Susan Bradley never thought she would lose both her mother and sister in the space of 10 months.
The 51-year-old from Birmingham was devastated when her mother passed away on 9 June 2022 following a stroke and further complications.
It comes as the cost of dying has reached a record high in the UK, and one in five families experience “notable financial concerns” when paying for a funeral, according to SunLife’s Cost of Dying report for 2024.
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The total expenses with Central Co-op Funeral amounted to £4,800, which was to be split between six relatives.
“As soon as they sent the bill, I thought, ‘Where are we getting the funding from?’” Ms Bradley told The Independent. “We scraped the money together, but it was stressful. I had to think about covering my household bills as well, and whether I could afford to put that much across.”
The 51-year-old said she had to be “extra careful” with money and was forced to neglect some of her long-standing payments.
“I had some credit card debts which got put to one side,” she explained. “I didn’t deal with it because I was dealing with everything else.”
After struggling through her mother’s funeral costs, Ms Bradley was faced with another tragedy – her sister’s sudden passing at the age of 37 in April last year.
Jemma Bradley had suffered from cerebral palsy but after breaking her hip following her mother’s death, her health took a turn for the worse; she got sepsis and died of liver failure.
But grief was forced to take a backseat as the costly reality of another funeral hit home. The bill for her sister’s funeral increased by £1,000 from that of her mother’s the previous year.
“I was so overwhelmed,” Ms Bradley said. “Everybody was worried about how we were going to pay for the funeral. It definitely has a mental impact on you.”
With her carer’s allowance her only income, plus the additional costs of taking in her sister’s two children, Ms Bradley reached out for help to cover the costs of the funeral.
She googled until she found Down to Earth, a UK-wide helpline offering advice and practical support to people struggling with funeral costs.
Down to Earth made an application for Ms Bradley to charity Turn2us who awarded the family £1,980 towards the funeral. They also directed Ms Bradley to Teaching Staff Trust, who provide hardship grants to help people in or previously involved in the education sector through times of financial trouble.
The trust helped the family cover the majority of the remaining expenses of the funeral, significantly reducing the burden for Ms Bradley’s family.
Lindesay Mace, co-manager of the Quaker Social Action’s funeral poverty project, said: “The worry of how to afford funeral costs causes deep stress and anxiety and robs people of their right to grieve.
“We have been supporting people for 14 years, it’s not new for us to hear people say they are skipping meals or not turning on their heating but we are hearing it a lot more now. The amount of money from the government to help those people has eroded in real terms.”
Down to Earth also helps people to find ways they can reduce costs, but Ms Mace said there is still societal pressure to have costly products and services that are not necessary for funerals.
“People are often going through some of the darkest moments in their lives and at the same time dealing with feelings of shame and guilt.
“They find they are unable to do perhaps what that person wanted or what they feel is right to honour that person. It makes some people very ill – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
“But to know they are not alone and can speak to someone who can empathise makes a massive difference.”
:: This article previously said Down to Earth gave the family £1,800 towards the funeral costs. This has been corrected to say Down to Earth made an application on behalf of the family to charity Turn2Us, who awarded the family £1,980. It also previously stated the funeral director was the Co-op Funeralcare but has been corrected to Central Co-op Funeral.