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