Burying taboos around death

A year ago former doctor Sarah Jones set up a funeral directors with a difference. Catherine Scott reports.

Sarah Jones is on a mission to change the way we deal with death and dying.

Last year she left her job working with people with learning disabilities to set up Full Circle Funerals in Guiseley.

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“The more I talked to people the more I realised that for many the funeral was something you just got through,” says the former doctor and mum-of-two.

“I felt that people should be given much more choice about the funeral of a loved one and that if people wanted to be more involved then they should be. I read a number of articles that suggested that if people have some input in planning a funeral it can really help them further down the line.”

She talked to two colleagues she had worked with in adult social care about her plans and they decided to join her.

“I didn’t want to recruit traditional funeral directors because I didn’t want to have to constantly explain our ethos to them.”

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Sarah is quick to stress the she does not see Full Circle as an ‘alternative’ funeral service, but something in between,

“For me it is all about choice, about spending time with people finding out what they want and what their loved ones might have wanted. If they want a traditional funeral we can do that but if they want something more personal then we do our best to do that too.”

And they have been surprised by the amount of people coming to them in their first year and their moving testimonials.

“I had run my idea past Charles Cowling from the Good Funeral Guide to see what he thought and he said he agreed it was a good idea, but it isn’t until you start that you really realise how great that need is.

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People have said that our approach has really helped them in the grieving process.”

Their different approach has earned Full Circle a recommendation in the Good Funeral Guide and also a nomination in tomorrow night’s Good Funeral Awards.

“It would be great to win an award. We don’t want people to see us as being ‘out there’ and getting an award would validate us to those people who don’t realise that they do want something different.”

Sarah is also passionate about changing the way our society talks about dying and death.

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She believes ardently that we would all benefit from speaking more openly about it, and her decision to move into providing an undertaking service was very much motivated by a desire to offer families the time, choices and support to create meaningful funerals.

“Unfortunately death is still a taboo subject that so many people are not comfortable dealing with or even talking about, which is understandable,” says Sarah.

“However, talking about death, as well as planning for it, usually gives people peace of mind. It also helps them to support their loved ones and means that peoples’ specific wishes are much more likely to be met.”

They have an electric eco hearse – a Nissan Leaf which has been converted into a stylish hearse to offer a more environmentally friendly transport option.

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“I was looking to buy a hearse, but wanted something a bit different. The eco hearse is just a bit more gentle than some of the more traditional funeral cars.”

Sarah says the team are still learning as every funeral they organise is always different from 
the one before.

“We do our best to fulfil people’s requests, so long as they are legal.”

Away from work, Sarah is a mother to two children, and she loves walking, running and cycling with her husband and family. She loves baking and cooking and making things

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One person who has already planned her own funeral through Full Circle is Muriel Thomas

Muriel and her husband David were both diagnosed with cancer during a routine health check and blood test last year. David had liver cancer, which had spread to his bones, and the former District Judge died shortly afterwards at St James’s Hospital, Leeds.

At the same time, Muriel was diagnosed with terminal bowel and liver cancer and, following chemotherapy treatment at Spire Leeds Hospital in Roundhay and support from Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice, the 76 year-old is determined to make the most of the time she has left.

Full Circle guided Muriel through every aspect of his funeral and she was so pleased she decided to organise her own funeral. This includes everything from selecting hymns and creating an order of service through to making her final journey in the company’s electric eco-hearse and selecting what she would like to wear for her cremation

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“The hardest and most upsetting part was definitely choosing the coffin, but ultimately it makes sense to do it all now, because it removes the uncertainty that often surrounds a funeral,” says Muriel.

“I’m also relieved it’s done, because now I can enjoy the rest of my time without thinking about it all. ”

Muriel is currently knitting and selling toys to raise money for Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice, which provides holistic and personalised end of life care for people in Leeds.

Anyone wanting to make a donation to the hospice should visit www.sueryder.org. Further information about Full Circle Funerals is available at www.fullcirclefunerals.co.uk.