The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Blessed are the risk-takers

Thursday, 30 September 2010

There’s a strong feeling among funeralistas that making money out of death is wrong, naff, reprehensible. This is good news for consumers. I’ve met a good many vocation-driven undertakers who could charge far more than they do but they won’t because they think it’s… wrong. Ironically, even the greediest, porkiest undertaker will lend his or her voice to indignantly and righteously denounce a celebrant who charges much more than a retired priest.

My own credibility (such as it is) is founded in the fact that I can’t make what I do pay. In any other industry this foolhardy indigence would earn me derision. In Funeralworld it is my indispensable calling card, my most disarming attribute.

I don’t buy all this. I think that the labourer is worthy of his or her hire. If you can be of use to someone, send them a bill which reflects your value and their ability to pay. Wish I could.

The newly-launched end-of-life planning service Lovingly Managed has attracted some tsk-tsk-ing. But it serves a need which no one else is serving, a need which is going to grow as the population ages, grows spectre-thin and dements. There are aspects to end-of-life planning which, to many, will be either difficult to get your head around or just plain tedious. Necessary, though. Will writing. Lasting Power of Attorney for the time when you lose your wits. An ADRT for the time when you want them to leave you alone. Information and guidance about body donation, assisted dying, tissue donation, financial planning, funeral planning. Who’s going to look after the dog? There’s a lot to it. Lovingly Managed sit down with you, take you through it and fill out the boring paperwork – just like my accountant and, recently, my brilliant mortgage person. “Sign here.” Done. Worth every penny. You love people like this too.

Lovingly Managed is run by expert, ethical people headed by a solicitor. They present no threat to anyone else in Funeralworld: they are plugging a gap. Have they got the tone right on their website? Not yet, perhaps, in places, I don’t know. No worries. They’re bright so they adapt. I’ve spoken to Denise Jones who heads it up. I like her. A lot. People need what she and her team are doing.

Another busy bee in this emerging niche market of end-of-life planning is Paul Hensby at MyLastSong. This is one of those sites where you record your plans and wishes – you buy yourself a virtual box and fill it up. When I first saw the site and detected its commercialism I tsk-ed a bit. It gets to you, this sniffiness, doesn’t it? Well, he’s working bloody hard to make it work. He’s a nice guy. Is MLS what people want? Don’t know til you try, do you? I really don’t see why not.

To do something new requires vast reserves of self-reliance and stubbornness and reckless optimism. You think you’ve got a winner, that’s what sustains you through the dark days. The best ideas and the worst ideas, we remind ourselves, are greeted equally by cries of “It’ll never work!” You never know til you try. Let’s acknowledge the courage it takes to take risks.

Check out their websites. While you’re at it, vote in the poll on the MLS website – top right on the home page.

15 comments on “Blessed are the risk-takers

  1. Russell

    Thursday 24th February 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you for your words and responses…I feel your business is very helpful and needed by many, and will only increase as we enter a new and aging landscape.
    However, one question is: what about very low income families and the very poor in our society. I believe, that not only in life are the poorer people (for whatever reason)suffering inequality, but in death too……..
    Funeral directors are often NOT VERY transparent about costs and leave many vulnerable people in massive debt; this needs to be addressed by Funeral Directors, others, and nationally……

  2. Monday 25th October 2010 at 9:56 am

    […] I wrote this post I guessed what the responses were likely to be. The funeral industry does not like to be […]

  3. Sunday 24th October 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Well, we do seem to have ruffled a few feathers although, having said that, it was encouraging to see some positivity filtering through the fog of suspicion and cynicism. We did wonder about replying, as we don’t want to appear defensive – we’ve got nothing to be defensive about – but in the end, in case people are reading this and getting what we consider to be the wrong impression of us and our business, we felt we would address the points you have all raised.

    In response to Rupert Callender

    In our funeral package ‘much’ of what we do is not, in fact, done by the funeral director – they don’t register the death, many don’t arrange the venue and catering for any post-funeral hospitality, they don’t ring relatives and friends to inform them of the death or write thank you cards for flowers and donations. (By the way, this isn’t an accusation against funeral directors, just a statement of fact. The point is, we pick up where the funeral director’s service generally ends). So yes, ‘some’ elements of our funeral package may be undertaken by the funeral director, or may not be, but ‘much’ is not. When my father died, the funeral director did indeed organise the flowers but I don’t recall them offering to arrange the design and printing of the Order of Service. This is why we have given people a choice in this respect, as we anticipate that flowers will be the remit of most funeral directors whereas the Order of Service is less likely to be. And if the funeral director takes care of both, then, as we state, very clearly, people can request alternative services as part of their package or just ask for them to be removed and we will reduce our price accordingly. The last thing we want to do is create additional costs for the bereaved.

