Burying the dead of Grenfell Tower

Press Release – on the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Tragedy 14/06/18

The Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017, was a national tragedy, claiming the lives of 72 people, including entire families. It was the worst fire in London since the second world war; and took over 100 fire fighters more than 24 hours to bring under control.

The tragedy precipitated spontaneous response from members of the public, local businesses, and voluntary, community and faith-based organisations. Businesses, local community and faith organisations opened their doors offering help.

One of the gut-wrenching acts facing many of the bereaved families, some of them being survivors of the fire themselves, was to lay their dead to rest.

Why Eden Care EC responded to help the Grenfell victims

Grenfell Fire tragedy, although being a localised incident, resonated with people throughout the UK, people from across the country felt compelled to find ways to help. The first person to be confirmed dead in the blaze was Mohammed Al-haj Ali, a refugee who had fled the war in Syria. The family contacted Eden Care to facilitate and co-ordinate his burial. Our volunteers took part in his ritual washing of Mohammed’s body.

Key issues for consideration for EC

1. Some of the dead would not have had anyone to bury them.

2. Families of the bereaved would be too traumatised to proceed with the burials of their loved ones alone.

3. Having lost everything they owned, bereaved families who were also residents of Grenfell would be unable carry out the burials.

4. The way people died and condition the bodies were found raised questions about the burial process, which many families may not have been familiar with.

These facts, and given the expertise and track record fell within the scope of EC.

Eden Care UK came to the aid of families who needed our help. Being one of the organisations to respond within the first 24 hours of the tragedy; EC offered to support the burial of the deceased irrespective of background.

EC proceeded to consult its partners to offer subsidized or free funeral and burial services. A significant volunteer base was also mobilized to undertake daily outreach activities in the immediate aftermath within the Grenfell area to raise awareness of EC services and provide other assistance where they could.

EC provided a person/family-centred support to bereaved families; offering a range of pre-burial, burial, and post-burial support. EC volunteers undertook functions ranging from arranging the burial ground, to performing the full range of funeral and burial rites, including washing the bodies, laying them in caskets, performing funeral prayers, and burying them.

By December 2017, EC had co-ordinated the burials of 42 deceased of Grenfell, and supported 15 bereaved families. The nature and scale of work presented by the Grenfell tragedy was somewhat new for a relatively young organisation (EC was founded in 2014). We had to learn and adapt very quickly to be able to provide the support needed by the bereaved families.

In the initial phase, EC worked independently using its network of connections with funeral services (such as Haji Taslim Funerals and Compassionate Funerals), religious institutions and burial sites such as East London Mosque, Al Manar, Eternal Gardens and Garden of Peace respectively etc. to take care of the logistics of the burial process on behalf families.

Soon after EC became part and parcel of somewhat of a ground-breaking partnership that sought to coordinate at least the Muslim response to the Grenfell tragedy. EC joined forces with the Grenfell Muslim Response Unit (GMRU), whilst retaining its independence and persons centred model of work.

EC also needed to strike a balance between advocating for the wishes of bereaved families whilst being respectful to the processes of officials and partners. There was of course considerable pressure to ensure the funeral and burials met the wishes of bereaved families and the day went as smoothly as possible, allowing the families to focus solely on laying their loved ones to rest.

Despite these challenges, EC succeeded in not only supporting bereaved families during this difficult period, but also bringing together a whole range of services and organisations in aid of facilitating the burial of their loved ones. The bereaved families certainly appreciated the support offered during this difficult time.

While the level of involvement varied from burial to burial, the following provides a glimpse into the range of tasks performed and the activities of Eden Care

Pre-burial Support

1. Meeting with families in their homes to understanding their needs
2. Developing funeral and burial plans for the deceased with the family
3. Coordinating the funeral prayer and service
4. Liaising with the Coroners, funeral services, mosques/places of worship, and cemeteries on behalf of the families/deceased.
5. Seeking advice from religious scholars and burial experts on a range of scenarios the bodies or remains have been found and how to bury them.
6. Consulting and keeping families updated at all times throughout the process
7. Attending burial coordination meetings

Burial Support

1. Undertaking the full range of burial rites, including washing the bodies, laying them in caskets, performing funeral prayers, and burying them
2. Being there for families, providing social and emotional support throughout the funeral and burial process
4. Providing transportation for family members as and when required
5. Directing people before, during and after funeral prayers and burial service

Post-Burial Support

1. Continuing to support families as and when required
2. Supporting and attending family wake (where required)

EC provisions have always been person/family-centred. We were careful to ensure that the wishes of the families were always at the heart of our support.

Views from bereaved families

“We would like to thank everyone who has been so kind to us over the past few days. In particular we would like to thank the charities and volunteers who have helped us since the fire, especially the Eden Care charity”
– Al-Haj Ali Family

The overwhelming sentiment from bereaved families was that of appreciation of the support received during what was one of the most difficult times in their lives. Assisting families to organise the burial of their loved ones cannot be underestimated, especially for those experiencing loss for the very first time.

“Eden Care played a very important part in taking a big weight off my shoulders. Even just the preparation for the funeral was quite difficult for me”
– (Family Member)

The tragedy cut across generations; entire families perished, it left a husband without his wife and daughters; a child without her parents or sisters; these were certainly not normal. Added to these the fact that some family members had to endure the horror of listening to the silence of death as they held on the other end of the phone as smoke or fire engulfed their loved ones.

