Blog Archives: March 2011

Nice guys finish first

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Celebrants gain all the important insights into funeral directors which are denied to clients. We get to find out what they’re really like, why they do it and whether they really care.

So here’s a tip for all funeral consumers. When your celebrant has been to see you, and you’ve had that nice long chat (tears and laughter, laughter and tears) and planned the funeral ceremony, as you stand on the doorstep, ask: “Are you off to see the undertaker now?”

If the answer’s yes, you picked a good un. (Chances are higher that it’ll be a no.)

As a celebrant you finish your chat with a family with a full, possibly bursting, heart and a need to unpack it. Your partner may not necessarily be the person who’ll welcome the spilled contents. The natural person to splurge to is the person who has already got to know and feel for the family – the undertaker or (dire job title) arranger.

But most aren’t the slightest bit interested in what you have to share. They got what they needed to know in the arrangement meeting; the rest is logistics. And that’s why, as Rupert tartly pointed out a little while ago, they deliberately miss funerals. Simply not interested. In people.

I’m lucky that the client I am working for at the moment has a brilliant funeral director. I leave my client’s house (heart bursting, etc) and drive straight to Judi where we talk, exchange insights and, collaboratively, strive to create a great funeral. We learn from each other and feel good about what we do.

John Hall’s daughter Aimee recently ‘did an arrangement’ with a family. Aimee’s arrangements always last as long as they need – a whole morning is not unusual. They talk about anything and everything and, almost incidentally, Aimee logs what she needs to know. On this occasion she jotted down the very incidental if not totally irrelevant fact that the favourite colour of the woman who had died was green. But it enabled John to kit his crew out in green ties for the big day. The family, having completely forgotten that they had given away this ‘secret’, were astounded and, of course, overjoyed.

Down at Exeter and District Funeral Services, David Albery gathered that a person who had died loved cows. David, too, loves cows; he’s been milking them since the age of 8. So he brought down his collection of ceramic cows and arranged them in his chapel of rest for the viewing. The family was enchanted – and amazed, of course.

Little touches – such a difference. A good funeral director’s most satisfying moments.

Given that a funeral director can learn so much and do their job so much better by giving clients time and sharing thoughts and information with celebrants, it is extraordinary that more don’t do it. Delighted families are free and voluble advertisers. They make you money.

Yesterday afternoon, over a cup of tea, I conducted a survey of 100,000 people nationwide*. I asked what, for them, is the most important attribute of a funeral director. Here’s the result:

Great body prep: 1 (ex-funeral director)
Lovely premises: 3
Smart Victorianalike attire: 4
Fab fleet: 8
Really, really nice person: 99, 984

The only part of a funeral director’s work that calls for exceptional cleverness is exploring the wants and needs of clients – the human interaction, the empathy thing. And yet this is one task that most, if they’re big enough, pass off, often to partially trained part-timers – with an instruction that it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.

Why on earth would you want to downgrade and delegate that part of your work which is of the greatest mutual value?

*Of course I didn’t. What difference would it have made?


Well, it’s been a quiet week…

Monday, 28 March 2011

It really has been a very quiet week in Funeralworld. Here are the choice cuts.


Peter the Wild Boy, never tamed, buried at Northchurch, Herts –


Green Burial Council code of standards. This is brand new, yes?


That eminently postponable problem: what to do with the ashes? Lovely piece here –


Funerals for missing tsunami victims may ‘use another family’s bone chips or ashes as a stand-in.’ Fascinating –


Is a small religious minority trying to dictate everyone’s end of life options? #DeathwithDignity #VTleg #VTgov #VT


‘Since a Catholic funeral is an act of worship, it goes without saying that it is not a form of entertainment.’ –


RT @GrievingDads: “The Mourner’s Bill of Rights”


No service by request. In lieu of flowers, take some time to walk in the sunshine and stop to smell the roses –


beachwordsmith Brian Jenner RT by GoodFunerals

Some things may never happen, this one will


The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo – Richard Burton’s favourite poem, read at Liz Taylor’s funeral. Text:


‘The passing years are taking a toll. Black streaks of mold creep up the satin sheet.’ Marcos still unburied.


