Somewhere between all and nothing

Charles Cowling

Image courtesy Rodger Ericson

An email arrives – an enquiry. Can we transport the body ourselves? Do we have to use an undertaker? The enquirer is not limbering up for a home-arranged funeral some time in the imminent future. No, the death has already happened. The undertaker’s men came to take the body away. Their spooky lugubriousness horrified my enquirer. Now she wants her mother back and ne’er another dismalist anywhere near her.

There are a great many undertakers who do removals a lot better than this. I was talking to Darren Lloyd of AJ Lloyd, Coventry, recently, and he told me how his firm does it. Exemplary to the very last detail (which I won’t reveal in case it’s a trade secret). And when it comes to a removal from a nursing home he will not countenance using a service door at the rear. No, “They came in through the front and they go out through the front.” I was tempted to offer him a high five, but I don’t know him well enough. I offered a restrained whoop instead.

Over in the United States there’s a gulf opening up between the funeral directors and the growing number of home funeral consultants. Over there you need a licence to operate as a funeral director so the consultants have to be certain that they don’t trespass on FD territory. Families don’t need a licence to do it themselves in most states, though.

In the UK the common perception is that you choose your polarity: all, or nothing. You outsource the whole shebang, turn up on the day and do what you’re told. Or you do it all yourself, every last thing, displaying a resourcefulness beyond the power of 99.9 per cent of the population – which is why they say of home funerals that they will never take off.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Where Muslim and other faith communities are concerned, it isn’t. And the point is that while there are some who want the all package and some the nothing package, there are lots and lots who’d rather have something in between.

US funeral directors resist any erosion of the fully-serviced funeral. They have a lot to lose because their funerals are very expensive and an increasing number of Americans don’t want to stump up that much. Which is why there is an increasing number of home funeral consultants offering an alternative.

There are funeral directors in the UK (not many) who offer and encourage participation. But there are none, so far as I know, who offer a home funeral option on the model of that offered by home funeral consultants in the US.

Here’s an example. It is from the website of Peg Lorenz in Massachusetts:

What Does a Home Funeral Guide Do?

Pre-planning — We meet and explore options for how the family would like the process to unfold. Having a plan in place can provide the security of knowing that your wishes will be honored. This allows the family to focus on being with the loved one.

We can advocate for your needs and work in conjunction with a funeral director if you choose to work with a funeral home.

After death — We can advise and support the family with:

–       Washing and dressing the body

–       Preparing the body for a stay at home

–       Creating a peaceful atmosphere for visitors

–       Making necessary arrangements for transport and burial or cremation

–       Completing necessary paperwork such as the death certificate and other documents

You need not be alone at this time.

Is this really so radical and alternative? Is there any reason why a UK funeral director cannot offer this service as part of a range of services? I’d have thought that any who was to do so would establish a significant commercial advantage over his/her competitors and, more important, offer funeral consumers what they want.

The more that people can engage with the care and farewelling of their dead, the greater the emotional value of the experience – this much we know. Which is not to say that families should be urged to do what they feel they can’t. But their readiness should be carefully explored. Choice isn’t about what colour box you want, nor personalisation about dead people’s playlists. It’s not about the what, it’s about the how.

It is too late for my enquirer to identify where on the continuum from all to nothing she would have expressed a preference to be. The next few days are going to be terribly gruelling. And empowering. It’s a shame she’s come to see the funeral industry as a place where she can’t find the help she wants.

Check out Peg Lorenz’s website here

7 thoughts on “Somewhere between all and nothing

  1. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    Touché! You may even incite me to reveal what I really think!


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    Oh, dear Charles, it never occurred to me you would think I didn’t know that!

    You are not doing this to express your own opinion but to shake up those of others, and it always gives me food for thought and sometimes the urge to add a little spice to the dish… but it goes to show that a little provocation works both ways!


    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    Jonathan, I have this idea that the art of blogging is to encourage people to debate. I can either do that by being (predictably, provocatively)controversial, or by a) puzzling people (‘What does he really think?’) and by leaving things out in such a way as to encourage/provoke others to gallop in, hollerin’. Well, look, they have, all good persons and true, and they have talked about themselves in their own terms – so important.

    Yes, it’s mischievous, and it may be wrong — but it does yield beautiful things. And if someone were to say that the quality of a blog is measured by the superiority of the comments over the original post, then I think that we would, collectively, deserve whatever prizes they dish out for blogging.

    In short, I don’t want Jonathan to nod his head in agreement and move on. No, I want him in here, pen blazing!


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    “But there are none, so far as I know, who offer a home funeral option on the model of that offered by home funeral consultants in the US.”

    Charles, you old rogue, you know perfectly well that there are, and that we all follow this blog.

    I’ve said it before, but our purpose is to make ourselves redundant and encourage power back into its rightful hands. We cobble together a living from it meanwhile and, when the penny drops and they don’t need our help any longer, we’ll just have to trust in the same thing that put us into a human body to keep us in it somehow else.


    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    james

    I’m with Rupert (and probably ‘Kingfisher’from the sound of it). Like them, we will go the full or any customised distance, and will do as much or as little – whatever a family want. This alongside our usual collaborative approach.
    It always takes more time than at first we think, whether set in motion from an initial meeting, over e-mails or the ‘phone, and it is indeed difficult to charge for the time, and what I feel it has been worth.
    Discounting the inevitable feeling that if they weren’t doing it themselves it would be easier (and more profitable) if we did it, it is pretty fantastic to collaborate with the various members of what is usually a very resourceful and interesting (middle class/artistic) family, while they do their thing.

    This also brings up the alarming issue of exactly how we charge – and how, in most funerals, we will mark up some of the items to avoid confronting the full amount of our required ‘professional fees’.
    With on line sales of coffins and urns, the day is coming my friends!
    What say we?
    The best I can think of is an hourly rate, and given three full 8-man-hour days per average full service funeral, what’s this worth?


    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Rupert Callender

    Charles, we offer advice over the phone or face to face for nothing, and are happy to offer any part of our service seperate from any other part. Perhaps ‘happy’ is the wrong word because it is our experience that when a family approaches us asking for us to take care of a particular aspect of a funeral, generally the collection and looking after the body for a greatly reduced price, then by the time the actual funeral arrives, it has become as complicated and involved for us as an ordinary funeral. We would rather spend an hour talking and hopefully empowering them to do it on their own, which happens regularly, as opposed to resenting them for getting our full attention and expertise for a pre-negotiated knock down price which barely covers our petrol, let alone our time and worth. Of course, this is rarely the people who can afford it the least, rather the comfortably off middle classes who are confident enough to push for a good deal. If Shirallen, or Lord Sugar as he is now known were to engage our services, I am sure we would probably end up paying him for the privilege.


    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Kingfisher

    Very happy for you to give them my number Charles, if they want any technical help or guidance.


    Charles Cowling

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