When entering the offices of Stephen’s funeral home, Lewis Solomon Funeral Services, you could be forgiven for expecting something a little less… cheerful. After all, the building is cream – not black – and the interior is a comfortable, homely space that’s filled with ornaments.
“The sign says funeral home – because it looks like a house!” says the funeral home’s owner and Director, Stephen Gay. “You can put people at ease or put them on edge. We want to try and make people feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible.”
"This people-centric, extra mile approach is key to Stephen P. Gay Funeral Home’s ethos."
As Stephen puts it “there are no bonuses or upselling – it’s about honesty. It’s about what that person wants for their loved one not what society makes them think they need”.
Indeed, this desire not only to set people at ease – but to go the extra mile to help out – is also central to the funeral home’s partnerships within its native Longfield, Dartford and Gravesend community.
Take Stephen P. Gay Funeral Home’s coalition with ellenor, for instance – a local hospice charity that supports patients with life-limiting illnesses and their families. Funeral directors have become an integral part of hospice care: not only in the expertise and resources they’re able to share, but in their ability to facilitate a more natural transition of care at the time of death.
Stephen’s work with ellenor stretches back over three and a half decades, since the charity was founded in 1985. Should the family of someone that dies under ellenor’s care choose Stephen’s services – which appear on a list, along with the details of several other local providers – Stephen will liaise with ellenor to ensure the safe, compliant handling of the body, before working with the family to ascertain their requirements for burial or cremation.
But his role doesn’t stop there – and how could it?
Because talk to Stephen, and his passion for his profession – and for going above and beyond to help out – soon becomes evident.
Over the years, he’s helped ellenor in a number of ways, from the logistical – for instance, providing extra ‘Mortuary’ space for deceased, sourcing extra supplies of sheets, or assisting with bariatric (larger) patients – to the educational. Stephen regularly attends ellenor’s Carer’s Cuppas’ – a support group, run by the charity, that’s open to anyone caring for someone with a life-limiting illness, or who is at the end of their life – to speak openly about death and dying.
“We sit down, we have a cup of tea,” Stephen says. “People are free to ask me anything they want, or to share their thoughts or concerns about dying.”
Yet having open, frank conversations about mortality is something easier said than done. This, Stephen believes, is related to the barriers that society has constructed around this most sensitive of topics.