Bob's there for the difficult questions

AMID this month's government plans to scrap 'bereavement packs,' feature writer JAMES MARSTON finds out what we don't want to think about - what to do when someone dies.

AMID this month's government plans to scrap 'bereavement packs,' feature writer JAMES MARSTON finds out what we don't want to think about - what to do when someone dies.

He meets a funeral director who loves his job.

DEATH is a fact of life and all of us at some point have to deal with the death of a loved one.

But aside from the emotional burden, those left behind have much to sort out.

There's the death to be registered, the funeral to plan, the burial or cremation to be organised, probate to be obtained-it can seem like a never ending list of, decisions, judgements and choices to be made.

Bob Clover is a funeral director with Co-op Funeral Services who knows the process well.

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He said: “If I had known about this job year ago I would have done it years ago. I retired from the police after 22 years service due to ill health.

A personable chap Bob, 51, is relaxed and easy in conversation, empathy and patience the hallmarks of his profession.

He added: “One of the jobs I liked while I was in the police was dealing with the coroner's office dealing with sudden deaths.”

After I left the police I became a driving instructor and did other jobs then one day I saw an advert for a driver/bearer here and I went for it.”

And six years later Bob is a fully fledged funeral director.

He said the first task is to remove the body, in most cases, from a home or hospital.

“When someone passes away at home the doctor arrives and certifies death. Then the family contact the funeral director for the body to be removed and taken into care. Once the body is with us in our chapel of rest we start making the funeral arrangements,” he said.

Always a sensitive time, talking to bereaved families requires patience, calm, understanding and empathy.

Bob said: “We try to get as much information when we take the first call; this gives an idea of what sort of funeral we will be planning and what sort of things the family are likely to want.

“We try to get as much detail as possible. It depends on how the person is reacting to us. We tread very carefully but we still need to get the basic information we need to proceed.”

This information includes things like the name of the deceased, the address, the date of death and age, and the doctor's name and surgery.

Bob said: “There's no most common time when we get a call to remove a body. It can happen at any time. We would average anywhere between 20 and 30 deaths a week. The service is 24 hours and we always have a duty funeral director on call.”

The service collects bodies from all over the UK, including airports if a person dies abroad.

Once the preliminary contact is made the next stage is to organise a meeting with the undertakers, often at the Co-op's office in St Helen's Street, but if necessary appointments are made out of the office at the family's home.

Bob, a former policeman, said: “When the family comes in to see us we go through a second exercise to get all the details. At this stage we are looking to find out what sort of funeral the family would like. Whether it would be a burial or cremation or a church service or a crematorium service.

“Once those details are established we ask the family what sort of minister they would like. They can have whoever they would like to take the service.

“If it is a religious funeral we organise the minister that takes the funeral.”

After the meeting the funeral director calls the minister and speaks to the cemetery or crematorium to find a suitable date for the funeral.

Bob said: “We handle a large number of funerals and come into contact with a large number of families but its no good being blaze to a family about what we are doing. Each funeral is different and each family is different. I have to listen very carefully to what their instructions are.

“People often do not know what to expect but it isn't always doom and gloom. Often there is room for humour. You have to do a job that has sadness attached but often a family will leave us with a smile on their face. You learn to build up a rapport and often people need a bit of laughter.

“Obviously the use of humour and whether a family are likely to respond is something you weigh up quite quickly.”

Bob added: “We ask those questions we need to know like. Where would you like the loved one to be driven to? How many cars will the family need? Would they like flowers? Would they like an order of service? What hymns, if any, might they like to sing?”

During the meeting, which has no time limit, the family will chose a coffin. The co-op offers a selection ranging from £315 to £1,565.

Bob said: “We show the family a brochure of the coffins. Some families do not want to spend too much if there is going to be a cremation.

“Each coffin does exactly the same job. None have a crucifix unless they are Roman Catholic and we put on for them.”

Open coffins are also available, and Bob said the Caribbean community often like to file past an open coffin during a church service.

As part of the meeting the director will also discuss putting a notice of the death in regional and national newspapers.

