The Partnership Podcast

Bereavement support with Catherine Betley

September 17, 2020 Golden Charter Season 1 Episode 13
The Partnership Podcast
Bereavement support with Catherine Betley
The Partnership Podcast
Bereavement support with Catherine Betley
Sep 17, 2020 Season 1 Episode 13
Golden Charter

Professional Help's Catherine Betley dicusses the current state of support for grieving families and the funeral directors who support them. Catherine discusses her work to support both groups through SAIF Care and SAIF Support.

Show Notes Transcript

Professional Help's Catherine Betley dicusses the current state of support for grieving families and the funeral directors who support them. Catherine discusses her work to support both groups through SAIF Care and SAIF Support.

Malcolm Flanders [00:00:05] Welcome to another edition of the Partnership Podcast, continuing our recent theme of bereavement support and aftercare. The way people grieve is as prone to change during the pandemic as the funeral service itself and we're talking to grief care experts about what that change looks like for families. This time Catherine Betley, at Professional Help, is here to talk about her experiences. Catherine supports both SAIF Care and SAIF Support, so we're seeing not just the impact on bereaved families, but also the toll on funeral directors themselves. 

Malcolm Flanders [00:00:47] Catherine is managing director of Grief Chat and Professional Help, and many of you, I'm sure, will have heard of Catherine. So, Catherine, delighted to see you and thank you for joining our podcast today. How are you? 

Catherine Betley [00:00:59] I'm very well, thank you. I'm delighted to be here. 

Malcolm Flanders [00:01:02] Good. Now look, you'd have to imagine bereavement support, much like funeral directors’ own work, has been more intensive recently for obvious reasons. How have things been for you then in terms of Professional Help over the last five or six months during the pandemic? 

Catherine Betley [00:01:18] It's actually been quite unusual. I think people expected us to be super, super busy. And that's been true in some ways. But actually what happened at the start of the pandemic was that it was like a collective intake of breath, and people paused, and didn't do anything for the first couple of months really. And actually helplines, we had Zoom calls with the National Bereavement Alliance every week for the first 10 or 12 weeks of the pandemic and actually talking to 150 or so other bereavement services across the UK, nobody was busy. Helplines were silent for quite a long time, and I think that was something to do with people not expecting them to be answered. 

Catherine Betley [00:01:57] I guess conversely to that, what we saw with email support and with the web chat, particularly with GriefChat, is that that went crazy. People were keen to communicate electronically because that seemed to be safe and reasonable at the time. 

Catherine Betley [00:02:11] So the first half, the pandemic, what we were busy doing were responding to requests to set up staff care schemes. There were a lot of people in lots of different industries, not just funerals and the related industries to funerals, but all kinds of different organisations, who were in touch to say, "we have had to change our business practices as a result of the pandemic” or “we're making people redundant over something”. There was a big change afoot and we think it's important for us to have staff counselling and staff care in place.

Catherine Betley [00:02:42] So we find ourselves running around, setting up lots of new helplines, lots of new staff care schemes at that point, but the bereavement counselling stuff almost stopped. And a lot of organisations closed their helplines and most community bereavement services, because a lot of them are volunteer led, did actually close, and a lot of them still are closed. 

Malcolm Flanders [00:03:02] Wow. I hadn't appreciated that. That's interesting. So leading onto my next question then, so if we set the numbers aside, how would you say COVID-19 is impacting bereaved people then? 

Catherine Betley [00:03:16] I think when we started, we were talking to a lot of bereaved people, particularly those in the early days of COVID-19, who had lost people in very distressing and quite unusual circumstances, where they hadn't been allowed to visit, they hadn't been into the hospital. And sometimes the last thing the people had seen have been their loved one entering into an ambulance, and generally never being seen again, really.

