A funeral director who spent a week attached to a medicine ball to raise funds for mental health support talks about the unique pressures funeral directors face, and his own experiences of speaking out.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:04] Welcome to the Partnership Podcast. Imagine spending a week with a medicine ball handcuffed to your wrist. At 3KG, it might not sound like much when you first put it on, but carry it around for seven days with no respite, and it will quickly become a different story. That's what this week's guest has done to raise funds for ABF, the Soldiers' Charity, and increase awareness of mental health issues. We'll be talking about how these issues can manifest when you're an independent funeral director. The additional impact that comes from the unique pressures of the job, and the particular difficulties the past two years have introduced. So I'm delighted to welcome Andrew Crymble today from David Crymble and Sons from Belfast.
Malcolm Flanders [00:00:49] So, Andrew, delighted to see you. And this is a first because you're actually in Bulgaria at the moment, aren't you? What have you been doing?
Andrew Crymble [00:00:56] Well, yes, thank you, Malcolm, first of all, for the introduction. Yeah, I thought it would take a week out here, just skiing. Couple of years since I've been skiing, so the old body's finding it hard, so just a bit of respite. But I don't think there was much rest, you know. So yeah, that's where I'm at over here at the moment.
Malcolm Flanders [00:01:13] Alright, good man. Well, you look as if you've had a good time and you're still in one piece, which is always a good sign.
Andrew Crymble [00:01:19] Thank you, Malcolm. I have had a good time and unfortunately the trip ends tomorrow and I'm back to business as usual and family life, you know? So, yeah, look, that's how it goes, you know?
Malcolm Flanders [00:01:31] Okay, look, Andrew, firstly, I know you've been involved in funerals since you were 18 and your dad has been the funeral director for more than 20 years. Can you briefly take us through your own history, and also the businesses?
Andrew Crymble [00:01:43] Of course. Well, my name's Andre Crymble, I'm 40 years of age. I am a proud father of two children, Anthony and Katie. I've been in the funeral industry since I've been 18 years of age. I took a brief spell out of the funeral sector to concentrate on a mechanical background. That's what I studied as, and in that between period, my father established our family firm in 2004, and then at that point, I came back into the family firm whenever he was in a position to truly afford to have me. We have two funeral homes in Belfast, in east and south Belfast. We have several members of staff ranging from 40 years of age up to about 70 years of age. And we have a really good team about us.
Malcolm Flanders [00:02:33] That's great. Okay. So if we can talk about some of the fundraising you've been doing this year, I know you've been carrying you medicine ball to raise money and awareness. Could you talk a little more about what that signifies?
Andrew Crymble [00:02:47] Yes. So I had the privilege of carrying this medicine ball, it was from the 26th of January until the 3rd of February, I did the challenge. It was for the ABF Charity. The charity on its own didn't really mean an awful lot to me. I knew it was about combat stress as well, but it was more what the ball signified. Having a 3KG ball strapped or chained to your wrist, and walking about, carrying out business as usual, meeting friends and family, colleagues, clients. It opened up a lot of conversations.
Andrew Crymble [00:03:24] For me it was so important to carry that ball and be able to tell people why I was carrying that ball, and that ball really signifies the burden of mental health, and the fact that, you know, particularly, man, we don't talk. We're scared to share, we don't want to talk about our feelings. It's not cool to let yourself down, you know. So for me, what it did was it gave me the opportunity to open up conversations with people. And the added bonus to that, was that I was able to raise money for this amazing charity.
Andrew Crymble [00:04:01] But it really opened for me, it opened up a chat forum to talk to people, and it got good coverage in my local city, in Belfast. The local news covered it, the different things, you know. So for me, working as a funeral director, you unfortunately see the repercussions of mental health. People passing away suddenly. So it was it was a privilege to do it, but more so for the fact that I could talk to people about what that ball meant.
Malcolm Flanders [00:04:31] No, thank you. Thank you, Andrew. Okay, now, look, you've obviously been quite open about mental health issues when you contacted us about fundraising in the first place. And I just wonder if there's anything you want to say to funeral directors in particular. It feels like there are pressures unique to funeral directing that must have an impact on people's mental health, whether or not we talk about them in that way. Are there any areas that particularly stand out in your work?
