undertaker or a so-called celebrant. And that’s where I’d rather say, well, I’m a funeralist. I’m here to help you through that process from where we, where you are now.

 

W: Yeah.

 

A: And I’m going to be your temporary friend.

 

W: Yeah.

 

A: But, but I’m not your friend.

 

W: Yeah

 

A: I am professionally engaged by you, you’re paying me. You know, it might not be that we have a cash relationship because you’ve got a funeral plan or you’re paying the funeral director, but I am here just to listen to you and help you create a moment for you is hopefully helpful.

 

W: The celebration of life thing, there’s a risk, isn’t there, that that is a form of avoidance, essentially?

 

A: I would agree.

 

W: It’s interesting that you say funerals are times where a lot of people just need to feel sad. They need to feel that, that raw emotion and embrace it. It’s probably not the right turn.

 

A: I know what you mean, allow a space for it. Yeah, absolutely. And I think the best ones certainly that I’ve been to, you can actually do both. And if you come away from an event like that, having cried and having smiled and laughed and hugged, and what’s the phrase on the website? “Be reminded of the beauty and fragility of our lives”. And obviously that feels different. Different people feel fragile about different things. Different people find beauty in different things, but it’s helping those families to find out where that is for them. And acknowledge it as part of a process of moving on and living.

 

W: Yeah

 

A: And I really believe that people often say in the UK, oh, we’re not very good at talking about death in this country. I think on one level that may be true, but also, I, the more I talk about it the more I find people really do want to talk about it

 

E: Yeah

 

W: and are quite good at talking about it

 

E: Yeah definitely

 

A: And have got experience of directly or even if they haven’t thought about it maybe do find it difficult to begin with but it’s not that they maybe don’t want to talk about their own but actually talking about it there are ways and I would say we’re getting better. I think we forget sometimes what extraordinary and insane times we live in. And I think when confronted with death face on, all of that kind of what’s going on in the world and everything, it sort of melts away for people and there’s this real strong need for like human connection and things that bond.

 

W: I think a reason why I like the word funeralist is because I think another problem with the term funeral celebrant is that it takes me to the ceremony itself. It’s about somebody who officiates the end of life ceremony, whatever that, form that takes. And for me, funeralist feels a little bit more holistic. And I realise that there are limits to the extent to which you can do this, but having, you know, been to one of your funerals…

 

A: Yes, of course. …And helped to create it.

 

W: but this has been to one of your funerals… …and helped out at it. Just witnessing, I guess, the level of, of preparation that you put into it, which feels like it’s actually more important than the thing itself in a way.

 

A: I think it’s both. The amount of preparation varies, but my responsibility, I suppose, as a, in that process, as a funeralist, as the person holding the family’s hand or giving whatever support they feel they need and how involved they want to be. And it’s great when people are at that funeral, we all sang, didn’t we? everybody sang together and it was extraordinary.

 

W: It would be good to just to sort of re-ground this, I guess, in what our podcast is about,

 

[laughter]

 

W: which is about mental health. And the reason why we were so keen to get you on is that as part of your job, you are working with people who are struggling very often in a massive, massive way. As we said at the beginning, you’re not a bereavement counsellor. that isn’t your background at all, you are a funeralist or a funeral celebrant or whatever you wanna call it. And yet there’s obviously a responsibility there, isn’t there in terms of that engagement that you have with the family in terms of making the process something which feels right to support them through their grief. Can you just, before we move on, just speak to that responsibility for a moment. Like how do you frame that responsibility in your own mind?

 

A: In terms of looking after the mental health of the people I am working with?

 

W: Yeah, we can call it mental health, we can call it well, we can call it well-being, we can call it well-being, you know.

 

A: In some ways there’s nothing you can do that would make things any worse.

 

E: That’s a really good point, actually.

 

[laughter]

 

W: Yeah, yeah.

 

A: And actually, there’s other ways in which you really can and people are really, really, really vulnerable. So it’s, I think that kind of coming from a point of view, whatever you do, don’t make things any worse.

 

E: That loss, that feeling feels like you’ve suddenly got this black bottomless pit at the bottom of your heart or soul and

 

A: But I think the point that, I think that I’ve just thought of, something that is also true and I have just, in the past few months helped exactly three families who for different reasons did not like the person who was supposed to be their funeral celebrant/funeralist. So they didn’t gel or they didn’t feel that what the person sent them as a first draft was.

