While I was well out of it last week on my guano-spattered rock set in a silver sea, the militant wing of this blog’s readership did a number on Lovingly Managed. It seems to have ended in either mutual exasperation or bewilderment. Probably a bit of both. Heavy breathing, for sure.
Perhaps the greatest dialectical damage was wrought by Rupert with a deadly weapon requisitioned from the Marxists. He epitomised the views of the anti-LovinglyManaged camp when he accused LM of commodification. Commodification, let me remind you, is taking something commonly offered for nothing and charging for it – helping blind people cross the road, for example. Gloriamundi echoed this: “I think there’s a need for objective, up-to-date low-cost or free advice and information on how to proceed when someone dies, before FDs, Lovingly Managed, or people like me, get anywhere near the bereaved. A service not a business.”
To all appearances this was a battle between altruism and avarice. But I’m not so sure that it was. I think that the three businesslike, intelligent and vocation-driven women behind Lovingly Managed could be earning a heck of a lot more doing something that brings them much less satisfaction.
One thing I am pretty certain of, though, is that altruism isn’t necessarily the force for good that it may, dare I say, self-righteously reckon itself to be.
There is a widespread, kindly belief in the funeral industry that bereaved are too easily exploited and must be considered exempt from market forces. This prompts two questions:
What then is a fair rate for the job?
What is the effect of low pay on levels of service?
The upside of things as they are is that the industry attracts a great many damn fine people who value service to fellow men and women way above the slavering pursuit of fast-moving consumer goods.
The downside is that it also attracts well-meaning do-gooders of questionable value but unjustifiably high self-worth.
And while some bereaved people need to be treated incredibly carefully and kindly, others do not, because they can look after themselves. While we’re about it, let’s not underestimate the responsibility that the bereaved have for themselves, because that’s a responsibility no one else can shoulder.
Kindness isn’t always as kind as it looks. The bereaved must not be patronised, infantilised or kept helpless by those whose apparent altruism masks dark neediness and other baleful if not barking psychological issues. Definitively not among these is any member of the militant wing of the GFG commentariat.
Vocation will always be a more valuable qualification in this industry than greed. For all that, nice guys famously don’t win ball games and they’re not winning this one. It is the greedy undertakers who are winning the battle for market share with their aggressive selling of financial products, funeral plans and their latest magic trick, the standardised quirky, individualised funeral. It’s called commoditisation and its outcome ought to be falling prices – but things are rarely economically orthodox in the death business.
As things stand, I am not aware of florists, printers or caterers pulling their punches financially with the bereaved. Undertakers do just about all right in a market depressed both by many punters’ low expectations of a funeral and also by an oversupply of undertakers. I am aware of many undertakers who could charge more, but don’t. I’m not going into grief counselling because I know almost nothing about it.
It’s secular celebrants I worry about. Financial rewards in this sector are terribly low for those who put in the time and care a good funeral needs. And of all jobs in the funeral industry, this one calls for especially high levels of a range of qualities which include emotional intelligence, literacy and performance skills – a rare combination.
Those who possess these qualifications can work for good money in the real world. Some, like Gloriamundi, are happy to work as a celebrant for the prevailing low rate for reasons which he/she gives over at her/his blog. Some are able to fund their habit with another income stream – a pension, often. This is a job you need to be able to afford to do if you’re going to do it properly.
Which is why many potential celebrants calculate the hourly rate, find they’d be better off at B & Q, then go do something else. Lost to the cause.
Up in Leeds OneLife Ceremonies, a mother and daughter team, have just launched their new website. I like these two a lot, they have energy, intelligence and spirit – they’re a cut above. They are looking to make a living out of celebrancy of all sorts, and why not? We need them. Having costed things carefully and not avariciously they have arrived at a fee for a funeral of a perfectly fair £275. Are they going to get any work at that rate? You tell me.
So here’s my proposition. Those celebrants who are presently undervaluing themselves financially are devaluing celebrancy by deterring good people from entering. By doing so they are leaving the door open for those of lower calibre who race about doing too far many funerals for their own good or anybody else’s. This is the inexorable Law of the Lowest Common Denominator.
Like any industry, the death industry only works well if people get paid properly.