Dealing with Death

Updated: Apr 2, 2019

When someone dies it can be a very overwhelming experience, especially if you are tasked with having to organise a funeral. Tottenham resident Jane Morgan is an independent funeral celebrant who helps families create unique farewells for their loved ones. Often it is during a time of shock and grief, with funeral arrangements need to to be organised quickly. It's an important role in the community for an inevitable part of life, so Rachel Ho caught up with Jane to find out more.

Where did you grow up and what did your parents do?

I was born and brought up in Finsbury Park and have lived in Tottenham for over 20 years. My parents owned and ran a milk delivery business and grocery shop; I was born in the flat upstairs. They kept it going until the first big supermarket opened up the round the corner and then couldn’t compete.

I try to use local businesses as much as I can as I’ve seen first-hand what the impact of the bigger chains can do, convenient as they are.

Photo Supplied: Funeral Celebrant Jane Morgan

Describe your relationship to Tottenham.

As an Arsenal fan it’s not always easy! But I've lived here for 20 years and I'm very happy here. There's a great community feel and I’ve got to know loads of people and many of my oldest friends live here too so there’s always someone to call on for support or to have lunch with.

It still shocks me that there is such a lot of poverty. I worked as a census officer in 2011 and was appalled at the conditions that some people live in. But I’m proud to be part of an area where there’s a committed core of residents who are active politically and socially and who volunteer with projects supporting the community whether it be keeping the parks tidy to welcoming refugees to supporting vulnerable people to running youth projects.

People say good morning to each other. I walk my dog in two of several parks every day - we’re so lucky to have a lot of green space around us.

We have great cafes, some old and established, many new. You can buy such an incredible range of food and you can eat yourself round the world. New businesses and ventures are being established all the time. We have arts centres and galleries, museums, live music venues, and great public transport.

My daughter went to school in Tottenham and was a member of Haringey Shed so she’s had a rich start in life too.

The rubbish gets on my nerves though!

A funeral celebrant seems like an interesting profession - how did you get into that line of work?

I’ve been a funeral celebrant since 2012 having spent over 25 years working with vulnerable young people and with people experiencing loss and trauma.

I’ve always felt rituals surrounding birth, marriage and death should be personal and relevant to us, our lives and beliefs; why do the same as everyone else?

Photo Supplied: Jane Morgan

I’d never even heard of the role before I went to a celebrant led funeral. I saw that the whole community of people around the person that had died from family to friends to neighbours had created this wonderful occasion.

And so I went on a training course and have never looked back. It’s the most wonderfully inspiring work and very life affirming. People’s lives are endlessly fascinating and I get to hear and tell such interesting stories. It’s a huge honour to be entrusted with helping a family put together a ceremony to say goodbye to the person they’ve lost and to be alongside them through what might be the most difficult time in their lives.

A 'good' funeral brings everyone together to express the huge range of emotions that come with death, support one another and celebrate what they’ve loved about that person. It’s a vital part of the grieving process.

I couldn’t wish for a better job.

What advice do have for supporting someone who is grieving the death of a loved one?

Just be there and listen. Something life changing has happened to them. You can’t fix it, and you won’t make them feel worse by asking them how they are.

Talk about the person that’s died and share your own memories of them; many people will tell you that one of the things they fear is that they won’t hear that person’s name anymore.

And practical things - make dinner, do some housework, walk their dog.

You run a monthly Death Cafe here in Tottenham - tell us more about that.

A Death Cafe is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session.

Photo Supplied: Mexican Day of the Dead mask biscuits, given to everyone one at the end of the death cafe.

It’s a worldwide movement – some 5,000 have been held to date – and the objective is 'to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives'.

And cake plays a central role.

It’s different every time we meet, and the discussions that we’ve had have ranged from how we express grief, whether children should come to funerals, death expressed through art, how our stories get told in the future, rituals around the world, all manner of things.

As it’s in Tottenham we’ve had such a diverse mix of participants.

We meet the last Tuesday of the month at Blighty India Cafe on Tottenham High Road at 7.00pm and at popup venues in and around Tottenham.

As a woman, how do you think Tottenham has changed? What would you like to see change?

Tottenham has changed a lot over the time I’ve lived here.

I’ve always felt pretty safe as I’ve lived here and in similar areas for most of my life so I don’t really think about it too much – whilst using one’s common sense of course. But that’s true of being a woman wherever you are.

Improvements in the look and maintenance of the parks means they are now well used by walkers, joggers, cylcists and dog walkers and so safer for everyone. And lots has been done to make the area more attractive too such as around Bernie Grant Arts Centre just near where I live.

I feel there’s a real commitment to build and maintain a diverse, vibrant and supportive community much of which is driven by women.

And changes? Less rubbish!

Favourite things to do in Tottenham?

I walk my dog in Lordship Rec and Downhills Park every day where I stop for a coffee or two putting the world to rights and catching up on what’s new in Tottenham.

Photo Supplied: Jane Morgan

The café there has a special place in my heart as I was a volunteer there when it was first set up to support people with learning difficulties and it’s been a community hub ever since, even though it’s now a different sort of café. It’s given us all access to each other’s skills and experiences and gives a real sense of belonging.

Find out more about Jane and Death Cafe:

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