    Having said that, if people want additional help that isn’t available from their funeral director, but is provided by us, and they are happy to pay for that extra help, why shouldn’t it be available to them? When you set up your business in 2000, as you state on your web site, what you wanted was ‘to offer an ecological alternative to traditional funerals’. Good for you. You wanted to give people choice. So do we. And you know, somewhere back in the mists of time, when some bright spark decided to relieve people of the task of having to bury their own by offering to do it for them for a fee, I wonder if he was accused of being surplus to requirements and creating an unnecessary expense for the bereaved. After all, up to that point, people must have managed perfectly well without the services of a funeral director. But obviously people wanted this service and were prepared to pay for it because look where we are today.

    I take issue with the brick-bat that we are ‘advertising’ for franchisees on our web site; I must have missed the ‘Buy A Franchise NOW!!!” banner in bold, black type on a luminous yellow background. Yes, we have a ‘Franchise opportunities’ tab on our home page which, if people are interested, they can access. Most commercial organisations have a ‘Vacancies’ page on their web sites. We see our ‘Franchise opportunities’ page as no different to this.
    You state on your web site that “we were moved to become funeral directors through our beliefs and experience of bereavement and its aftermath”. All of us at Lovingly Managed, although our business has gone in a different direction to yours, are in our business for exactly the same reasons as you are in yours.
    It is not only the next of kin that can register the death. See http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/Death/WhatToDoAfterADeath/DG_10029642
    Finally, I’m pleased to hear that you like many of our other services aimed at the elderly so thank you for that.
    In response to Jonathan
    Below are two quotes which I’ve lifted from Rupert Callender’s web site:
    “……thank you, you’re providing such a very special service to people – special because of the love you give to all you do and that love works its miracles.”

    “The process of death has often paradoxically been linked with that of birth. I can see those links now. Just as you would want the best midwives and the best experience of giving birth at the start of life, so you would want the same at the end of life. The first welcomes and gently brings a child into the world, the second says goodbye and gently prepares a child for their moving on from this world. Both are acts of the greatest love.”

    You may notice that the word ‘love’ crops up in both these testimonials. I guess it’s about knowing your market and giving your market what it wants. Market testing demonstrated that, from the several options presented, our target market overwhelmingly preferred the name Lovingly Managed which is why we selected it as our company name.

    Thanks for your story about your son and his girlfriend. I had a really good laugh at that!

    In response to Gloriamundi

    1) Re. our name, see response to Jonathan.

    2) Yes, we are pulling together many services that already exist, but that’s the point. We are also providing other services which don’t currently exist. The total sum of that is a one-stop-shop. At a time when people are already under pressure, they can make a single phone call and we can relieve them of as much or little of that pressure as they wish. And you may have known of situations where an FD organises the post-funeral hospitality and live music out of ‘kindness’, but how many situations? I can’t believe that it happens very often and why should it? In my experience, it’s not generally part of an FD’s core service offering and they’re not charities. They’re businesses. And what about all the people whose FDs don’t provide these services out of ‘kindness’? Are they supposed to be left swinging in the wind? Well, now they have options.

    You also seem to have a very one dimensional view as to what people’s situations are when they or a family member dies which is far removed from the reality for many. You state that the services we provide “many – most – people can actually do for themselves, or their friends/family can or should.” What exactly is a dead person supposed to do for him or herself?; and regardless of the fact that many families could do what we do, many don’t want to and others really can’t, for any number of reasons, and it’s certainly not up to anyone else to say they ‘should’ do it if their preference is to pay someone else to do it.

    Another thing you say is that “It’ll be a sad day when friends and family don’t offer this sort of support – I know there are people who die utterly alone, and there may be more in future – but it’s not that common, is it?”

    You’re right. The number of people dying absolutely alone is, at the moment, small but it is increasing. However, I’m sorry to say that the ‘sad’ day of family and friends not offering this sort of support is already here and not necessarily because they don’t want to but often because they’re not able to, either because they live too far away, they’re old themselves or they may be too ill. As our population continues to age, families become increasingly dispersed and the number of people living alone continues to increase, more and more people are going to face this type of situation.

    A few pertinent statistics:

    Research by Dignity in Dying found that almost 25% of Welsh people live alone, the highest proportion in the UK. recent report by WRVS, entitled Home Alone1, predicted that by 2021, the
    Office of National Statistics:

    Over the last 25 years the percentage of the population aged 65 and over increased from 15 per cent in 1984 to 16 per cent in 2009, an increase of 1.7 million people. By 2034, 23 per cent of the population is projected to be aged 65 and over. The fastest population increase has been in the number of those aged 85 and over, the “oldest old”. In 1984, there were around 660,000 people in the UK aged 85 and over. Since then the numbers have more than doubled reaching 1.4 million in 2009. By 2034 the number of people aged 85 and over is projected to be 2.5 times larger than in 2009, reaching 3.5 million and accounting for 5 per cent of the total population.

