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  • Writer's pictureRuth Jewell

Children's Funerals

Last week I attended an educational seminar day, which provided details of the funding from the Children's Funeral Fund, charities and other resources.

The day was so much more than the title suggests, and I came away with a wealth of information. Ever since I have also been busy working my way through the thought provoking presentations and discussions.

Only the day before the seminar the results of a survey had been published, which showed that women who have a miscarriage are assumed to be fine, and are rarely given support or treatment, and yet their baby has died. Even if the foetus is over 24 weeks, if you miscarry there is no registration process or recognition that you have lost a baby. I know how hard this is, I miscarried at 20 weeks.

At whatever age your baby or child dies you are left bereft. Your dreams and future are shattered. This was the case for the Swansea MP Carolyn Harris, whose son Martin died when he was just eight years old. at the time of Martin's death Carolyn found it very difficult to pay for his funeral. Putting her position to good use, Carolyn worked tirelessly to ensure no parent would have to struggle the way she did. On 23rd July 2019 The Children's Funeral Fund was started by the Government.

This is a central government scheme to provide funding for the fees charged for a cremation, or burial, of a child. The age range of the child is from stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy up to the day before their eighteenth Birthday. There is no bearing on race, creed, earnings, religion etc, and no nationality or residency requirements exist.

Whilst this is a huge step forward, it does only cover very specific fees. It doesn't cover the costs of the Funeral Director, the Clergy/Celebrant, the cars, flowers,order of service, wake etc. It is very rare indeed for a Funeral Director to charge for the Funeral of a child, and likewise I do not charge to deliver a child's funeral.

There is other funding available from charities, and anyone who has to organise a child's funeral is urged to contact these charities and ask for their support. The Child Funeral Charity can help families of children under 16 years of age, and will consider help for babies who have died under 24 weeks of pregnancy. The fund pays the Funeral Director directly, or provides items such as flowers and orders of service direct from their suppliers.

There was a huge spread of professionals attending the seminar day, from hospital Chaplain's to Funeral Directors, Paediatric Staff to Helpline Volunteers. The session on talking to bereaved parents was particularly thought provoking, and raised some valuable points for discussion.

I knew from working, in my past, in the High Dependency Unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford that parents often prefer straight talking. Paula Abramson from Bereavement Training International, confirmed that this is something that has been strongly supported in the research they have undertaken. A parent hasn't 'lost' a baby or a child, they won't turn a corner and find them again, so the word loss is not appropriate language to use.

When there are siblings to consider it is equally important to use clear language. If told their brother or sister is in heaven, then a child can believe that all they need is a ladder to reach them. In my own experience children are far more understanding and resilient than we give them credit for, and understand plain speaking much more easily than half told truths.

As a Celebrant I support the family in the same way I do for any funeral. I work with them to create the service that they feel is appropriate for their child. My training and experience has given me tools, which enable me to suggest ways in which the service can be delivered differently, to reflect the age of the child. For example, a tiny coffin would be lost on an adult size Catafalque, however it can easily be placed on trestles instead. Instead of the mourners sitting in rows, away from the coffin, chairs could be placed in a semi circle around the coffin. Just as with an adult, every baby and child is unique and their funeral will reflect this.

When I left the seminar I drove to my Mum's, and brought her back to our home for a few days holiday. My Mum had a daughter who died when she was just three days old, and my Grandma died when my Mum was just 12 years old. Whilst she was staying with us I was able to talk at length with my Mum about both of these tragic events. I knew the outline stories, but we had time for Mum to be able to give me more details, and to share her feelings and experiences. My Grandma's death, and my Mum's retelling, deserve their own blog post as they certainly gave me more food for thought.

I miscarried 28 years ago. I knew throughout those twenty weeks of pregnancy that something wasn't right, to start with I couldn't get a positive pregnancy test, even though I knew that I was pregnant. In a way this made made it easier to accept, but our baby had died, a baby that I had been growing inside me, a part of me and my husband, and a sibling for our daughter.

Whilst our Doctor was caring and understanding throughout, sadly the simple and thoughtless actions of the Receptionist have remained with me throughout those 26 years; Our Doctor sent my blood away to be tested, to confirm that our baby had died, so I still held a tiny hope that the baby was still alive. I had to call the surgery to speak to my Doctor to get the result. The Receptionist totally ignored this, and told me outright that my pregnancy test was negative. She refused to let me speak to my Dr as she said there was no need. My Doctor was absolutely livid. I can relive that phone call instantly, even now.

A few months later I became pregnant with our son, who would nowadays be given the loving title of our rainbow baby. Then, we were just so very grateful to be able to have another child to love with all our hearts.

I only wish that the Receptionist could have attended the seminar last week, she would have understood that uttering those words would be devastating to me. I am so grateful that we have a better understanding now of the impact certain words and phrases can have on bereaved parents, sadly though there are still people who don't think before they speak. There are plenty of organisations who provide bereavement training, let's hope it becomes even more widespread in the coming months and years.


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