 

E: Right.

 

A: Right. And were really, really, really upset. And on more than one occasion called me in floods of tears or broken to tears at some point when they began to talk about this kind of trauma that was inflicted on their existing trauma that the funeral process that they were being steered through was not what they felt was right for them.

 

W: Yeah

 

E: Yeah

 

A: And that through a combination of factors. I don’t want to kind of say, oh, that would never happen to me because of course that could happen. You know, that there’s…

 

E: Yeah, you might not… It’s a person thing, isn’t it? Like you might not be right for some particular family as well. Or misunderstand it.

 

A: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s about knowing where the boundaries are. I want to say it was 90 and it’s now probably about 80% of the time I’m engaged via a funeral director. Some families, you have to remind them that I’m not working for the funeral director, I’m actually working for them,

 

E: mmmm

 

A: They’re the ones paying for this.

 

E: So when you’re kind of putting together a plan for a funeral, are there kind of key components or aspects of it that you feel are where the people’s well-being is right at the heart of those parts?

 

A: I think the whole thing, the whole process is all, all about that. One of the things I’ve learned and try very hard to do, is to never go… this natural instinct that I curb, is to go, to a walking to a room and say “how are you?”

 

E: Yeah.

 

A: And it’s just way too big a question for people at that time. So just learning to just be present and listen and see what comes out is really,

 

E: Yeah

 

A: Is really important. Sometimes you meet families who’ve never ever had to do this before.

 

E: Yeah.

 

A: You’ve never thought about it, who aren’t prepared for it. Sometimes people have never had it to do it before, but are prepared for it. They knew the person was going to die. It’s not a shock, but they still want to do the right thing and they’re still really upset, though they were 95 or whatever. And so you meet people of all ages and all backgrounds. And very often people confide things that they’ve never told anyone else. So I would say through the whole process their, their wellbeing is present, but at the same time, my job is to put a funeral together, not to then

 

E: mmmm

 

A: Look after their wellbeing. And I can help and do, point them towards some services that are available and grief chat and other places online.

 

W: That’s really important isn’t it because that’s about you knowing the boundaries of your or of what you can provide as well in your profession.

 

A: Correct.

 

W: And the way that you, the way that you do kind of contribute towards the well-being of somebody at that difficult time in their life when they’ve lost someone is through that event that you’re putting on and the process leading up to that isn’t it? But as you say like you there must come points were you just like, okay this is now outside of my area and you know, and this is where I’d refer you on to somebody else

 

A: Absolutely, yeah

 

W: with the necessary sort of expertise etc. What would you say are the biggest barriers to achieving a good funeral?

 

A: Time quite often people rush and don’t just rush the process but rush the actual event and they were different crematoria, half an hour in and out boom, boom, you got to be out,

 

W: Yeah, yeah

 

A: Next one’s in, there’s one door to come, in there’s another to go out and it just feels very, very, conveyor or a belty

 

W: Yeah

 

A: And that’s changing, and I think that’s, that’s the other thing that perhaps allows me to share some of your optimism that the term and funeralists might catch on well is that with the rise in things like pure cremation, which is going absolutely ballistic. So 3% of all funerals pre-pandemic is now nearly 20% post-pandemic, and obviously to do with cost of living crisis. Why am I going to spend four and a half grand on 20 minutes in a crem? Not that it has to cost that, but some people do and they’ve got plans and they’ve been paying into it for years. So it’s changing, I guess. it’s very much a growth sector. I would say like the numbers of people who now train our celebrants, whether that’s with the humanists or any number of it’s probably a bit like, you did an episode didn’t you on the unregulated nature of therapy and counselling?

 

E: Yeah

 

A: which everybody should check out. By the way, is it out yet?

 

W: By the time this goes out, it will be out. Yes.

 

A: Sorry, I’m letting slip my insider knowledge there – everything lively minds related.

 

 

E: If you’re listening to this show on a podcast up, could you do us a favour? Could you pause the episode and see whether you can leave us a rating or a review?

 

Could you tell just one or two friends about our show?

