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Service of Commemoration – Sunday 20th October 2019

The Knife Angel’s presence outside Derby Cathedral has had a profound effect on people of all ages – prompting conversations and sadness about the effects that knife crime has on so many lives.

Here, Helen Wathall, managing director and the fifth generation of her family to head up Wathall’s funeral directors in Derby, Alvaston, Borrowash, Ashbourne and Burton, offers a personal reflection on the effects of crime on families.

“I am proud that Wathall’s has been part of the county-wide effort to bring the 27ft ‘Knife Angel’ sculpture to Derby.

The striking sculpture, which is the National Monument against Violence and Aggression, is made up to 100,000 bladed weapons collected during police surrender schemes.

Wathall’s has helped sponsor the transportation of the statue and has also provided tags for visitors to leave personal messages.  These will be incorporated into a lasting tribute in the Cathedral after the ‘Knife Angel’ has moved on.

I was particularly honoured to be asked to speak at a special service at the Cathedral recently to offer a personal reflection on the effects that we as a profession see and feel when a death may have been the result of knife crime, or in fact any crime.

With 35 years’ experience as a funeral director, I have unfortunately dealt with a number of deaths as a result of this type of crime in this time.

Frontline services such as funeral directors, police, paramedics, firefighters and others involved in critical incidents soon discover that people exposed to traumatic events often react in a much more primitive and basic way than ‘normal’ grief.

Feelings of unfairness, disbelief, anger and despair are heightened and families may also encounter unwanted intrusion and interest from their local community, the press and on social media.

They have no control over the interest that other people show towards the death of the person they loved and this often leads to greater isolation as they try to protect themselves.

Furthermore, a death of this nature leads to result in a long-winded criminal justice process meaning that those who have lost a loved one have to put their grief on hold whilst focusing on all these procedures.

In the midst of all this, there is a funeral to arrange – often with a lengthy delay from the time of death. It’s the last thing that a family can do for your loved one but, at the same time, the very last thing they want to be doing.

As funeral directors, we are always struck by the bravery of the families that we meet in these circumstances. We see numbness, anger, fear, confusion, shock, forgetfulness, impatience, panic, guilt, – the list goes on.  But by putting one foot in front of the other, the arrangements begin to take place.

Deaths as the result of crime often affect younger people, where no conversations have been had about funeral preferences so this huge decision is made in a place of great numbness and shock.

As well as dealing with the practicalities, we as funeral directors become a safe haven for the family to talk openly and freely. Many are desperate to talk about their loss, the incident, their loved one and their feelings.

Quite often the delay in arranging the funeral due to the investigations means that the family cannot see their loved one in our chapel of rest. We are therefore questioned by families on the injuries their loved ones have received. The need for information is immense and there is often no-one else to ask.

The very nature of the death often brings large crowds to the funeral itself, and for the family this can be seen as a great comfort or create huge anxiety about the public nature of it all.

As we bid farewell to the Knife Angel, I hope that its visual power and the messages left at its feet carry hope that those inclined to carry knives may now think twice about their actions and recognise how the impact of two minutes of madness spreads quickly and silently through the veins of a community far and wide.”