In this moving film, one suddenly bereaved mother, already in debt, has to find thousands of pounds to pay for her son's funeral. The funeral business is an unregulated industry, with providers criticised for taking advantage of vulnerable, grieving families, who can then feel obliged to pay large sums of money for an appropriate goodbye. Across the UK the average funeral cost stands at £4,271, having risen 122% since 2004. The Guardian’s Richard Sprenger created a short documentary about one mother’s experience. He’s written about his experience for #FiveThings.
We were prepared to witness acute grief and pain, but what was surprising was how much joy and humour there was. At times of heightened emotions the laughter can flow as readily as the tears - sometimes practically overlapping, as any respite from the inherent sadness of the situation is seized upon.
Though documenting Amanda’s experience was difficult, the video really made itself. Once we had gained Amanda’s trust she very quickly forgot we were there, as her thoughts were, quite understandably, elsewhere. Things just happened organically, and we just pointed the camera at it.
Though this was of course a terrible experience for Amanda, she was hugely lucky to have great people around her. Without her friends Cass and Enid and Rahim’s girlfriend Chelsea, her situation would have been impossible. It’s absolutely true that at such times you find out who your friends really are. Likewise small forms of assistance from several external people really made a difference - sadly because it was all too rare.
It’s amazing how small mistakes can have a huge impact on the suddenly bereaved. A form went missing in the post, a social worker was ill, a police officer had a day off. All very normal, unavoidable things that only served to compound the difficulty of the situation. One thing that would have helped throughout is better communication - from everyone involved.
As a society we really need to be better at dealing with death. It’s always going to be traumatic to lose someone close to you, but the stigma around funerals, about doing ‘the right thing’ by your loved one, sending them off ‘in the right way’ is what allows the funeral industry to inflate the prices to such an eye watering level.
About Richard Sprenger
Richard Sprenger is a video journalist at the Guardian, working around the world on diverse subjects across the Guardian's video output. He recently made a short documentary about funeral poverty - capturing just how difficult bereavement can be, when you simply don't have the money to pay for a burial.