Andrew Crymble [00:04:58] Well, yeah. Well, first of all, in relation to mental health, I don't think anyone really realises we can all suffer from an element of mental health. We just don't acknowledge it. I know for myself particularly, I probably had suffered for several years with various sprouts of mental health issues, and it latterly coming to a head. And from my perspective, at that point, I went and got the help I needed. Unfortunately most of that help was through charities and self funding.
Andrew Crymble [00:05:36] But, the key thing's for me, as a funeral director, we do face families, we put on a brave face every day of our life. We carry out our problems into work and when we go into someone's house, we put on a brave face, but we still have that burden behind us, of whatever is going on in our lives. And it's always one of the points I can say to any funeral director out there, male or female, if you're dealing with families and things are difficult, go back to your shop, go back to your business, go back to your line manager and speak with them.
Andrew Crymble [00:06:10] If it's business owners listening to this, put something in place for your employees, that you chat to them. Ask them how they are, ask them how their weekend was, genuinely care about them. It's so important to just be really clear and transparent and ask someone, "are you okay? How are you? How do you feel?" Because it's too easy to say, "yeah, I'm fine, I'm okay, everything's good." But they go home at night, and things aren't good. So hopefully I answered your question there?
Malcolm Flanders [00:06:40] No Andrew, you did. That was very helpful. Thank you. And I guess my takeaway there is about being honest, isn't it, when you're asked that question, being honest to yourself and honest to other people around you. Okay. Now, look, clearly Covid's been quite prevalent the last couple of years, and we've referenced it on prior podcasts, and how funeral directors have been on the front lines of dealing with it, not only when it comes to those who've died in the pandemic, but also in how the restrictions impacted your ability to support families the way you've always done before. So how's that actually been for you in Belfast?
Andrew Crymble [00:07:16] Yeah, well, Northern Ireland or Belfast, it's been no different to the to the mainland UK, Scotland, Wales. We've had our problems through the Covid process, a lot of those times, that the guidelines changed so often. We had to keep up to date with them. It made it particularly difficult reaching out to families, sitting alongside that family and having that coffee, where at the start we didn't even know whether we were allowed to do that. We weren't sure what the guidelines were.
Andrew Crymble [00:07:50] We as a firm decided to take the approach that we would try and liase as closely to families as we could, because we respected that they had lost a loved one. We put things in place like we could do audio calls, video calls with families. We were aware of in our funeral churches, there was restrictions, so we put in Zoomor Skype calls that people could dial in the funerals. We were very fortunate at the time when Covid came along, that we had just actually employed a new guy to work for the firm, who was also a minister, and he was able to arrange funerals, but he was also there to be from a clergy point of view for the families. Which meant that the family only were dealing with one person, and he could arrange a funeral, but also he could do the ministerial role with the family. And also then follow up after the funeral with a family.
Andrew Crymble [00:08:50] Because there was a lot of people right back, coming up nearly two years now, in March here, but a lot of families really were only on the one churches. Some churches were, I wouldn't say they were closing, but it was harder to see a minister. It was harder to see a priest, you know. So that's that's how we as a business, we guided and helped people. Obviously the guidelines are changing. But still in Northern Ireland, the local crematorium, we only have one here, you're only allowed 28 people in the building, which at maximum capacity, you were allowed 150. So there's a massive, massive change and that obviously concerns families. They have to pick and choose who they bring to their loved ones for farewell.
Malcolm Flanders [00:09:41] It's been a really tough time, hasn't it? And then I guess we're all glad we're sort of emerging out of that now and into some sense of normality. Look, to close, given that obviously we've got other funeral directors listening to this podcast, if you had to give those other funeral directors some advice on dealing with mental health issues, what would that be? Are there resources you'd recommend? Or is there any other advice you'd give them?
