In lieu of care — why this funeral co-ordinator left the funeral home

‘Support, care and reassurance when it matters most’ — the truth is, death does not guarantee the best of people, sometimes it brings out their worst.

January 3rd, 2015 — my gran passed away in her sleep, aged 90.

March 31st, 2015 — my cousin was killed in a car crash, aged 32.

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I can accept my gran’s death — I had watched her suffer over her final years and I still feel relief now knowing that finally she’s free of her pain. It doesn’t make my loss any easier but it is ‘the order of things’, her death was kindness, so my sorrow is in many ways placated.

I cannot accept my cousin’s death — he was en route to a meeting when circumstance chose to kill him. It isn’t right and it can’t be made right — he should not be dead, he should still be here with us, but he isn’t.

He’s dead.

I stopped writing — I still wrote but the words never really flowed, and through writing is how I adjust to life’s changes and his death threw a spanner in the works. I stopped eating and I drank more — I single handedly deforested Peru with all the cigarettes I smoked — as I struggled to make these misshaped things fit where they just wouldn’t fit, and all the while still working in a funeral home.

I arranged the funeral of a young lad who could see no other way out, and I arranged the funeral of a lady killed in a road traffic accident, and I arranged the funeral of a little boy who left his mother behind — I’ve arranged nearly 100 funerals since their deaths and each family I sat with said the words I felt but couldn’t feel openly because I had to remain professional.

Their grief echoed my grief, the only difference being they could cry in public.

I suppose it could be said that I grew used to placing my own grief aside for others — to work in a funeral home one can’t be wrapped up in personal feelings — and in so doing I made what happened next much harder to bear.

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From The Southern Co-operative Funeralcare, an extract from their latest letter

I never kept my loved ones deaths secret and I would’ve preferred feeling supported by my manager rather than how I was actually treated.

She didn’t readily allow me the time I needed off work for my cousin’s funeral — I was told the date was ‘inconvenient’ and it took me 3 days to secure the leave. That’s 3 days of stress and worry that I may not get her permission to attend my cousin’s funeral — to be honest, I could’ve done without it.

Her ‘inconvenient’ remark has stuck with me — of course his death was damn inconvenient, I didn’t want to have to mourn a man who shouldn’t be dead — but she made it the inconvenience she felt and I just feel she should’ve done all she could to not worsen my loss.

I’ll always recall her boredom when I described my cousin’s crash scene — the road with a wee stretch of brand new barrier — every single word I said hurt me and my manager couldn’t even stifle her yawn. I only continued to ensure her continued discomfort, she had asked me to tell her about it after all, but my want to do this eventually petered away as she focussed herself on her e-mails.

When I asked her for help I got none — I recognised that I was struggling and although she said she would help me she never did, instead I was demeaned to my colleagues and the grapevine told me I was being ‘gunned for’, and I could see this was actually happening, and so I learnt to fear for my job.

Apparently, I should’ve made sure to make sure that my manager made sure that I was okay — I should’ve managed my manager, I suppose, to ensure she boosted my moral and so I didn’t feel like I was being bullied by her. I should’ve found both the strength and time.

Forgive me, but I just assumed that my manager would naturally want to support me — in such a caring profession as ours one can’t pick and choose who to help, and she was being paid to support me after all, so it isn’t like I expected her compassion for nothing.

I’ve since heard she celebrated when I handed in my notice — not quite with champagne and fireworks but she was most certainly enwrapped in glee — and I’m told in this letter that she’s disappointed in me for not finding her supportive.

Personally, and you can ask anyone who knows me, I’m a very laid back lad and I’m not big on confrontation, although I’ll partake if needs be but I much prefer an easy life. I like to give people the benefit of doubt — I hate to think that people are bad — and I know that good intentions can get lost in translation, but then I also know that actions speak louder than words.

I raised a grievance.

I’d spent months convincing myself that this grievance I felt wasn’t real — even after I’d raised my grievance I was willing to accept that I was wrong, but I couldn’t be entirely wrong — I couldn’t be this vile person I was being made to feel because, please, I didn’t have the time. I was too busy trying to gather up the pieces of my shattered heart.

I realised that I couldn’t be entirely to blame for everything, and I didn’t feel supported, so I raised a grievance

I — well, I consulted the Employee Handbook and read ‘fair and timely approach’ and it took The Southern Co-operative Funeralcare 64 days before they began their investigation, and for 56 of those days they’d either dismissed it entirely (in writing) or considered it completely resolved. They went so far as to trying to convince me that I’d attended a meeting, which we both knew had never occurred, and they said they’d investigated fully and found themselves above reproach. This was explained away as my own misunderstanding of their clear instructions, the same instructions that changed as often as the wind.

Once heard I am now told that they do not consider me bereaved — I’m told I was negligent with my grief and have mis-managed it, and have ultimately made my loss void. Their evidence is my Vegas trip in October 2015, which was fully paid up before my cousin’s death, and they’ve deemed this trip very un-grief-like, I suppose because they feel I should never have tried to make something of a year that had begun with the loss of two very dear loved ones.

I suppose I should’ve locked myself away and only come out to be bullied — sorry, I mean supported by their compassion that broke me.

One day their words and actions will haunt them more than they’ll ever haunt me

My GP signed me unfit for work due to stress — working in a funeral home and arranging funerals after tragedies after my own tragedies proved too much without the support of my manager. She had a duty of care for me, as did The Southern Co-operative Funeralcare, but now I’m in receipt of their latest letter I realise they never cared at all.

In 3 pages with barely a comma nor full-stop they place the onus of blame entirely upon me and refuse to acknowledge any measure of the mistreatment that I have received — even their apology is the sort of apology you give someone when you’re not sorry for anything.

In the end I had to choose between a job I loved and my own health and sanity, and I chose to be selfish because life is too short not to live, and it is defiantly too short to feel how they’ve made me feel this past year.

Today, I hold The Southern Co-operative Funeralcare responsible for the severity and persistence of my grief — all they had to do was hear me and listen, reassure me and care, as they say they do on their website. They should never have questioned my grief, nor should they ever have forced me to prove to them that I was bereaved — and the fact they did this stinks.

I would never belittle another persons grief.

Now that I’m no longer employed by The Southern Co-operative Funeralcare, I’m happy to say:

I’m finally free to heal

Tomos James