 

It really helps others to discover us.

 

[music fading]

 

A: You’re talking about lots of people setting themselves up as therapists now?

 

A: Oh, yeah, yeah. So lots of people. Sorry, as celebrants. And lots of people are setting themselves up as celebrants. And partly that’s because lots of families are saying, I don’t want 20 minutes at the crem and a vicar who never knew me. Just saying what they have to say in the Lord’s prayer and mentioning Bernard’s name a couple of times and telling me where all the stuff I actually already know about where he went to school and where he worked and how many biscuits he liked and what his favourite programme was, that’s not really important to us, we want to actually do something based around Bernard that feels like Bernard. And if that means actually rather than spending my money on that, I’m going to get his ashes back and then we’ll go and do something that feels right for us. We’ll do that instead. Thanks.

 

W: Yeah, I guess what’s encouraging about that is that perhaps people are starting to take more ownership of that process

 

A: absolutely and think about it

 

W: and think about it more and think about what’s right for them, which inevitably…

 

E: Well, and realise that they do have agency in that.

 

A: correctly

 

W: We do have agency in that.

 

A: Absolutely, and choice.

 

W: Which in turn, one would hope, supports the grieving process.

 

A: You would hope but actually a lot of the process of that change has also been driven by big capital investment companies, soulless, algorithm-driven platforms, and really poor awareness of what the whole thing’s about. A lot of the high street firms were bought out and taken over by big multinational companies and the independent funeral director is a bit of a veneer in some cases. But there’s also been an explosion of other people who are the reaction against that. And that’s changing too.

 

W: I remember when we were making the radio documentary Funeral Punks, which people should check out on BBC Sounds. There’s a funeral director on there, it’s Claire Callender in fact, to say something along the lines of a funeral is not for the person who has died, it is for those that are grieving. Now to what extent do you think this question of who the funeral is actually for plays into the well-being of mourners when it comes to planning a funeral? And if I could just expand on that a little bit more, just to explain where I’m coming from with this. What I find is that there seems to be sometimes some tension between this idea of – should the funeral be what we as the people left behind as the mourners wanted to be? if the person who died had a very particular idea of what they wanted, should we do what they want? to what extent does doing what they want make us feel better, improves our well-being, our, you know, improves things for us in relation to the funeral? And yeah, I just think it’s a tricky one.

 

A: I can remember exactly the lines that Claire speaks in Funeral Punks where she talks about that, and she says it’s all about the person who’s died, but it’s not for them, it’s for the people who are left behind. And I can’t remember then whether it’s Claire or Roo who talks about the fact that, yes, maybe make the big decisions. Decide whether you want to be buried or cremated or go through alkaline hydrolysis as you can now, aquamated. But yes, it’s difficult and yes, it’s hard, but leave the details of how exactly we do it up to the people who are left behind. And I think that’s absolutely true.

 

W: And presumably when people are preparing their will, ideally they could be aware of that as well and buy into that idea as well, because otherwise they might design something which is completely at odds with where the people that are going to be bereaved are at in terms of their belief systems or whatever it might be

 

E: Yeah

 

W: and being mindful of that and maybe being responsive to that.

 

A: uhuh

 

W: But if somebody in their will or in their, you know whatever says I want this, this, this, this, this, this, and this I guess there must often be quite a lot of, a lot of reticence from family members to then push back on that even though one could argue that if if it’s not right for you, the bereaved, then you shouldn’t do it that way.

 

A: Agreed. 100%. All, with the additional thought that obviously, you know, people are not a homogenous group, but even after the death of one person, what everybody else needs might not be the same thing.

 

W: Yes, that’s very true.

 

E: Yeah

 

A: And there may well be a difference of opinion should it arise

 

E: Yeah

 

A: between somebody’s brother who they did get on with and somebody’s brother who they were abusive towards, you know, whatever.

 

E: It’s really, I think it depends so much on the person who’s passed away and the dynamic. But there’s so many variables there. I can imagine situations. I don’t know, maybe like two funerals that I went to ago, I was helping to sort of put it all together and that side. And I felt, I remember feeling up until then, I probably generally felt that the funeral’s very much for the people mourning rather than the person who died. But then the last funeral I went to, I felt the complete opposite.