After all this, having to go through the motion of burying their loved ones, whilst, especially for bereaved families, who also lived in Grenfell Tower, trying to rebuild their lives; this process would have been extremely difficult.

Furthermore, learning, understanding and being respectful to the religious burial rites and procedures; the work of the coroner, coordinating the funeral directors and cemeteries., whilst at the same time dealing with media attention. These would have been extremely difficult. Whilst being respectful and accommodating to their needs and wishes, EC was there to make at least the process of burial a little easier for bereaved families:

Organising and managing the logistics of the funeral and burial on the day was very important. All the support and coordination prior to this was a run up to this day. It needed to be ran smoothly. We needed to take the pressure off the families, as they said goodbye to their loved ones. Family members were not in a state to deal with anything. They also needed to be able to attend to other family and friends. The priority of Eden Care was to take care of the families.

“The actual Janazah prayer was very good. Eden Care had volunteers with clear visible vest who came and kept things in order, and ensured things were done in a timely fashion. Even arranging for the coffins to be moved earlier than normal, it was through Eden Care who had the contacts and they would direct me to the right places, which played an important part in saving time.” (Bereaved family)

Eden Care gave me peace of mind on the day of the funeral. They were there to make my life easier (Bereaved family)

“The first time I met Eden Care was in my hotel…they explained everything to me. We organised the funeral from there. It was very good help. I will mention again that anytime you needed help from Eden Care, they were there” (Bereaved family)

“We had five coffins and five burial spaces all together, with the funerals taking place one after another. The pre-organisation of the funerals made it simple. Making the plan beforehand was very helpful as this was not an easy thing to do. I was able to carry out my duty without the stress”. – (Bereaved Family)

The volunteers from Eden care helped the non-Muslims friends at the Mosque and the cemetery. (Bereaved Family)

Our volunteers
We would like to thank all our 65 plus volunteers who were involved in providing the range of support mentioned above. At the heart of the EC response to the Grenfell Tower Fire, has been the commitment and dedication of our volunteers. Considering that EC had not undertaken activities of this scale before, there were many challenges and a very steep learning curve. A burial would take at least 3 full days to organize. After 6 or 7 burials of Grenfell victims, it was patently obvious that a degree of restructuring was needed. EC needed to consider the physical, emotional and psychological toll of such work on volunteers, staff and individuals not experienced in dealing with this magnitude of activity and work. Without our volunteers we would not have supported so many burials.

Our partners
We would like to thank our partners for Helping us to bury the dead of Grenfell. We would like to thank; The Grenfell Muslim Response Unit, Gardens of Peace, Eternal Gardens, Haji Taslim Funerals, Brick Lane Funeral Service, Compassionate Funerals, Al Manaar Mosque, East London Mosque, Aziz Foundation, Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Human Aid, Human Relief Foundation, Children of Jannah and many more.

Media – Eden Care in the Press

Guardian
I stood there. I felt helpless’: Relatives recall Grenfell Tower as they lay loved ones.
Harriet Sherwood¸ Religion Correspondent
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/02/i-stood-there-i-felt-helpless-relatives-recall-grenfell-tower-as-they-lay-loved-ones-to-rest

Al Jazeera
The man who befriends terminally ill Muslims.
Shafik Mandhai
https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/10/man-befriends-terminally-ill-muslims-171008131438655.html

Metro
Thousands gather for funeral of first Grenfell Tower victim.
Georgia Diebelius
http://metro.co.uk/2017/06/21/thousands-gather-for-funeral-of-first-grenfell-tower-victim-6725142/

BBC Radio – Asian Network
Big Debate: Funeral rites for Grenfell Victims.
Nomia Iqbal
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p058ktfm

The Times
Anguish and anger as dead are buried.
Thaslima Begum
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/anguish-and-anger-as-dead-are-buried-2l6ntf6wb

BBC Radio 4
What happens at a Muslim funeral when there is no body to bury?
Ernie Rea
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05lpfzr

Channel S
Reality with Mahee: Discussing the Grenfell Tower Fire
https://www.facebook.com/EdenCareEngland/videos/821401821345308/
Reality with Mahee, Channel S

About Eden Care
Was established in 2014, to provide one-to-one person-centred culturally appropriate support and empowerment to the terminally ill and those reaching End of Life (EOL). Naturally, and without being exclusive, a large proportion of those engaging with Eden Care services are the elderly. Volunteer Befrienders attend to the ‘personal, social and spiritual needs’ of the terminally ill/person approaching EOL. The organisation has played a valued role in offering friendship and support to the elderly or those terminally ill who have very few or no one to attend to their needs during this phase – some are estranged from families due to having converted to Islam.

Eden Care services do not end at the point at which those being supported pass away. In fact, in the majority of cases, Eden Care has continued to play a supportive role during the funeral and burial of the deceased, whether by planning and organising the burial or assisting family members to do so, whilst remaining available for ongoing support during and after the process.

Muslim Burial Fund – MBF
Inspired by Peter Chatfield or Saeed Islam, a Muslim revert who passed away on 4th November 2014, who wanted Eden Care to take care of his burial because he was worried that he would not be given a burial according to his faith and wishes, the Muslim Burial Fund was formed. The Fund provides loans or grants to cover costs of burying loved ones or those approaching end of life but have no one to bury them. As part of the overall package of support, the Fund assists in developing ‘end of life’ and burial plans.

EC and MBF are programmes of 13 Rivers Trust whose objective is to work for ‘needy individuals, young people and communities left behind by mainstream society’


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Press Contact:
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www.edencareuk.com