Dying alone


Community Care highlight the report from the Local Government Association which explains that councils spend £1.56 million per year on public health funerals. These are funerals arranged by the local authority when there is no family or friends to arrange or pay for a funeral or when the family/friends are unwilling to pay.

That amounts to 2.200 people per year across England and Wales. My first response, having been involved with a number of people who have accessed public health funerals, was that I was surprised the number was so low. I guess that says a lot about the metropolitan area that I work in.

Dying alone without any family or friends, with no-one attending the funeral and no-one to shed a tear or remember ones passing is a chilling thought and one that we would all have a thought or two about.

It is indeed, frightening and one of those aspects of working with older adults that we don’t like to think about.

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I’ve been to a funeral that ‘no-one went to’ though. It was someone that I had worked with briefly and whose partner had died the year before and since then, we had arranged care services for her.  There had been a fair bit of initial resistance to work around so we had built up a reasonable relationship – and a few weeks after the services started, she died.  I was given permission to attend as I knew no-one else would be there and actually, although I might not supposed to be admitting it, I’d grown quite fond of her.

I wasn’t completely on my own though. There is an officer from the council who attends.  I have come to know her over the years and she  is a genuinely caring person – I know that doesn’t make a difference but she does want to make things as pleasant as possible and has a good heart. She knows (because we have spoken about this when she has had to arrange funerals for users that I have worked with) that it is a brief moment to share.

I wonder how much we think about the people that do those kinds of jobs. Attending funerals of people who don’t have anything else.. of course, there are lots of other parts to her job – that isn’t ALL she does but still, I think it’s an important function that is retained.

I was interested in the quote from the article by Councillor David Rogers,chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board.

“People, mostly elderly, are dying around us with no family or friends nearby to care for them. It is a sad fact that there are thousands of people across the country with no family or friends to arrange, attend or pay for their funeral. Nobody should find themselves in that position,”

“Our ageing population is growing rapidly and so is the worrying picture of isolation and loneliness across the country,” he added.

“Though little known, providing a funeral with the respect and dignity that people deserve is just one of the services that people in need can rely on their council for,” said Rogers.

I have a couple of reactions to this statement. One is to turn it into a plea not to cut day services and to push for social interaction as a need and a fundamental need for older adults. It is as important, if not more so, for older adults as often ties will have been strained by families moving away from the cities or friends becoming more sick and dying. While there is talk of closing day services and funding is ever more restricted, it is a false economy and does not create the type of society we want to get old and die in if we are increasingly isolating older adults through the lack of funding.

The other thought is that the services need to focus on the living and the quality of life of those who are alive. Some people don’t want to be forced into ‘social’ environments. We can’t create a family where none exists or where none want to have that interaction.

If anything is going to change that figure though, it will be increased and more focussed planning and money aimed at building the networks in different ways. Day centres are important but if there were more ways to create networks on a more informal basis that may well be a benefit.

It isn’t about solving the issues of the payments for funerals in itself but it is a question of working out and thinking how we can improve the quality of life in many different ways, for those who don’t have the ‘natural’ family and friends networks.

2 thoughts on “Dying alone

  1. We believe that a really effective way to create networks on an informal basis is through matching the older person with a volunteer befriender. The befriending relationship can be a catalyst for reconnecting with the local community. The foundation of one trusting relationship can be enough to restore confidence and open doors. Befriending makes a real difference to quality of life for the isolated and lonely especially since it’s always ‘made to measure’.

  2. Thanks for that, Kathleen. I think that is exactly the kind of thing that should and can take place. We have a great local befriending service but the only problem is that there aren’t enough people to match demand! I completely agree about the benefits and value that it can add to lives. I can think of many examples off the top of my head where a person’s quality of life has been enhanced considerably through befriending schemes.

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