 

A: mmmm

 

E: For me that was really important that that was about him and it was important to me going to it that that he would be happy with it and he would,

 

A: Yeah

 

E: that the things that are highlighted and the music and that were right and they were him and I couldn’t have cared less about what other mourners might have wanted or not wanted or needed or not needed from it in a way. It was, but it was weird because that was a complete opposite to how I normally think about them. But because of, you know, post, you know, just the death admin basically, there was such a delay then, until could actually have the funeral, you know, almost two months really.

 

A: Gosh

 

E: So that probably plays quite a big part as well.

 

A: Yeah.

 

E: The time and.

 

A: And as to whether or not it’s in people’s control, I guess.

 

E: Yeah. And I know a lot of people who feel very numb. They are able to focus on the admin of the funeral and the, yes, organising the funeral becomes a sort of, and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, it becomes the sort of coping thing. And then after the funeral is when the sort of proper grieving begins almost.

 

W: Have you ever had to deal with situations where there are quite conflicting ideas between bereavers about what the funeral should be?

 

A: Yeah.

 

W: Do you have, like a general approach to how you resolve that?

 

A: I don’t think you can.

 

W: You don’t, yeah.

 

A: I think you’ve just got to take each situation as it comes and then try,

 

E: and in a way really that’s the sort of, “them” problem in that sense.

 

A: Correct.

 

E: So your position is kind of like well once you’ve sorted this I can carry on doing whatever.

 

A: Yeah.Yeah I mean if there’s a general rule, it’s maybe to understand it as best as I possibly can, very often a really good question that helps in those circumstances is asking people what is it you don’t want me to say? What do I need to be aware of so that I don’t cross the line and say something that somebody could be hurt by? Unnecessarily hurt by. And actually there are also some situations where people do want to have their hurt acknowledged,

 

E: Yeah

 

A: Whether that’s hurt their feelings, or hurt that they have felt that was inflicted by the person who died possibly.

 

E: Yeah, and I think actually in terms of this being a mental health podcast that, that is a really important kind of weird, nuanced bit of your job, isn’t it? Where people who have had a bad relationship with the deceased or even hated the deceased, been very hurt by them and the funeral in that context can be sort of requested by them as a sort of part of their kind of mental health, almost recovery.

 

A: I would completely agree.

 

E: Like there’s something else going on there.

 

A: yeah, yeah, and some kind of acknowledgement.

 

E: Acknowledgement, yeah, of pain.

 

A: It’s both in the meeting beforehand, sort of bearing witness and allowing them that opportunity to voice it, and then very possibly in the service, finding a form of words that completely acknowledges that, but within a boundary that you have at a funeral service, there might be, when you were just talking, it made me think of, yeah, what would happen if, the person’s died, they’ve been abusive to the person who’s helping to organise, you know, who you’ve met.

 

E: Yeah

 

A: And then you turn them into some kind of saint and go, “Oh, yeah, wasn’t Bernard great?”

 

“Oh, we–“

 

E: It’s like, no, everyone hated Bernard.

 

A: He was brilliant at darts and worked hard. He’d do anything for anyone and you thought about it. And that person sitting there going, “No, he wasn’t.”

 

E: No, it wasn’t, it was horrible, yeah.

 

A: Yeah.

 

E: You’ve basically then created another trauma for that poor person.

 

A: Yeah, totally, and whether you ask the question in the way I was just saying, “Yeah, tell me the things you don’t want me to say,” or “what was the worst thing about it?” And I think that goes back to what I was saying before about the whole thing is about people’s wellbeing and mental health. And you can’t always get it right because you, you know, if you’re doing a funeral service, whether it’s 80 people say, or even 12 people, you’re unlikely to have met more than half a dozen of them, maybe spoken to a few more on the phone. Very often you’ll only meet one or two people,

 

E: mmm

 

A: but no kind of hard rules about, and I think that’s part of why, that’s part of my dealing with it as well. I think the feeling of, if you just felt like you were kind of going through the rote way of doing it and just doing it the same way, time after time, without regard to thinking about what specific families or groups of friends or whoever it is need, I wouldn’t feel fulfilled from doing it. And I think probably in terms of my own mental health, I think I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like if I do a job well and know that it’s gone well and you have that sense that it’s gone well and you feel that it’s got meaning, which it obviously intrinsically has, that’s really good for my own personal well-being. So yeah, I did a good job there.

