Death and Bereavement in the African Caribbean Community
Recently a friend said to me: “At the moment it feels as if there is a funeral or memorial service every week.” I am a Brummie, but my parents are of the Windrush generation. Mum and Dad often reflect on the early days of the 1960s in England and church life, with the constant flow of weddings and christenings, but now we are in a season of regularly having to revisit grief.
As a Christian minister, I know that we are going to have to get ready for more bereavement as the Windrush generation passes on, but my question is: how well are we preparing ourselves for the time that is already here and that is coming? The saying goes: ‘There are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.’ Although these may be certainties, they are also taboo subjects – not just among most people in the UK but, I believe, particularly in our Black communities.
Given that there is much more awareness about the positive impact of talking more openly and honestly about bereavement, how can we get over this hurdle of keeping painful subjects off limits in our conversations? When we do not talk about death and bereavement in our everyday conversations, we are suddenly faced with our beliefs on death at more painful, difficult times of distress. Then there are questions about the funeral itself and our traditional values… Should we sing at the cemetery? Will people know the songs if we do sing? Will we be allowed to fill in the grave ourselves, or will it just be done by a mechanical digger? And then, of course, there is the subject of money…
According to the Money Advice Service, the average cost of a funeral in the UK is £3,757. “That wouldn’t even cover the cost of the food at the reception!”, I once heard a church sister exclaim. Of course, at a time when we are faced with bereavement, money is the last thing we may want to think about, but this is one reality of the situation we have to face up to, along with the loss of a loved one. In my role as the Just Finance Development Worker in the Black Country, I am now much more aware of the stress that the financial pressure of a funeral can bring. All of a sudden there are lots of decisions to be made: what kind of funeral should it be? Did the deceased want to be cremated or buried? What were the wishes of the deceased? And, with Black families, there are often additional pressures: Is there enough time for family to travel from Africa or the Caribbean to come to the funeral or should we fly the body ‘back home’ to be buried? How do we cope with everyone wanting to visit (for the wake or Nine Nights)? How many should we prepare for attending the funeral, and will there be any ‘surprise’ visitors?
For the sake of our collective mental health, my hope is that we find a way to talk more honestly, openly and frequently about death and bereavement, so that we can be better prepared for the difficult times to come. Some of the resources below are ones I have found particularly helpful, but can I offer a short prayer in closing for those who may be struggling with grief today:
“God of life, we come to You, knowing that You love us and understand everything about us: how we feel at times of celebration; how we feel during the pain of loss, and all the feelings in between. Can we ask that You bring comfort and peace to those who are hurting today? Lord, will You draw near through Your Holy Spirit, so that we can feel the warmth of Your presence when times are cold? Heavenly Father, thank You for friends, family, my wider community, and organisations that are available to offer support. In the times of silence, please remind me that You are here, because Your Son Jesus said, in Matthew 5:4 – ‘Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ Amen.”
Information for further help
- ataloss.org – the UK’s ‘one stop shop’ website for finding specific and local bereavement support
- churchofenglandfunerals.org/gravetalk/ – talking about death, dying and funerals raises big questions that we need to face at some point, but it’s hard to talk to family and friends. GraveTalk conversation cards can help to start conversations about some of those challenging questions.
- cruse.org.uk – offering support, advice and information to children, young people and adults when someone dies
- fairfuneralscampaign.org.uk – the Fair Funerals campaign is run by anti-poverty charity Quaker Social Action to tackle the root causes of funeral poverty.
- htb.org/thebereavementjourney – this course is for anyone who is bereaved, whether recently or dating back several years
Rev Cassius Francis is
the Just Finance Development Worker for the Black Country (with Transforming
Communities Together in the Diocese of Lichfield), and he is a minister with
the Wesleyan Holiness Church.