The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Endgame

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Which one’s Dad?

Interesting, isn’t it, how myopically self-absorbed people become when glancing forward to their demise. “Stick me in a binbag and put me out with the rubbish,” they say, men mostly. It’s right up there now in the top ten death clichés alongside “He’s gone to a better place,” “It’s only a shell,” and “She will be missed” – that passive verb really bugs me. (Do people really say to the parents of a dead child “You can always have another one”?)

Ask people who want to be bagged and binned if that would be good enough for their closest family members and the tune changes bigtime. But it doesn’t change the way they feel about themselves. “Nope, stick me in a binbag,” they conclude with ne’er a thought for the feelings of those charged with the bagging and binning.

Some of these people have made wills. It’s not as if they’ve completely suspended all consideration for others. And you can see why they might feel this way. It’s an existential chess move. Reaper G negates you: you negate him. Neat. Where grave thy victory?

Except that it’s not actually a plan, it’s just braggadocio. Hot air.

You could argue that we’ve become so individualistic, so narcissistic, that we have no interest in making plans for any party we shan’t be able to attend, but I think that’s wide of the mark.

The point is that this zero sum approach to corpse disposal is stupidly unhelpful. This is something you can only plan in collaboration with, and in deference to, those closest to you because, dammit, they’re the ones who are going to be lumbered with your deadweight. If ever there’s an event which requires us urgently and sensitively to give precedence to the feelings of others, this is it.

Why do our funeral plan designers not stress this? Well, it would complicate things, wouldn’t it? It would mean that people would have to talk about it, which they wouldn’t, the plan would never get written, nor (here’s the point) the accompanying cheque.

Over in the US, where they’re ahead of us in funeral trends, Funeralwise.com, a funeral planning website, has just published a survey which reveals that a startling 31 per cent of Americans don’t want a funeral (a figure that rises to 37 per cent for the over 75s). Bad news for undertakers, perhaps. Far worse news for families. As Funeralwise.com co-founder Larry Anspach rightly points out: “At the very least, families need to discuss their funeral preferences. Its okay to not want a funeral, but have you considered the impact on family and friends?”

See the full results of the Funeralwise.com survey here.

6 comments on “Endgame

  1. Wednesday 29th December 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Interesting because I have a couple of clients who have asked for just that! No funeral. They have done an End of Life plan which states quite precisly that neither of them want any “fuss” and their 3 children know this. They just want to be “taken” directly to the cremation with no service anywhere and no family present and just be committed. They don’t want their family to have to take time off work to attend any service/committal etc and want them all to go out to dinner together on the evening of the committal and talk about all the good times they had together. Their ashes are to be scattered so if the family want to visit the rosebed later then they can of course. Their children all know the plan and approve – because they know it is what their parents’ want and not what they might want. They know that they will be doing the “right thing” and there will be no arguments between the siblings who all have different ideas of what they thought their parents’ wanted, but of course now know different! If just everyone did this, those left behind would be far more able to cope.

  2. Saturday 11th December 2010 at 6:50 pm

    Yes, Martin, one day! And it’s not arguments that’ll win them over, it’ll be the example of a great funeral that they’ve attended (likely enough at a natural burial ground).

  3. Saturday 11th December 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Not having a funeral is very hard on those loved ones still breathing, it is such a pity people think they have to follow convention if only we could convert everyone to doing what they want rather being dictated to by society etc.
    One day!!

  4. Friday 10th December 2010 at 2:15 pm

    As a general rule, people should always be asked the “why” or “why not” question.

    “Do you want a funeral?”
    “No.”
    “Why not?”
    “Because I don’t like crems.” H’m.
    (NB the undistributed middle term in that line of thought.)
    “Who does? But funerals don’t equal crems. Neither do they neccessaily have to equal vicars or non-vicar celebrants.”
    “Oh. Ask me again.”
    Etc.

  5. Jonathan

    Friday 10th December 2010 at 12:56 pm

    It was either the OFT or FunCare Survey that came up with ‘Secret Disappointment’: 90-odd %ticked ‘Satisfied’ or ‘Completely Satisfied with Funeral’ box, but HALF went on to tick ‘Actually That’s Not Really True’ box in next question.

    (No stats for proportion of other half who would have ticked ‘Still Dreaming’ box if they’d been hypnotized.)

    ‘Secret Disappointment’, in case you haven’t heard of it, means a need to convince ourselves we did the best possible for Dad at the funeral because we can’t put it right now – “Lovely service, Vicar”; “Beautiful flowers”; that sort of thing. That’s it, for Eternity. Scary psychological stuff. No wonder we don’t complain if it means Judgement comes down on us. But ask someone standing at the back of the crem and you may get a different appraisal of a funeral, only they weren’t included in the Survey.

    It’s easy to ask Americans or anyone else: ‘Would You Prefer No Funeral?’, and get a number. But a number doesn’t tell you anything except about the way the questions were asked. How about answers to: ‘Why Not?’ Common sense and experience tells us that one: “Because all the funerals I’ve been to have been fucking horrible and I don’t want them to have to go through that for me, I’d rather they had my permission to skip the whole expensive and unnecessary ordeal.” How about answers to: “If all funerals were delightful, rewarding and cheap, would you still want the bin bag?”

    And I love: “If ever there’s an event which requires us urgently and sensitively to give precedence to the feelings of others, this is it.” There’s a deep-seated prejudice, even among survivors (victims), in favour of prepaid funeral plans that take the burden off us at a stressful time. People really believe they’ve been done a favour, but only because they don’t know better.

  6. Friday 10th December 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Excellent post, thanks Charles;downside is, it has prompted me into a lengthy post on my blog, for which you’ve only yourself to blame….

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