 

W: Yeah.

 

A: And I helped them.

 

E: Yeah

 

A: And I feel good about me because of that. And that helps my mental health, certainly.

 

E: And that definitely was like, basically gonna be our last question, wasn’t it? Like, how do you look after your own mental health?

 

A: Yeah, so that, yeah, just feeling like, yeah, putting my heart and soul into it and trying to do a good job whilst remembering that it’s not my grief and my job is to help them with theirs. Some very basic things like Pilates, started doing that once a week, it’s great, really helps.

 

E: ooooh

 

A: I’m a bit of a venter, as Will’s been on the receiving end of one or two. Sometimes they’re just comic for my own benefit. And sometimes there’s many a true word in them.

 

E: Never with the families.

 

A: Never, never, never vent to the families. Never, never, never. There’s a general rule. Never vent with the families.

 

E: No, of course not.

 

A: They, they, yeah. But I’ve got one or two colleagues who I can vent with and that’s really important to have a couple of friends who do the same job, who know how it feels. Not all of them are traumatic, but some are. So being able to… a walk, very often, that’s what I need. Like after a heavy service where I’ve had to empty myself before, but then hold everyone else’s… hold the space and you can almost… it’s intangible, but you still feel the weight of people’s grief collectively when they come together and holding that space and just yeah just having a walk for half an hour clear my head.

 

W: Yeah

 

A: On my own by the sea or with the dog

 

W: Yeah

 

A: And I’ve started some therapy and that’s probably that definitely helps

 

W: Yeah

 

E: Yeah

 

A: And I was, I mean, I think there’s a really clear correlation between the therapy work that I’ve been doing and the thinking that I’ve been doing since I started doing this work that’s been really, really beneficial for my mental health. Now it takes me back to where we began. I think part of my own mental health journey has been self-identifying as ADHD which made a lot of sense looking back at previous things in a rearview mirror and just knowing and sort of developing my own kind of personal pathology based around that as one of the kind of constellations of parts that I’ve got, meant that some of the things I wasn’t enjoying in my work producing films, even though I had done, and I could look back and see times when I’d been absolutely enthusiastic and energetic about doing all those things, but my resilience had worn thin, and I couldn’t take the knocks anymore. And, and so finding something I was good at that, you know, you didn’t have to raise the money for it.

 

W: Yeah, yeah

 

A: You didn’t have to write 16 proposals and then get someone to commission it

 

E: Yeah

 

A: or an Arts Charity to grant it. I can be terribly, totally distracted, but I’m really good with deadlines and I always have them in this work.

 

E: There’s no time to procrastinate

 

A: But very often that’s reading around the person and I love, you know, I’ve now got a subscription to the British newspaper archive and I love looking at whatever’s going on in the world at the time that people were born and thinking about the things people have lived through and helping that paint the picture of them as a person or listening to their music and, or whatever it might be, just reading around just feeding my natural kind of curiosity that I have.

 

W: In terms of you looking after your own mental health around this, so something that interests me is death

 

[laughter]

 

W: right so, so, so death is death, is such a, well, of course, it’s a really potent kind of concept. And so for me personally, knowing somebody who works with death nearly every day is quite a thing. It’s something that I do sort of think, wow, I don’t think I could do that. And so I guess, is it possible for me to frame it as one of two broad approaches that you have, to sort of dealing with this from your own point of view as somebody who works around grieving and dead people on a regular basis.

 

A: So sorry, you’re going to give me two scenarios.

 

W: I’ve got two. I’ve got two strands.

 

A: So it’s like multiple choice.

 

W: It’s like a multiple choice.No, there could be a third which is actually well neither of those are correct and this is, this is actually the truth. So from my point of view, it’s either that there’s a sort, there’s a form of desensitisation going on, right? So death is a, is a really troubling concept for you. And yet because you are surrounded by it all the time, there’s a certain desensitisation that’s happening, which means that you’re able to handle it. Right?

