26 March 2019

National study looks at perceptions of funeral directors and their bereavement support role

Perceptions of funeral service providers and their role in bereavement support will be the theme of a presentation this month by palliative care researcher Professor Samar Aoun, who is based at the Perron Institute in Nedlands and La Trobe University in Victoria.

Speaking at the Australian Funeral Directors Association 2019 national convention this week, Professor Aoun will summarise outcomes of a recent study.

The aims of the research were to understand how interactions with funeral service providers were perceived and to identify the contribution funeral service providers make to bereavement care, particularly within the context of a community-centred approach to caring, dying and grieving.

A total of 839 Australians took part in a postal survey 6 to 24 months into their bereavement.

“Bereavement can be one of the most stressful and difficult times in a person’s life,” Professor Aoun said.

“As well as the emotional strain, bereavement is also a time when people find themselves having to make immediate decisions and respond to unfamiliar demands. A lot of social support is needed.”

“Our national study which started in Western Australia found that funeral service providers were the third most important source of support after the informal support of family and friends.

Almost all survey respondents found funeral service providers helpful in demystifying ritual and legal aspects, providing advice and organising funeral arrangements.  Compassion, care and empathy were also recognised as helpful.

Funeral services providers’ financial expectations of the bereaved, however, were perceived as a negative aspect by many respondents.

Suggestions for support included funeral service providers taking a more proactive approach to bereavement needs, for example providing personalised follow up support and offering clients information about grief counsellors, community support services and self-help groups.

Professor Aoun said the study concluded that funeral service providers have a potential key role in building community capacity around dying, death and bereavement.