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.