Catherine Betley [00:03:38] And because we had a situation where people weren't allowed to view, and there may or may not have been a funeral ceremony at the start of the pandemic. And what we saw at that point was some very highly distressed people, who it wasn't uncommon for us to have a conversation with someone who said, "I wish I had gone, I wish I had battered the door in, and I wish I had broken into the hospital. I wish I had done more to see my loved person, either before they died or after they died."

Catherine Betley [00:04:06] And there was a sense of disbelief for a lot of people. And I think actually that still, if you look at any of the Facebook groups of bereaved people during this time, and all of the Twitter stuff that's happening, I think there's still a sense of disbelief that actually this came so quickly out of nowhere and it changed the rules. It changed the rules of end of life care, it changed the rules of dying, it changed the rules of funerals. And I think it changed the rules of bereavement support as well in many different ways. 

Catherine Betley [00:04:33] I think people are in for a very long haul, I think there will be some very angry people who want questions answered about why care was delivered in certain ways or why things happen the way that they did. And in hindsight it’s always easier to ask those questions. They're important questions, but at that time, I'm sure you'll remember as well as I do, Malcolm, we were navigating in the dark completely and most decisions that people took were in the best interests of trying to protect people. But with some people that caused an immense amount of distress. And I think we'll see the impact of that a long time.

Malcolm Flanders [00:05:08] And here's a question, which I’ve asked most people over the last six months, so I'm interested in your views. So how do you think what's happened the last six months will affect future funerals and in terms of the restrictions that we've seen? 

Catherine Betley [00:05:24] That's a really interesting question. It was quite interesting, the last couple of years I've been having conversations with people about direct cremations and something of an unforeseen rise in lots of ways. And there seem to be the view that there would be a percentage of the market for people who wanted to make arrangements in advance, that was the low cost. There was the option of actually do something else, and some families would be able to tolerate that. And I said, "do you know what, it wouldn't surprise me at all if this really took off”. And I know it has in other places.

Catherine Betley [00:05:57] But I think the pandemic accelerated a lot of things. It accelerated simple funerals, it accelerated direct cremations. It has stripped bare, in lots of ways, funerals, and shown them for the elements that they are. And that's not a criticism at all, because for a lot of people they are amazing, and kind of amazing spectacles. And there's a huge amount of time and energy and effort put into them. And there is lots of research to suggest that if you get the right funeral, it will impact positively on your bereavement experience. 

Catherine Betley [00:06:30] But I think in some ways, what we saw was that funerals were kind of stripped apart, the essential elements of the care of the deceased, which is very problematic in itself, the actual ceremony, the service that surrounded the funeral, the disposal of the body, we saw those different aspects laid fairly bare. And then the ancilliary things that we would normally love to put around those events, like the cars and the flowers and the reception of people getting together and all the other things that really complement those, were no longer available. And became less important I think in some ways. 

Catherine Betley Just to – conversely is that we had as many families tell us that a smaller funeral suited them as we had families tell us that a smaller funeral didn't suit them at all. But I think for the future, I don't think anyone will forget this year. I don't think anyone will forget if they had a funeral, what that was like and how different, and I think in the future we will purchase funerals differently. We will think about funerals differently, and maybe we'll think about them in terms of what's meaningful to us, as well as what's meaningful to the person who's died, and choose carefully and choose accordingly to that. I think we'll see some permanent changes as a result of the last six months or so. 

Malcolm Flanders [00:07:51] Right. Thank you. Fascinating. I'm just going to turn to SAIF Support now, because I know you've also helped run SAIF Support, which is more about the direct support and counselling for funeral directors themselves. And we talked a lot about funeral directors being on the front lines of this crisis, and to some extent, they've been under the radar a little bit in terms of the press and the news. Could you talk a little about that?

Catherine Betley [00:08:13] Absolutely. So when we set up SAIF Support, it was to help give a release valve, if you like, to funeral directors who find themselves under pressure. Now, what has happened in the last five years or so is that we found that people use SAIF Support when they are at crisis point, and we would prefer them to come a lot earlier than that. So really, in that sense, what we offer is a helpline, we offer a completely non-judgmental view of what might be happening in someone's world. 

