Meet the Undertaker — Jason Heath — 5th September 2016.

Jason Heath is a part­ner in the Sheffield based com­pany of John Heath and Sons and gave us a most enlight­en­ing look into the world of under­takers and funeral dir­ect­ors.

Jason tackled a del­ic­ate sub­ject, par­tic­u­larly for an eld­erly group of Probus mem­bers, with great sens­it­iv­ity and author­ity mixed with humour answer­ing many ques­tions from the mem­bers in a relaxed atmo­sphere. John Heath and Sons have been funeral dir­ect­ors since before the 1880’s and now have 10 funeral homes across the city. Many changes have been made in the pro­fes­sion with pos­sibly the biggest being the move from horse drawn car­riages to a fleet of shiny black lim­ousines, although horse drawn car­riages are still reques­ted. Independent funeral dir­ect­ors , like John Heath and Sons are still the main­stay of the industry with nation­wide organ­isa­tions having lesser impact.

30 years ago, funer­als were very tra­di­tional, less per­sonal and rel­at­ively simple. Today the trend is towards being more per­sonal with music/tunes and eulo­gies as per­sonal trib­utes. They are less tra­di­tional, cater­ing for all reli­gions, human­ists, non reli­gious and as Jason quaintly put it, for others who are hedging their bets. Burials can be tra­di­tional in church grave­yards , in wood­lands and at sea which , sur­pris­ingly, is not favoured by ex- sail­ors !. In Sheffield 75% of the deceased are cremated although this figure varies greatly across the coun­try. You can be buried in your garden but only one body is allowed as you would be infringing burial reg­u­la­tions. Further, this prac­tise can affect the re-sale value of your house as it must be declared and would make buyers a little wary. Others, leave their bodies to hos­pit­als for research and teach­ing but this option tends to be over­sub­scribed !!

Funeral dir­ect­ors take into account the wishes of the deceased ( a little earlier), the family and those attend­ing when making the arrange­ments as it is a fine bal­ance in meet­ing the wishes of all con­cerned, the bereaved as well as the deceased. John Heath and Sons make and line their own coffins. English oak has replaced the elm after the dreaded Dutch elm dis­ease but coffins can be made from willow, wicker, bamboo, banana leaves and card­board with the pic­ture coffin as an option. The most pop­u­lar is the ven­eered coffin although the casket an import from America is becom­ing more common. Funerals mean dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent people. To some it is the solem­nity and dig­nity of the reli­gious occa­sion , to others it is the cel­eb­ra­tion of life, to others it is the flowers or the cater­ing as part of the send off or to others it may be the oppor­tun­ity to give thanks through char­it­able dona­tions. The skill of the funeral dir­ector is to search out what is wanted and meet those needs.

Jason handled the sub­ject with great sens­it­iv­ity and encour­aged our mem­bers to speak freely and often with great humour. Informative yet enter­tain­ing and thor­oughly enjoyed by a group of eld­erly gents bear­ing in mind the sub­ject.