Blog Archives: February 2011

Grief memoirs

Monday, 28 February 2011

There’s been some interesting discussion of grief over at the New York Times.

Ruth Davis Konigsberg, the person who demolished the 5 stages of grief model (derived from Kubler Ross), has this to say:

In the past decade, social scientists with unprecedented access to large groups of widows and widowers have learned that, as individual an experience as grief may be, there are specific patterns to its intensity and duration that are arguably more helpful in guiding the bereaved in what to expect. They have found that most older people who lose spouses from natural causes recover much more quickly than we have come to expect. In fact, for many, acute grief tends to lift well within six months after the loss.

The single largest group — about 50 percent — showed very little sign of shock, despair, anxiety or intrusive thoughts (the hallmark symptoms of acute grief) even six months after their loss. Those subjects were also screened for lethargy, sleeplessness, inability to experience pleasure and problems in appetite — the classic symptoms of clinical depression — and came up clean on those as well. That didn’t mean that they didn’t still miss their spouses, but that they had returned to somewhat normal functioning, contradicting the popular maxim of widowhood that “the second year is harder than the first.”

As for the remaining participants, about 15 percent exhibited grief symptoms that were moderately high at 6 months but almost completely gone by 18 months. For an additional 10 percent, those who were still having problems at 18 and 48 months, grief had become chronic.

There were two additional groups that had never been considered in the literature: people who were depressed before and after their loss whose troubles seemed to be a pre-existing condition (about 10 percent), and people whose depression improved after the loss (also about 10 percent), suggesting that the death of a spouse actually alleviated stress.

Loss is forever, but thankfully, acute grief is not.

Read it all here. There are some very good, trenchant letters in response to the piece here.

A second piece asks why there are so many grief memoirs being published. Megan O’Rourke responds:

We shy away from talking about death, not out of cold-heartedness, but out of fear. No one wants to say the wrong thing; and death is scary. I think this is part of why there are so many memoirs and movies about loss: they create a public space where we can talk safely about grief.

Read the whole piece here.

La Santa Muerte

Sunday, 27 February 2011


In Mexico there is a cult that is rapidly growing–the cult of Saint Death. This female grim reaper, considered a saint by followers but Satanic by the Catholic Church, is worshipped by people whose lives are filled with danger and/or violence–criminals, gang members, transvestites, sick people, drug addicts, and families living in rough neighborhoods. Eva Aridjis’ documentary film La Santa Muerte examines the origins of the cult and takes us on a tour of the altars, jails, and neighborhoods in Mexico where the saint’s most devoted followers can be found.

Fascinating story here from Morbid Anatomy. Read it and see the trailer for the documentary. Click here.

They want my reply. What should I say?

Friday, 18 February 2011

Good morning,

I have been admiring your website and would like to enquire about the possibility of having Staysure Prepaid funeral plans listed on your website. established in 2004, achieved 8th position in the recently published Sunday Times Fastrack 100 list.

Staysure has teamed up with Dignity to offer the Guaranteed Funeral Plan to offer a practical and sensible way to take care of rising funeral costs and arrangements.   Because the Guaranteed Funeral Plan is provided by Dignity, the UK’s foremost provider of funeral plans, you can be sure that you will receive unrivalled service and excellent value for money. More than 750,000 people in the UK have already taken the decision to pre-arrange their funeral, and it is reassuring to know that 415,000 of them have chosen Dignity.

I wondered if you would be interested in joining the affiliate programme and making additional revenue.

The affiliate program is free to join and there is no monthly fee. The scheme offers a high commission of £15 per valid lead and this will be dependent on the number of sales achieved. Obviously the more sales, the higher the commission our partners will earn.

Please view our website for more details .

I look forward to your reply.

Claire MacIntyre
Online Marketing Manager Ltd.

Laughing it off

Friday, 18 February 2011

I’m not supposed to be here (see previous post) but I can’t resist abandoning packing my water wings for a moment in order to give vent to what may or may not be justified crossness.

Funerals have, by many people who ought to know better, been subjected to a reductio ad absurdum: three songs and a piss-up. It’s Grief Bypass therapy, and I’ve capped those words because so many people are peddling it. It seeks to make death manageable by trivialising it — it seems to me.

Given that funerals are about people and loss — people who may have been adored, reviled or anything in between; loss that is vast — you’d think that people would have to be emotionally retarded to fall for it. Joanna Yeates’s parents didn’t. But Co-operative Funeralcare’s marketing people seem to have shown that you can never go wrong by underestimating the taste of the British public. And now the Dying Matters Coalition is joining in.

Dying Matters, funded by taxpayers’ money and charged with getting people to confront end-of-life issues, has already given birth to A Party for Kath. Now it has published a web page titled Alternative Funeral Songs. It regurgitates a survey by the Children’s Society (search me) of favourite funeral songs and lists the top ten alternatives, too boring to relate. It goes on to say:

Here at Dying Matters we have a few suggestions of our own. How about: ‘Bat Out of Hell’, Meatloaf; ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, Queen; ‘Highway to Hell’, AC/DC; ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’, Bob Dylan; ‘Reach for the Stars’, S Club 7; and ‘Dancing On Your Grave’, Motorhead.

Have you chosen an off-the-wall track for your funeral? Let Dying Matters know by emailing We will, of course, retain your anonymity unless you tell us you are happy for us to use your name.

Ha ha ha. Haven’t we heard this all before?