Andrew Crymble [00:10:09] Yeah. Well, I sort of touched on it earlier on in the podcast, but really there's so many charities. Regional charities. But, the first thing that I can't reiterate enough is that, with your staff, or even with your clients, or even friends and family, reach out and talk, ask, "how are you? How are you keeping? Do you want to go for a coffee?" A random act of kindness, maybe bring in a meal for a work colleague who's maybe single, and maybe you don't know what's going on, but you feel there's something going on.
Andrew Crymble [00:10:45] Within our offices, we have screens, and on our screens we would have like daily quotes that would come up, sort of inspirational quotes. Again, this was on the back of my mental health, I put this up. We have the helplines for the local mental health charities. There is amazing clubs. I'm in the middle of currently setting up a club, in Northern Ireland. It's called Andy's Man Club. It's nothing to do with my name, there's a club in the UK which is called Andy's Man Club. It's a talk shop for man on a Friday night, between seven and nine. They have 70 plus clubs here throughout the UK and their motto is and I'll just read it here, "we run talking groups for men, who are either going through a storm, are currently in a storm, or have a storm brewing in their lives."
Andrew Crymble [00:11:39] So basically it's a talk shop. It isn't a counselling service. It is just an open place where you can have, as the Scottish guys say, you can have a brew, have a chat. Have a handshake, and just have someone to talk to, and someone to listen to. That is what I’ll say, but the key thing is, reach out. If anyone wants to know anything about this Andy's Man Club, please reach out to me. There's other charities, I know whenever I wasn't well, that I contacted the Samaritans and I spoke with them on many occasions, an amazing charity. Amazing charity. And then there's local charities in all the different regions, you know.
Andrew Crymble [00:12:21] But the key thing is, is that if in doubt, you think there's someone who maybe is struggling, ask them. Be direct, be honest and be consistent, to reach out to that person. Don't say you'll do something and let them down, because you never know, maybe that person, that's what their struggle has been, that they've been let down. And do be consistent, and that's as a colleague. It's also as a business owner.
Malcolm Flanders [00:12:46] Wow, that's brilliant. Andrew, thank you and appreciate your offer. I was going to suggest it, if people wanted to learn more or to get in touch with you, I presume you're happy for them to contact you direct? Yeah?
Andrew Crymble [00:12:58] Absolutely. I would be delighted. And, you know, and just one other thing, I just need to say. I did the Medicine Ball Challenge and I did a lot of Facebook posts and videos, and Belfast Live, which is like a local news thing covered it, and Radio Ulster covered it, and the amount of different people who contacted me. People who I genuinely thought, their life was going good, reached out and just said, "look, thanks for sharing and being honest about where you are." And that offer is on the table for anyone that's listening to this. If they want to chat, a non-biased chat, lift the phone, give me a call. Look us up on the phone book, or on the Internet, I would be delighted to chat with anyone.
Malcolm Flanders [00:13:42] That is brilliant, heartfelt, honest and a brilliant story. Andrew, really appreciate your time today and a double thank you for interrupting your skiing break. I'm going to let you go back to the bar, and join your mate.
Andrew Crymble [00:13:56] No, no no, I'm not going to the bar. I'm going for a massage.
Malcolm Flanders [00:13:59] Oh, even better. Good man. I am very impressed now.
Andrew Crymble [00:14:04] Yeah, I'm going for a massage and then some dinner and then a couple of beers, and probably not a late night because I'm sore.
Malcolm Flanders [00:14:14] I'm not surprised. Well safe flight home tomorrow. Alright. And I'm sure will speak to again in the future. But once again, Andrew Crymble, thank you for your time today. Appreciate that.
Andrew Crymble [00:14:24] No problem.
Malcolm Flanders [00:14:30] Thank you for listening to the Partnership Podcast. Watch out for more details about Andrew's story in SAIFInsight. All of our previous episodes are available online at goldencharter.buzzsprout.com, including the four-part FCA regulation mini-series that closed out 2021. You can also find us on a range of podcast apps, and you can contact me directly if you have anything to contribute or suggest at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again and I'll talk to you next time on the Partnership Podcast.