What matters in a funeral? New casebook to help bereaved people and deathcare providers

What matters in a funeral? New casebook to help bereaved people and deathcare providers

Family disagreements over eulogy content, a funeral director's misplacing of a body and an argument over disposal of ashes are just three examples of funeral-related case studies developed by University of Aberdeen researchers to help people reflect on what matters and why about funeral provision.

The Care in Funerals Casebook includes 12 fictionalised but research-based stories that highlight practical and ethical challenges. Other examples of the case studies include:

  • Jill’s family members have different views about her request for direct cremation
  • Max’s family seem set to exclude his gay identity and partner from his funeral
  • Hamza’s family is concerned they won’t be able to fulfil religious rituals of preparing his body for burial

Between them, the cases also reflect broader issues of environmental concerns, financial pressures, and social prejudices.

The Casebook can be used by individuals or groups. Each case story is accompanied by suggested questions for reflection and discussion, and two or more commentaries to help stimulate thought and debate.

The commentaries provide both background information, for example about particular funeral traditions or the work of funeral professionals, and initial practical and ethical reflections on issues arising in the stories.

The Care in Funerals Casebook is available at: www.abdn.ac.uk/care-in-funerals-casebook

The University of Aberdeen researchers who produced the Care in Funerals Casebook interviewed diverse groups of funeral directors, funeral officiants and people who had been bereaved about their experiences of funeral provision during the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers worked with funeral providers and people from different religious and cultural backgrounds to prepare the case stories, questions and commentaries.

The project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19. More information, including a summary of project findings and recent publications, are available from https://www.abdn.ac.uk/sdhp/philosophy/care-in-funerals-2015.php.

Project leader, Professor Vikki Entwistle from the University of Aberdeen, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic threw up a range of very unique challenges and complications with regard to funeral provision and after-life care. While most of those restrictions have now been lifted, speaking with bereaved families and friends and funeral care providers at this time helped bring to the forefront what was important to them when remembering their loved ones at the end of their lives.

“The examples in the Care in Funerals Casebook are fictional but are very realistic, based on our research. People might be surprised to see the breadth of circumstances covered.

“We hope the casebook will stimulate broad-ranging reflection and discussion and help ensure people’s diverse needs for funeral provision can be well met. It may be of particular interest to people considering a career in funeral work, and for professional development among funeral professionals, but it can also be more broadly useful for high school and undergraduate teaching and learning about death, social practices, religious and cultural traditions, and human relationships.”

The casebook has already been lauded publicly after being included within a report just published by Social Finance UK who have highlighted it as one of five organisations/initiatives “which have emerged to address unmet need identified in the current provision for people experiencing death, dying and bereavement” and which “have a vision for something better”.

From January 2024, casebook Team members will be offering a short series of online discussion groups focused on particular case stories. Individuals interested in joining can contact careinfunerals@abdn.ac.uk.

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