Bob added: “We will also ask what clothes they would like the loved one to be wearing. We take pride in what the body looks like. We dress them in funeral robes free of charge and we dress them even if the family do not wish to see them in the chapel of rest.”

Once the paperwork is completed the funeral director's job carries on behind the scenes. The body is prepared and dressed.

Bob said: “We wash the hair of ladies and give gentleman a shave. We prepare the body by making sure they are clean and tidy.

“If they have had a post mortem there may be secretions that need to be tidied up. Our job is to make the body look peaceful and at rest. There is no make-up unless asked for. About 50 per cent of people will want to see the body before it is buried or cremated. Often if someone has been in hospital with tubes and equipment surrounding them, the family like to see them looking peaceful.”

Funeral services professional fees at the Co-op cost £1,010.

Bob said: “On the day of the funeral we will do whatever the family requests, We can offer a horse drawn carriage or even a motorbike hearse. I once was asked to place a bet and out the slip in the coffin. I never knew if the horse won or lost.

“Whatever the family wants and if it helps them we will do it. This might include medals and berets on the coffin, releasing of balloons or organising a Royal British Legion standard bearer.”

Bob remains enthusiastic about his work. He enjoys the satisfaction of getting it right on the day.

“It doesn't suit everybody though, and it might sound strange but it's a wonderful job,” he added.

Have you had to organise a funeral? Did you know what was involved? What was your experience like? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail


There is no VAT payable on a coffin, because it is classed as an essential item.

For the past five years the Home Office has funded a pack called Advice for Bereaved Families and Friends following a death on the road, which is produced by BrakeCare, part of national road safety charity Brake.

However, from next October the Government will not pay the £44,000 annual funding for the service.

See for Brake's online petition to urge the Home Office to reinstate funding of the packs.

Q: When is a death reported to the Coroner?

A: When the deceased has not been treated by a doctor during their illness.

When the doctor attending the deceased did not see them within 14 days before they died or after death.

When the death occurred during an operation or before recovery from the effect of an anaesthetic.

When the death was sudden and unexplained or by suspicious circumstances.

When the death may be due to an industrial injury or disease, or to accident, violence, neglect or abortion, or to any kind of poisoning.

When the death occurred in police custody or in prison.

Q: How is a death reported to the Coroner?

A: Usually by the police, or by a doctor called to the death if it was sudden or accidental. It may also be reported by a doctor who was treating the deceased if the death was unexpected. The registrar may also report a death to the coroner.

Once any death has been reported to the Coroner the Registrar cannot register the death until the Coroner's enquiries are complete. These enquiries can take some time so you will need to contact the Coroner before making the funeral arrangements.

If the Coroner establishes the death was not due to natural causes then he is obliged to hold an inquest.

Q: What happens at an inquest?

A: The Coroner holds a medical/legal enquiry into the death of the deceased, but this is not a trial. The purpose of an inquest is to establish the identity of the deceased, when, where and how the death occurred and to establish the facts required by the Registrar. In some cases the Coroner will then adjourn the inquest and issue a form to allow the funeral to take place.

An inquest adjourned will be re-opened at a later date to determine the circumstances surrounding the death. This may involve witnesses being called, who are legally obliged to attend and may be penalised if they fail to do so.

Q: When should I register the death?

A: In most cases a death should be registered within 5 days.

Q: Who can register the death?

A: A relative of the deceased should register the death but if there are no relatives then it is possible for other people to register. This may be someone who was present at the death or alternatively a senior member of the establishment in which the death occurred (such as a nursing home) or the person who is arranging the funeral.

Q: What will I need to take to the register office?

A: You will need to take the medical certificate which is issued by the doctor. This could either be from the general practitioner or a hospital doctor. It may also be useful if you take the deceased's birth and marriage certificates with you. If you are in possession of the deceased's medical card this should also be handed in to the Registrar. The Registrar will need the following information:

the date and place of death.

the full name of the deceased and maiden name where appropriate.

the date and place of birth of the deceased.

the deceased's usual address.

whether or not the deceased was in receipt of a pension from public funds.

if married, the date of birth of their spouse.

the National Health Service number of the deceased.

the deceased's occupation and the full names and occupation of her husband if she was a married woman or a widow.