Funeral arranger Barbara Hatcher, of WG Rathbone, on the challenges of the pandemic: 'Families haven't been able to grieve'
AS national Thank You Day approaches on 4th July, the Herald is highlighting those teams and individuals who are deserving of gratitude for their work and care during the last year. Funeral arranger Barbara Hatcher, of WG Rathbone, has been praised for her caring nature and exemplary service since the start of pandemic. She tells the Herald about her work.
Tell us about Rathbones.
We’ve been in Stratford since 2016 but we are part of a bigger company called Dignity and there’s branches throughout the country.
I am the funeral arranger for Stratford, and as it’s a small branch it’s usually just me here. My funeral director is Martin Adams and then we have our funeral service operatives, who are based in Coventry but who cover all our Leamington, Warwick and Stratford branches, as well as our Coventry and Birmingham branches.
What does your role involve?
Basically, I do everything to make sure the funeral goes as best as it can for our families. From the moment we take that first call we are involved, whether it is going to their house to bring the deceased into our care, doing all the arrangements for the funeral, organising flowers, order of service, making sure Mum is dressed for the chapel so they can come and see her – everything. On the day, when the funeral director walks into the chapel, all is exactly as the family want it to be.
What have been the challenges of the past year?
I have to say the biggest difficulty for us is that it’s a touchy-feely job but we’ve not been able to have clients in branch as everything has been done over the phone or email.
Part of arranging a funeral is finding out about that person, their personality or what job they did, and they become part of our family for that duration of time.
Not being able to hold someone’s hand when they are crying, not being able to give them a hug, having to maintain that distance and putting the ashes on a chair when they come in has been really difficult. We pride ourselves on our personal approach.
One of the worst issues for us has been the low numbers permitted at services and having to tell families they had to choose who could go. Last April/May you would maybe have a family of a mum with five children, and one of the children wouldn’t be allowed to attend. That’s devastating.
How has all this affected you?
It’s been tough and emotional. We are a sort of forgotten branch of key workers. I think a lot of people think you’ve made lots of money because so many people have died but we really don’t think like that – we’re not sales people. It was just constant, and that’s especially hard when you can’t quite build the relationships with the wider family that you normally would.
Can you say how much busier you’ve been?
Last year I covered at least twice as many funerals as usual target. This year I might expect to do 39 funerals, and we’ve already arranged 32 and it’s only May. Birmingham and Coventry really had it tough in the first lockdown, but Warwickshire has been harder hit during second lockdown and has struggled.
Thank goodness, things have now calmed down. I think we’re all just grateful to be able to breathe, really.
Were most of the deaths you dealt with Covid-related?
Sadly we’ve had our fair share of Covid deaths, but there’s been a real knock-on effect too.
There are very sad stories of people not seeking medical help because of lockdown restrictions or because they were scared to go to A&E. So we’ve had people in their 30s and 40s die from heart attacks and cancer because they haven’t been seen or taken care of. Suicides have also been high.
Are there any positives that you can take from the past year?
The importance of staying in touch – phoning someone every couple of days even just to say, ‘I’m here and how are you?’
Families missed letting go of their emotions with somebody. So many families have said to me that they haven’t been able to grieve. People have said that they will do a celebration when they can get together and have a picnic and scatter mum’s ashes, and I think that will be important.