I’ve been the celebrant at a funeral which concluded with everyone singing Burn, baby, burn. It was outrageous and very funny. But context was all, and in the circumstances it was sung in a spirit of love, grief and anger. It was as powerful as a dies irae, not played for a larf.

Humour is important. It’s (on occasion) a great channel for pain and misery. It’s deadly serious, not an escape valve for an escapist snigger-urge.

But perhaps I am being too harsh or pious or puritanical. And if I am you’ll be cross enough to tell me so. You may or may not persuade me. But I think I’ll always incline to a treatment of loss more in the spirit of this wonderful tribute to his father by Simon Usborne.

Blog off

Friday, 18 February 2011

This blog is taking a break. It needs good sea air, best bitter beer, fresh seafood, long walks and things other than death to think about. It needs regenerating.

Do come back. Posting shortly will be Kathryn Edwards on Malidoma Some and the role and importance of ritual in funerals. Kathryn has journeyed to Burkina Faso , Dr Some’s home country,  to study with him.

Also posting soon will be Simon Smith and Jane Morrell of green fuse. They have recently got back from California, where they met leading lights in the US home funeral movement. Can, will, home funerals ever take off in the UK?

See you in a week’s time!

Bang to rights?

Thursday, 17 February 2011

I don’t know if it’s the anarch in me or the libertarian, but I am inclined to be very relaxed about the absence of any regulatory structure for funeral directors. Almost everything you can think of is governed by regs designed to reassure and protect consumers. An unregulated funeral industry looks anomalous. Catteries are regulated. You’d think that the funeral industry was imminently and urgently next. But Government isn’t interested, there’s little call for it, so the trade/profession (such a snobbish distinction) jogs along, open to all regardless of (dis)qualification. It remains the case that the rules governing the disposal of dead humans are not nearly as stringent as those governing the disposal of dead farm animals.

And this means that next of kin remain the default disposers of their dead. They are in charge, they sign the legal forms, and the funeral director they appoint is their agent. This is an attractively ancient right: the dead belong to their own.

My mind was swayed a little when I read a just-published report by the Irish National Council of the Forum on End of Life. Over in Ireland the funeral industry is as unregulated as ours. The Forum reckons there are major problems as a result of this, and a lot of ‘sub-standard funeral care’. Interestingly, of Ireland’s 600 funeral directors, fewer than 100 are full timers. In the UK, in rural areas, there are those who combine funeral directing with something else, building, usually, but only a handful, nowadays.

The Forum uncovered abuses with which we are familiar over here, but there’s probably a difference in degree. They report ‘extreme variation’ in the provision of services, together with neglect and misconduct on the part of FDs and mortuary staff. Embalming is often carried out by untrained personnel.

The Forum takes issue with the lack of price transparency, detailing instances of ambiguous or inappropriate invoices. It also reports anecdotal evidence of bungs to hospital and hospice staff.

Nothing we don’t have here, then. And we note that when Richard Sage was trading recently in Burnley there wasn’t a thing anyone could do to stop him. All the NAFD could do was warn its members to steer clear of him – and it did that, citing evidence from this blog. But no message got out to consumers. I urged the Burnley Express to run an expose but it balked.

If our own funeral industry is not so bad that it cries out for urgent regulation, wouldn’t it be a good idea anyway if regulation can expunge low-level malpractice?

Over in the US the industry is regulated. Funeral directors have to do two years at mortuary school and earn a licence to practise. It’s absurd. There’s not two years’ worth of learning to be done – unless you introduce embalming as a course component. Which is why US funeral directors embalm. It’s the only thing they do that consumers can’t.

Professionalisation flatters the status of funeral directors, and it shows in their fees. A US funeral is vastly more expensive than one of ours. There are contributory cultural factors at play here, too, let’s not forget: for immigrant communities an opulent funeral proclaims, “I came, I worked, I made it.” All the same, the gap is great.

Another upshot of US regulation is that those wishing to care for their dead at home can find themselves enmeshed in red tape, compelled to defer to a funeral director.

Just this week, the excellent Josh Slocum, Executive Director of the consumer advocacy body the Funeral Consumers Alliance, wrote this to me: “I love the fact that there’s no such thing as licensure for undertakers over there – no opportunity to puff one’s self up as a Capital P Professional. The licensure requirements in the US have made a complete mockery of the idea of consumer protection.”

That’ll do for me.

Josh goes on to propose: “But what about the idea of a parallel in Britain to our Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule? Not a licensing scheme, but a consumer bill of rights. I should think that would be beneficial just the same, even though you all don’t have as much of a nightmare dealing with undertakers as we do.”

It’s an interesting proposition. Views?

Read about the report by the Irish Forum on End of Life here.

Read to find out about the FTC Funeral Rule (brought in to protect consumers from licensed and regulated funeral directors) here.

Eulogy magazine – the reason why

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Dear Charles,

Please accept my sincere apologies for the late payment of your invoice.

Eulogy has recently undergone a major restructuring after the departures of our features editor and three non-productive directors. I became a director after their departures and have looked to sort out the mess they left me with. In addition, a close colleague has recently passed away after a long and painful illness.

Whilst it is still unacceptable to process your invoice so late, these are the reasons why your invoice was unfortunately overlooked. It was in no way deliberate or malicious, and it is certainly not Eulogy’s policy to delay payment to contributing writers.

I’d like to thank you again for your support of Eulogy and also for your excellent article. Of course, we would welcome future comments and ideas you and your readers might have.

A cheque in payment of your invoice is in the post. I trust that this is a satisfactory resolution and that you will make notifications through your social media to this effect.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Ryan

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