Women’s ‘superiority in the empathy department ‘ makes them better undertakers. Yes?


The part marijuana can play in palliative care –


The difference between nursing home and prison is that you have marginally less chance of being sexually violated.


matthiasrascher Matthias Rascher RT by GoodFunerals

Weird photos of James Dean posing in a coffin. #weird


Funeral food OK so long as the corpse can’t see it –


Post-tsunami funerals, Japan

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Here’s a fascinating tsunami-aftermath story in the Los Angeles Times. It examines this predicament: how do you mark a death in tradition-bound Japan with no body to cremate?

One survivor, Shoichi Nakamura, has lost her brother. The lack of a body makes it difficult to have a proper osoushiki, or funeral ceremony, Nakamura said. Instead of using the remains of her brother and his family, she may have to use another family’s bone chips or ashes as a stand-in. The Buddhist priests have declared that an acceptable alternative, she said.

“I hear city hall may give them out,” she said.

Other options include collective ceremonies known as godousou, or cremation of the clothes, photographs or personal items of the deceased in lieu of a body. Even a pinch of dirt from the spot the dead were last seen may have to do.

“Many people will have to do this,” said Souichiro Tachibana, 50, a teacher at an evacuation center in Miyako. “Even though it may not be your exact relation, what’s important is to believe it is, for peace of mind. This is the last choice, but what can you do?”

Japan did something similar during World War II when large numbers of Japanese troops died overseas. The government would distribute sticks to the grieving families, saying they were from the war zone, said Shinya Yamada, assistant professor at Tokyo’s National Museum of Japanese History. “But who knows if it’s true?” he said.

Read the entire article here.

And there’s a good post on the same subject over at the excellent Death Reference Desk, here.


Trad bad?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

There’s a fine row brewing in Cork. The County Council has forbidden the public to dig graves themselves, something they have been doing since the dawn of time.

Yes, it’s a health and safety thing. From now on graves may only be dug by those who have done the course. They must be equipped with approved equipment including ear defenders, mobile phones and underground cable detection tools. They must even have had the right jabs. It’s going to add around 500 euros to the cost of a funeral.

A local funeral director points out that “We have lots of old customs and old traditions and it is going to be very difficult to stop people doing what they always did.”

Yes indeed. The people of Myross have already struck back. They have posted a notice at their cemetery which reads:

In Myross, we dig for our own,


we shoulder our own


and we inter our own.

Our traditions and customs.


Your respect required.


Isn’t that great?

Whole story here.


Immerse yourself in Bath

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Centre of Death and Society at the University of Bath is perhaps the UK’s leading think tank in the field of DDD (death, dying and disposal). That statement is challengeable, of course, and might be disputed by excellent thinkers in the field at York, Sheffield, Winchester and Durham. What do I know?

Every year they have a summer conference. This year it’s on June 25 and 26 – Saturday and Sunday.

Do you picture unfeasibly clever people with XL brains talking way over the top of your head in words several feet long? Well, it’s not like that. A dimwit like me can go and understand most of it and enjoy terrific chats over lunch and coffee about all things mortal. It’s a great occasion, genuinely inclusive and warmly welcoming of ordinary folk. It’s a highlight of my year.

So do consider signing up. The venue is cosy, there’s a huge car park 5 minutes’ walk away and Professor Walter will pay your tariff if you forget your money.

This year the theme is Death and Dying in the Digital Age. They want people to present papers. People like you, perhaps? Go on!!

I hope to see you there!