    Older women are more likely than older men to live alone and the percentage increases with advancing age. In 2008 in Great Britain, 30 per cent of women aged 65 to 74 lived alone compared to 20 per cent of men in this age group; and for those aged 75 and over this increases to 63 per cent and 35 per cent respectively.

    You make the point that ‘I think what we need are local networks of information and support, not a franchised national service.’ There are already many local networks of information and support, which are essentially franchised national services without the commercial element e.g. Age UK, Cruse, but none are offering what we are. You also say that “The accompanying/supporting/house clearing stuff really should be done locally.” Well, it is being done locally across South Wales, by us, and if our business grows as we hope, then Lovingly Managed franchisees will be providing the service ‘locally’ across the UK.

    I get the impression that your real objection to our business is the very fact that it’s a commercial business and not a charity. Further evidence of this comes from you saying that we are “adding to the expense unnecessarily.” Unnecessary for who, exactly? Certainly not for the son/daughter living abroad who has to get back to their family and job and has no time to clear their parent’s home and get the house on the market and can’t afford to be flying back and forth. At the beginning of your comments you accuse us of making sweeping statements; I have to say the words pot, kettle and black come to mind. I mean, who are you to decide for everyone what is an unnecessary expense?

    Finally, you say ‘But I’m not tutting.’ Really? You could’ve fooled me!

    In response to Death Matters

    To be honest, I’m not sure what you were saying but I think the premise is that if people aren’t stressed out and struggling to cope then they don’t experience the correct degree of loss. Says who? If people want the experience made easier for them then that’s their choice. It’s not up to anyone else to dictate to them what help they should or shouldn’t receive in order to adhere to some arbitrary, subjective standard on what makes a bereavement ‘too easy’. Having said that, I totally disagree with your sentiment, anyway. To say that helping people deal with the practical aspects of death means their sense of loss is somehow minimised is, to my mind, offensive. It’s like saying if a woman has a baby with the aid of drugs then she doesn’t really experience the wonder of giving birth because she hasn’t suffered enough pain. As a woman who, during the course of a 39 hour labour ended up having every drug going, I can assure you that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

    In response to Graveyard Bunny and Gloriamundi

    How ‘delightfully’ commercially naïve of you not to realise that ‘elderly escort service’, far from being a blunder, was a totally calculated decision to drive web site traffic. After all, we are trying to raise awareness of our company and this was just one means to an end. Who’s to say that a man searching for an escort service doesn’t also have an elderly parent who he might want help with, either then or at some point in the future? And if he’s aware of our web site, he knows we exist and might just tell his friends about us. Apparently our company has been mentioned on a forum on West Ham’s web site. Now how did that supporter find out about us, I wonder?

    That’s it. If we’ve offended, apologies. It’s not personal but we weren’t about to let these comments pass without presenting our point of view.

  4. Jonathan

    Saturday 2nd October 2010 at 1:02 pm

    ‘Elderly Escort Service’… hmm.

    Reminds me of the time I was going to see ‘Notes on a Scandal’, and my son Ashley was grumbling in the back of the car, “I’m not sure I’ll feel comfortable watching a film about a schoolboy shagging a wrinkly”, when his girlfriend Natalie pronounced, in all innocence (bless her): “Well, it’s tackling a grey area, isn’t it.”

  5. Friday 1st October 2010 at 4:58 pm

    …and I’m at the front of it.

    The term next-of-kin has no status in law. The people who can register a death are here: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/Death/WhatToDoAfterADeath/DG_10029642

    In haste. Must get back to hookers4oldies.co.uk — launch soon!!

  6. gloriamundi

    Friday 1st October 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Rupert, sorry, the FD I was thinking of picked up the certificate, maybe he didn’t register. But is there actually a next of kin, in any defining legal sense? Someone Who Should Know told me there was not – but he may have been talking nonsense.

    These questions may be more important than they seem, because some of them may obstruct the move towards more flexible, community-based post-death activities and rituals, that could take us back/bring us forward to an updated model of what used to happen, before The Industrialisation Of Death (sorry, I seem to have developed capitalitis.)

