Being Ready — trans and gender diverse funeral care

Ash (left) and Sharon (right) from GIRES on a visit to Poppy's
Ash (left) and Sharon (right) from GIRES on a visit to Poppy's

Four minute read

Ash Hayhurst, author of the Queer Funeral Guide and former funeral arranger, tells us about Being Ready, a project to improve care for trans and gender diverse people at the end of life, after death or when grieving.

Why do you think this project is so important?

It's been my passion for so long to do something like this, so when the opportunity came from [the gender identity research and education society] GIRES, it was amazing!

At GIRES, people would contact us to tell us about a person that had died, who was trans and wasn't being respected, or about bad experiences of attending funerals. We also heard about coroners who refused to validate the gender identity of the person who died, despite their next of kin wanting them to be affirmed.

When I was a funeral arranger, I would wonder: what will happen to me when I die; who's going to help my people plan a funeral that's appropriate for me; where will they go to ask questions about how to make sure my gender identity is respected? I couldn’t find any guidance on how to care for trans and gender diverse people.

If I haven't written a will and I don't have a gender recognition certificate, I’m having to rely on whoever organises my funeral hopefully doing the right thing to make sure that my gender identity is respected when I die.

My best friend died in May. She was a trans woman and she had written in her will that she wanted me to organise her funeral. I was so grateful to be able to honour her wishes, and for all her close people to be involved.

It made me think about how important it is that professionals have the right training. I was in the right place at the right time to advocate for my friend and had professional experience, but for other people that might not be the case.

How did you find out more about what professionals, and people within the trans community, needed?

In 2022, we surveyed the trans and gender diverse community and professionals. There would be no point in creating training or resources without hearing what people are going through. We followed up the surveys with focus groups and interviews.

We found that trans people’s previous negative experiences of healthcare played into a fear of needing end-of-life or palliative care. They worried how they would be treated, whether it would be kind, compassionate and affirming.

Some of the data from the Being Ready survey around palliative care is referenced in an excellent resource called ‘I just want to be me’ from Hospice UK.

As a result of this research, what will Being Ready be able to offer professionals?

We’ll be delivering CPD-accredited, client-focused training which addresses the needs of trans and gender diverse people, in ten locations across England and Wales in early 2024.

Find out more about the training content, dates and how to book your place.

It covers everything from understanding the law to care of the body, from navigating conflict to funerals and bereavement care.

We’re also working with Angie McLaughlin, retired embalmer, care of the body tutor, and creator of The Ichabodies – death dummies™. We have commissioned Angie to create two bespoke Ichabodies™ for the training. They have personalities, causes of death, and family stories, so the training will be very interactive. This makes it a more tangible kind of environment in which to learn.

After this training, we’ll be writing the final report which will be co-authored with Hospice UK and Marie Curie.

Who is the Being Ready training for?

It’s for anyone who works in death, dying and bereavement care.

It’s for palliative care providers, funeral directors, doulas, registration services — because we will be talking about registering the death — funeral arrangers, bereavement officers in hospitals, bereavement counsellors, celebrants, faith and belief leaders. It’s very broad!

The training covers death, dying and bereavement care in a holistic way. If something goes wrong at one stage of the process, such as at the hospital, it could affect all the other stages.

How will the project help trans and gender diverse people feel confident that they will be able to get the care they need?

We are creating a journal for trans and gender diverse people, which will be available in Spring 2024.

It'll be a place to record your wishes, as well as a road map showing what good care looks like and where to get the support you need.

The whole point of this journal is that the community should be able to access it. It shouldn’t be hidden away or something you have to pay for.

In 2020, Poppy’s did a blog about my Queer Funeral guide, I still get people contacting me because of that blog! In a similar way, we hope that professionals and organisations that support the training will be able to signpost to the report and the journal.

What impact do you hope this project will have?

There is a lot of transphobia at the moment, especially in the media, so I think there’s a taboo about affirming somebody's gender. Death is the other big taboo!

When it comes to end-of-life and palliative care, nobody wants to talk about it because no one wants to think about dying. And bereavement care gets forgotten sometimes.

So I hope this project will shine a light on all these things. We’re here to say, “It’s okay to talk about it, it’ll help us be ready when the time comes”.

Poppy's approach

At Poppy’s, we are supporting the Being Ready project to help us build on the service we already offer trans and gender diverse people, their families and friends when they are in our care.

We aim to ensure that everyone gets the right funeral for them. Our training and human approach mean that we act with sensitivity whatever the situation, including when we are looking after someone who is trans or gender diverse.

This includes practical things — completing legal paperwork to match the person’s gender identity and sensitivity about how we treat body implants which might need to be removed before cremation. We can also help family and friends decide how best to represent a person in their memorial service.

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Find out more about the Being Ready training content, dates and how to book your place.

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