 

A: m hmm

 

W: Or perhaps the other strand is that actually there’s a normalisation that’s happening, or at least there’s a, an acceptance. There’s a there’s a more philosophical approach to it that you’re actually just becoming more accepting of this idea of death, this concept of death, this scary concept of death. And that is what is essentially that, that’s what supports your mental wellbeing in relation to your own job. Or perhaps I’ve got both of those wrong.

 

A: Am I allowed I don’t know? I don’t know.

 

W: You are very much aloud I dont know.

 

A: I think there’s elements for both of them that are, that are right. I mean, I guess – desensitisation versus normalisation? Desensitisation, no, I don’t think so. But maybe I do have to sort of remind myself that not everyone else is where I am with it.

 

E: Yeah.

 

A: That .. ..

 

E: People are going through their own kind of whole understanding and re-evaluation of the belief, like all sorts of, yeah.

 

A: Whilst I’m doing it every day, they’re not.

 

E: Yeah.

 

A: And some, one of the things that I find interesting with some of the, I hesitate to say run of the mill, but your kind of regular crematorium short service, 45 minutes in and out, let’s say, slot, is you’ve got this coterie of kind of generally like retired policemen or bouncers or firemen or whatever who, and it’s changing a bit. A lot of the newer recruits are actually women. If you look at the people working with the co-op, certainly Newcastle, it’s very, very much female oriented or going that way. And they’re doing this day and day out and it’s like, you know, they get there, however much their fee is for, for driving the limo or for carrying the coffin in. And they all know I’m a Liverpool supporter. So you can be literally, I’m trying to like get in the zone to deliver this funeral, and as they’re walking in, they’re going, “Ah, good result for you last night.” “Hey, honey, it was cracking performance that.” And I’m like, “I’ve just got to go and remind everybody of what a wonderful man Bernard was, or actually, without mentioning you know what.”

 

E: Yeah.

 

A: “Can we talk about how brilliant Liverpool were maybe afterwards?

 

W: Yeah.

 

A: But they’re just not, you know, they’re not invested in it in any way. Their job is to drive people there safely and then carry the coffin in, put it on a cataphile, bow politely and leave.

 

E: Yeah.

 

A: Yeah. So I would say for them it’s not, yeah, yeah. But then I don’t know if, and some of them are the people who go and pick up dead bodies off the roadside or for the coroner or wherever, you know. So it’s, there’s, I guess there has to be a degree of both desensitisation and normalisation. Of course, it’s just by the regularity of it.

 

The two things I think I would probably come back to that are the most prominent are one, it’s not my grief. In fact, there’s three. One, it’s not my grief. B, I’m helping. And thirdly, that sense of doing a job well that uses my creative part, my empathetic part, my ability to present part, my storytelling part my writing, all those different parts of me that I put into the process when I’m with those families emptying myself with as much of myself as possible and getting to the end of the day or the week and feeling like yeah that was good, I’m glad to do that and it’s not the living that will make me a rich man but it’s all right as a free, I’m freelance. Even if I’m delivering three services in a week, the rest of the time is my time, so long as I can meet them when it’s a good time for them.

 

E: Yeah

 

A: And if I need a walk or a dig in the allotment or a whatever, game of football to watch, that’s…and I’m happy really, I’m my happiest for a long time.

 

[music]

 

W: That’s a really good point, I think, which to finish. A big thank you to Andy Jones for joining us on this podcast. If you’d like to hear more from Andy, he talks to the Cinematologists podcast about the Dead Good Film Club events he runs in partnership with Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, and he’ll also be speaking with Hazel Shoal on an upcoming episode of her podcast, Endings. All the links will be in the show notes.

 

 

W: Thank you so much everyone for listening and please do tune in again in two weeks time for another episode of Lively Minds Mental Health Podcast.

 

E: Please note that this show does not constitute medical advice and is not a replacement for seeking professional help. You can find signposting and support on our website www.anyamedia.net/livelyminds.

 

W: Make sure that you keep up to date with our shows by subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Follow us on social media @livelymindspod and if you want to email us, we’ve just got a new email address it is hello@livelyminespod.com.

 

E: Take care and bye for now.

 

W: Bye.

 

(whooshing)
[Music fades]

Lively Minds is an Anya Media //// Still Ill OK co-production

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