    Yes, “Elderly Escort Service” is a delightfully unsophisticated blunder! The queues could be considerable…

  7. Graveyard bunny

    Friday 1st October 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Am I the only one who thinks that ‘elderly escort service’ was perhaps the wrong choice of phrase? (http://www.lovinglymanaged.com/elderly-escort-service)

  8. Friday 1st October 2010 at 2:21 pm

    They are quite right though, we (fd’s) don’t register the death, because the only person who can do that is the next of kin.
    Damn you Cowling and your slow news day provocative posts…

  9. Friday 1st October 2010 at 1:32 pm

    I can’t write these services off, but I do want to qualify them – evidently we still need to find the right balance between what works and what has meaning.

    These services may help on the side of what works – good American logistical know-how. But they don’t add much to meaning.

    And if they work too well, they further empty the moment of meaning by making it all too easy – like junk food.

  10. Friday 1st October 2010 at 10:44 am

    Buzz, buzz…I’m the busy bee. It has been hard work getting My Last Song off the ground. But it’s been worthwhile in part because of the very positive comments I get from people like you, Charles, and others I speak to about the concept. So many respond by saying that they have a list of the songs they want played, or they have written their funeral wishes.
    Visits to My Last Song are increasing and people are using the free trial to put info into their Lifebox. I hope I’m right in thinking enough people want to have a funeral that matches their lives; and memorise their lives for future generations to know the person.
    Comments on the Lifebox very welcome. Does it ‘look and feel’ right?

  11. Friday 1st October 2010 at 8:57 am

    Not a rant at all, GM. Cogent, thoughtful and penetratingly intelligent. Thank you for going to the trouble — greatly appreciated. Have a good rainwashed funeral later on!

  12. gloriamundi

    Friday 1st October 2010 at 8:51 am

    Blimey, what a rant. Sorry to clog up your blog, Charles..

  13. gloriamundi

    Friday 1st October 2010 at 8:50 am

    Interesting – a few points, if I may.

    1. Us GFG commenters might be seen as a relatively sophisticated lot, at least as far as funerals go. I agree that the title of this organisation “Lovingly Managed” is enough to curdle the milk, but mostly they aren’t selling to people like us. I hate the way people use “lovingly” when they just mean “thoughtfully,” or “sensitively,” or “helpfully.” But it is a pretty widespread element of our increasingly Californicated culture, and I guess they thought it necessary. Bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it? Love can’t be managed. It either happens or it doesn’t…

    2)They seem to me – quick look – to be pulling together many services that already exist, and adding some of the things that many – most – people can actually do for themselves, or their friends/family can or should. And it’s a bit sweeping: “They [FDs]don’t register the death and obtain the death certificate. They don’t source a venue for any post-funeral hospitality… They don’t book any live music that may be required.” I have known situations where FDs have done all of those things – exceptionally, not as a matter of course, and because they were kind and helpful.(Not “loving.”)
    3) As solicitors, the stuff they offer on docs and procedures seems a sound idea, if you don’t like/trust your own solicitor. The accompanying/supporting/house clearing stuff really should be done locally. It’ll be a sad day when friends and family don’t offer this sort of support – I know there are people who die utterly alone, and there may be more in future – but it’s not that common, is it? I think what we need are local networks of information and support, not a franchised national service. Part of their offer looks rather more useful, some of it looks a bit like top-slicing the death industry to build a new industry. “Adding value,” as marketeers say when they actually mean “adding to the expense unnecessarily.”
    But I’m not tutting. If people need it, there it is. There are excellent publications (Lawpack, Which?) on “What To Do When Someone Dies.” (Apart from weep, that is..)But not everyone can manage that for themselves, I guess. If this lot help people accept their own mortality and get to grips with it sooner, then that’s a positive outcome.

    We need people to consider their own mortality earlier in their lives, and get to grips with it.vide Charles’ piece of people who refuse to do anything about their own upcoming funeral and just dump it.I’m celebstering at one of those later today..

  14. Thursday 30th September 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Ah, it’s always good sport to lob a few clays over the guns! Reload!

  15. Jonathan

    Thursday 30th September 2010 at 10:48 pm

    Can’t say if they’ve got the tone of their website right until I’ve looked at it (maybe in the morning); but the name? To me, it just means ‘Obsequiously Soft-Sold’. I’d hesitate to buy food from a so-named outfit if I were starving.

  16. Thursday 30th September 2010 at 10:28 pm

    In Lovingly Managed’s funeral package, much of what they do is already done by the funeral director, such as organising flowers, funeral venue, order of service etc. Just another bill for the bereaved? And I’m no marketing guru, but advertising for franchisees on your home page seems a tad distasteful. I do like a lot of their other services aimed at the elderly though. Maybe too much time spent hanging around this blog has made me a dedicated tsk tsker..

Leave a Comment