Christmas Eve morning dawned for us with no funerals taking place that day, which allowed us to prepare the funeral cars for the services which would take place after the Christmas break. Following that we hoped to close the offices early in the afternoon so our team could make the most of the Christmas holidays.
However, within a few hours we were notified of three deaths and, to ensure we were able to deal with the necessary arrangements, I couldn’t let all of our staff away for their own break until 4:15pm. I then worked at home until around 6:45pm phoning ministers etc, while my embalmer worked until around 7pm to ensure each deceased person was properly cared for.
Christmas Day was mercifully quiet and I was able to spend it with my immediate family – almost all of whom are funeral directors themselves. Boxing Day was reasonably quiet too, although were called out at 5am to attend a home death. However, we were home by 6:45am.
At noon on Boxing Day I had a call from a family that I’d had met on Christmas Eve to ask if their dog was allowed to go to the funeral, which was scheduled for 5 January. We were advised of another home death at around 5pm but the family (unusually) wanted to keep the lady at home overnight and so, as the McMillan nurses had washed the deceased, we didn’t need to attend that night. I spent around 40 minutes talking to the family on the phone though and arranging staff to do the removal – as I already had families to meet on the Sunday so couldn’t do the removal at the time the family wanted.
We then had a free evening until 10:45pm when a home death came in so I was out again until just after midnight. That particular family were happy to wait until we were back in the office, after the bank holiday, to meet me and arrange the funeral, as the son was flying in from Nassau.
On 27 December I managed to get to church but then went to see three families, one after the other, to arrange three funerals, two of which had come in on Christmas Eve but didn’t want to see me until after Christmas. This took from 1pm until 5pm and I then went into the office to do around 40 minutes of phone calls and paperwork. Meanwhile my deputy and two additional staff visited the family that called us on Boxing Day. These additional staff are part time and they came out to help despite not being rostered to be on duty. My deputy then opened one of our funeral homes to let a family in to pay their respects, having liaised with the family across Boxing Day and 27 December to arrange this.
On 28 December I was called to another home death at 6am. The lady had passed away in an upstairs room and was a larger lady and so I called upon another of our part time staff members to assist. From there I went to arrange a further two funerals. Actually it should have been three but one man forgot I was coming and went out!
Finally, my wife came into the office to help me type up all the newspaper notices as the deadline for publication was 11:00 the following day – we didn’t want to submit them too close and find they were omitted. I worked until about 6:30pm producing coffin orders, phoning clergy etc. and scheduling work for the staff who would return after the bank holiday.
We chose to close our offices the following day as our local authority closed the crematorium and cemeteries. Although interestingly they did manage to have refuse collectors out on both the Sunday and Monday which I feel says a lot! Similarly, I found the timescale frustrating that it took a GP or hospital to issue a death certificate during or after the Christmas period. There was no rhyme or reason for this inconsistency as some were issued when the person died whilst others took five days to be issued.
And it certainly does not help when those who work alongside us in providing a service to the bereaved, including councils, Registrars and procurator fiscal, close for periods of time and are not contactable.
“All this did not help us in trying to help families make arrangements over the Christmas period.
At all times during Christmas and New Year our phones were diverted to a landline (either my own home, my parent’s home or my sister’s home) to ensure that anyone who needed to call us got a human voice and a personal response, day or night. It’s a very important part of the service we, and all funeral directors, offer.
Paul Cuthell, NAFD Scotland representative and director of Thomas Cuthell & Sons Funeral Directors