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Six months after the tram tragedy in Croydon, South London, which killed seven people, a full-day seminar was run, free of charge, by the town’s independent family-run funeral directors Rowland Brothers.

The seminars, which took place on 9 May, were for the benefit of bereavement professionals and volunteers affected by the disaster and similar tragic events. The following day another seminar was held, this one focusing on suicide and its aftermath. The events, in Croydon’s Jurys Inn Hotel, each drew large attendances.

The delegates included professional bereavement practitioners, such as social workers, care home staff, a large contingent of police family liaison officers, and volunteers from local counselling groups, charities and churches. For many, their certificate participation formed part of their ongoing training in grief counselling.

Dying Matters Awareness Week

Such seminars – held during national Dying Matters Awareness Week – take place each year as part of Rowland Brothers’ ongoing programme designed to help the community it has served since 1873. This year’s guest speaker was internationally renowned bereavement specialist, Dr Bill Webster, Scottish-born Canadian author of ten books on grief counselling.

Dying Matters Awareness Week stresses the need for people to have ‘the big conversation’ about the need to plan for their end of life – the need to have a will in place, to specify their funeral wishes and finance them where possible. Go to for further information on this.

In the four sessions on the first day, Dr Webster pointed out that people do not simply remember crises, they re-experience them, and those involved professionally, or as volunteers, have a vital role to play in the recovery of those affected. Among other topics he took the delegates through the principles of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, explaining the risk factors and consequences of delayed grief.

Rowland Brothers pioneered, a number of years ago, the practice of offering ongoing personalised support service to the families of people whose funerals are conducted by the company, and its operation has set the standard in this field.

Its dedicated team regularly visits nursing and care homes and churches of all denominations, and bereaved families can contact the company for emotional and practical support at any time, even years after the funeral. No charge is made for the service.

Under the subject of ‘Care for the care-giver’ Dr Webster also focused on the need for caring professionals to take care of themselves too, and avoid the consequences of compassion fatigue, which can lead to burn-out.

The cost of caring for others is emotional pain, he said, which can damage professional and family relationships. The ‘vicarious traumatisation’ of sharing other people’s grief takes its toll. The best response, he said, is to take care of yourself by recognising the risk, creating periods of rest and renewal, setting realistic limits to what you can offer people, developing healthy lifestyle patterns, and identifying one’s unique signs of stress.

The second day’s seminar tackled the subject of death by suicide. Dr Webster spoke of the unique nature of grief after suicide and the role of professionals and volunteers in promoting recovery, offering ten healing strategies.

To illustrate the effects of sudden, unexpected death Dr Webster referred to the Manchester United and England footballer Rio Ferdinand, who wife died of cancer, leaving him with three young children, and Prince Harry, who has recently spoken of his 20-year-long grief at the sudden dealt of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

Dr Webster spoke of ten needs of people traumatised by the suicide of a loved one, and suggested ‘ten tasks of mourning’. He pointed out that recovery does not follow a linear timescale, but oscillates between good and bad days, and can take many months or even years. Among other points he made was the need to get the vocabulary right. To say someone ‘committed suicide’, for example, can introduce the unhelpful thoughts associated with ‘committing’ crimes. ‘Death by suicide’ is to be preferred, or ‘ended their own life’.

Dr Webster emphasised the important role played by the community in the aftermath of suicide. ‘If the community is working well, grief counsellors would be out of a job,’ he said.

Certificates of attendance were given to everyone who attended the seminar.

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