Here’s what they say:

The 2011 CDAS summer conference will examine how new interactive digital technologies affect the social relationships of those who are dying, mourners, and descendants. 20 minute papers are invited from researchers in HCI, design, the social sciences and humanities; software developers and entrepreneurs; and the caring, funeral and memorial professions. Abstracts (up to 250 words) to be emailed by SUNDAY 27 MARCH 2011 (NEW EXTENDED DEADLINE). Topics could include, but are not limited to:

  • Dying: Do digital communications change the experience of dying? Dying people and/or their carers can communicate bad news or regular updates to their friends by e-mail, Facebook etc: does this differ from letters, telephone calls, etc? Do dying people’s blogs make the experience of dying less private than their earlier print equivalents? Do such technologies erode the so-called taboo of death?

  • Mourning: How do social networking sites (SNSs) change the experience of mourning? What is the online experience of communicating with the dead? Of talking with other mourners about the dead? Do SNSs re-insert mourners into community, if so how? Do they change the 20c experience of grief as private? How are they evolving?

  • Digital inheritance: How are protocols developing for the following, and what evidence is there of practice so far? Digital wills; SNS policies re deceased members; digital archiving; digital archaeology; the mortality/immortality of digital data

Web page here.


Co-operative Funeralcare puts its money on alkaline hydrolysis

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

From The Co-operative booklet (2011) My Legacy.  Ethical Strategy:

Throughout the 20th century, people in the UK were limited to the choice of either burial or cremation when dealing with a loved one’s remains. Now, in the early part of the 21st century, The Co-operative Funeralcare is putting significant resources behind the development of Resomation.® This new alternative uses an alkaline hydrolysis process and, like cremation, leaves behind a quantity of ash.

Resomation® has a number of environmental benefits including a reduction in the amount of energy needed in comparison to cremation, and a carbon footprint which is 35% less than cremation. The Co-operative Funeralcare is working towards having the process legally recognised throughout the UK.

Find out what you don’t know about Resomation here.

The, so far as I know, unpublished fact about Funeralcare’s interest in Resomation is that it owns 65 per cent of the company. My apologies to Funeralcare if this is confidential information.

In the light of this, we may speculate that Funeralcare regards alkaline hydrolysis as the technology which will depose cremation, confound its competitors and make its fortune.

What do you think of that?


Bretby crem sale a done deal

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Exactly why East Staffordshire Borough Council and South Derbyshire District Council, the representatives of the people of Buxton-upon-Trent, who are the owners of Bretby crematorium, should want to sell it on their behalf and without their say so, is a dark and nasty mystery. Bretby crem is profit-making, well run and highly regarded.

The sale was agreed by the councillors in a secret meeting. Why secret? The same Judas councillors are now in negotiation with Midlands Co-op, and they’re talking figures in the region of £8 million – a large sum for the Co-op to recoup. How are they going to do that? What’s in it for them?

Anxieties have been raised about monopoly issues.

Councillor Frank Bather, independent, has criticised the councils for ‘lack of communication’ – in other words, conspiratorial secrecy. He asks why no mention was made of the proposed sale in the borough council newsletter.

Here is the council’s dog-ate-my-homework explanation:

“We did have information about the sale in the newsletter when we were looking into it. Now the newsletter will not come out until after the elections. It is a timing thing.”




Swindler recycled

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Members of the Official Richard Sage Fan Club will be interested to learn that our unwearied superdork has resurfaced. Richard Who? Click on the Category at the end of this post to trigger a cascade of ordure.

I can’t say exactly where he is — I must protect my source. But he is still in the UK and once more back in the private ambulance business. It was in his guise as a private ambulance operator that Sage swindled the NHS, his staff and his customers of hundreds of thousands of pounds some years ago, an irregularity of which M’lud took such a disapproving view that he banged him up for seven years.

I can today announce that I am in a position to effect the restoration of a sum of money to one of those who has been swindled by the much misunderstood Sage. Don’t ask how, it’s a long story, and it’s all devilishly above board.

If you have an outstanding CCJ against Mr Sage, please contact me. I’ll do what I can for you.  /  07946 714 063

Sorry to be so cloak and dagger about this. It’s the only way the sting can succeed.






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