Catherine Betley [00:08:41] We understand the profession and some of the pressures that are on people, and what we usually find with people who access SAIF Support, it's not usually just a work pressure. It's when a toxic work situation, or a cumulative work stress, or a particular incident, that also coincides with something difficult at home or in someone's health or personal life. And then people become overwhelmed. So what we do there is to help them on the helpline and we can put them into professional counselling as well, if that's what they want and need and that's the right service for them. 

Catherine Betley [00:09:12] So, yeah, we've seen a steady increase actually year on year for the last five years with SAIF Support. We've worked very hard to get well known. It takes a long time to kind of really embed services within the profession and for people to trust us. But we've worked hard to do that and it's been well used, and I think it will be well used even more in the future as people have the time and the space to start to reflect on the amount of work that they've done, the type of work that they've done, the constraints that they've worked under. The challenges that they face in terms of – the things that keep us in the funeral profession are that we value the relationships that we build with families, that can go over and above and beyond.

Catherine Betley [00:09:56] I was saying to somebody yesterday, it's not unusual in funeral world to hear someone say, "if it's legal and we can do it, we will do it, we will do what families want." People go completely out of their way to help. And actually not being able to do that has a psychological impact on the helper. So that's exactly what SAIF Support is there for. 

Malcolm Flanders [00:10:16] Brilliant. Catherine, final question. So in terms of everything that's happened from your perspective, in the context of bereavement, are there any positives that you can see from a professional perspective going forward, either in the way you look at bereavement, or in the way you support bereavement? 

Catherine Betley [00:10:35] I think there will be better understanding of the nature of bereavement. I think there will be a better understanding of the impact on bereaved people. I suspect we may see a public enquiry into the nature of some of the deaths and some of the actions that were taken after that, and why people were not allowed to have funerals or see people who died. And I think that will hopefully raise awareness of, really, the issues that are faced by bereaved people, which is never a bad thing in that sense. It's unusual in these circumstances, but actually raising the awareness of the impact of bereavement can only be a good thing. 

Catherine Betley [00:11:12] And I think like many different businesses, the shift to digital. In that sense, it was long overdue in terms of therapy. We've been looking for ways to make therapy more accessible, to make bereavement care or counselling faster, cheaper. More people can benefit from it. So services like GriefChat I think are here to stay and will continue to evolve and develop. 

Catherine Betley [00:11:36] We done 10,000 chats this last five months on GriefChat. Compared to last year, it's probably five times the number that we did last year. For digitally enabled people, there are huge benefits in terms of anonymity, speed of access, immediacy of support and the opportunity to get into a longer term, maybe a face to face or a telephone relationship with a counsellor. There are some benefits there. 

Catherine Betley [00:12:00] I think we've also got some challenges, because a lot of the berevement sector is provided by charities.  A lot of charities are under financial stress. And a lot of the bereavement sector is provided by volunteers, and whether or not people will be able to continue to volunteer in the same way, I don't know. So I think we'll see a change in the nature of how bereavement care is to live in the community. But yeah, I think there have been benefits and challenges all the way around, but actually raising awareness for bereaved people, what this means for them and actually putting into place some kind of longer term support as a UK society can only be a good thing. 

Malcolm Flanders [00:12:39] Brilliant, right, thank you, Catherine. That's been a fascinating insight into bereavement. That's all we have time for, but once again, lovely to see you and thanks for your time. Do appreciate that. 

Catherine Betley [00:12:49] Thanks, Malcolm. Much appreciated. 

Malcolm Flanders [00:12:50] Thank you. 

Malcolm Flanders [00:12:57] Thank you for listening to another Partnership Podcast. As always, the whole year's archive of episodes is available at, or wherever you get your podcasts. Now, I'm always looking out for new people and ideas for my podcast conversations. So please do get in touch with me if you feel there's something we could cover together at [email protected] Take care and I'll talk to you next time on the Partnership Podcast.