Blog Archives: April 2011

Much I do…

Friday, 29 April 2011

Happy Royal Wedding, everyone! The Board of the GFG is fleeing from it to a developing country (not enough gun carriages drawn by sailors to keep us here). Even the interns have been given little flags to wag and the weekend off, bless their little trustafarian hearts. We shall be back after the consummation.

Hat tip for the fab pic to Richard Honeysett.

The foetus and the corpse: where does identity begin and end?

Thursday, 28 April 2011

There’s an interesting review in the London Review of Books (14 April) of After We Die: The Life and Times of the Human Cadaver by Norman Cantor. Here are just a few snapshots from the review by Steven Shapin. It’s not available online unless you hand over a wad at the subscription roadblock.

In the modern secular idiom the dead human body is just rapidly decaying meat, gristle, bone, fat and fluid. It has no consciousness of its circumstances … and can have no interest in its fate … The only value to be assigned to the corpse is its break-up value.

But those who affect this hard-headedness are rarely consistent in maintaining it. In one version of soft-headedness we seem to set a zero or even negative value on the corpse, since few of us try to realise its cash potential and most of us set aside significant sums just to dispose of it.

Secular modernists many of us may be, but we inhabit a culture whose institutionalised practices of death and the disposal of dead bodies have been shaped by beliefs that are neither modern nor secular.

[Rights of the corpse] proceed from the incoherence of our cultural attitudes to the corpse. We don’t think of it as a living agent, and we don’t think of it simply as a sack of chemicals, but as something which still has a measure of agency associated with it … Culturally we recognise the recently dead body of a friend or relative as some version of them: death does not immediately detach their personhood from their remains.

Cantor invites secularists who affect indifference as to what is done with their corpse to imagine how they’d feel if told their dead bodies would be dragged naked through the streets with a sign bearing their name and then fed to the pigs.

It’s a good point. But I find it very easy to get my head around the idea of direct cremation – sans violation, flames not pigs – followed by a corpse-free commemorative event, and so do an increasing number of other people, especially in the US. I’m very surprised that a modern secular country like Britain hasn’t taken to it far more readily.


The Euthanasia Coaster

Thursday, 28 April 2011

I don’t know if you ever visit the Exit euthansia blog, or Exit’s website. Highly recommended. Exit is not Dignity in Dying, which used to be called Exit. Exit is the breakaway, ‘fiercely independent’ Scottish-based group which advocates euthanasia in the UK, has members worldwide, and has just published an updated edition of its guide to self-deliverance, Five Last Acts. I wish I had the money to buy a copy.

The Exit blog is unfailingly thought provoking and well informed. If it’s not on your blogroll, add it.

Yesterday’s post about the Euthanasia Coaster is fascinating. Euthanasia Coaster?

Euthanasia Coaster is a hypothetical euthanasia machine in the form of a roller coaster, engineered to humanely—with elegance and euphoria—take the life of a human being. Riding the coaster’s track, the rider is subjected to a series of intensive motion elements that induce various unique experiences: from euphoria to thrill, and from tunnel vision to loss of consciousness and eventually death. Thanks to the marriage of the advanced cross-disciplinary research in aerospace medicine, mechanical engineering, material technologies and of course gravity, the fatal journey is made pleasing, elegant and meaningful. Celebrating the limits of the human body but also the liberation from the horizontal life, this ‘kinetic sculpture’ is in fact the ultimate roller coaster. John Allen, former president of the famed Philadelphia Toboggan Company, once said that “the ultimate roller coaster is built when you send out twenty-four people and they all come back dead. This could be done, you know.” [Source]

If that’s whetted your appetite to find out exactly how the Euthanasia Coaster kills you thrillingly, go visit the blog.


Tell them fully and tell them clearly

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Regular readers of this blog will know of Teresa Evans and her campaigning work. If you don’t know Teresa, have a look at her website.

I’ve always admired Teresa. She is an ordinary person possessed of extraordinary singlemindedness, tenacity and passion. She is also very nice.

Teresa campaigns for better, fuller, clearer information for the newly bereaved. Had she known what she knows now, she would have done things differently when her son Boyd was killed in a car accident.

Teresa has dogged various ministry officials with probing questions and demands for years – often fruitlessly. Now she has just chalked up a great victory. Working with her local MP she won, last night, an adjournment debate in the House of Commons.

One part of this debate in particular interested me. I had always supposed that beneficiaries of a Social Fund funeral payment had no exclusive rights to a grave – that the grave they were given was a pauper’s grave, and anyone else could be buried on top. It turns out this is not the case at all. The Social Fund can be called on to pay for exclusive rights, it’s just that no one has ever been made aware of this. Teresa has secured a pledge that, in future, all applicants will be told.

Another conspicuous feature of this debate is the courtesy accorded to Teresa. A great many in the funeral industry regard her as vexatious and tiresome. It is good to see her accorded respect and gratitude.

Here are some extracts from the debate. The bold is mine.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I sought this debate following a direct request from a constituent of mine, Ms Teresa Evans, who contends that she was not given good advice following the tragic death of her 20-year-old son, Boyd Evans. I have raised the issues with the Minister via correspondence and written parliamentary questions, but they have not been dealt with to my constituent’s satisfaction, which is why I wish to raise them on the Floor of the House.

I should say at the outset that my constituent is not seeking personal recompense for her situation, but rather wishing to prevent similar problems being encountered by others. Newly bereaved people can be responsible and in control only when they are afforded sound information to make well-informed decisions.

Let me start by providing the background to the case. Teresa Evans’s son, Boyd, was killed as a result of passenger injuries sustained in a car crash in Staffordshire-some distance from his home in Milton Keynes-in 2006. Quite apart from having to deal with the emotional trauma of losing her son, my constituent also had to deal on her own with the practicalities of the funeral arrangements. She is a lady of very modest means. She had no money when she lost her son, so applied for a funeral payment and overdrew at the bank to provide a funeral. In her own words:

“It wasn’t a lavish funeral but a dignified one. In terms of distance and the cost per mile allowed from the social fund payment, I could not claim a total refund for the fee to return my son back to Milton Keynes from where he died in Staffordshire. The inescapable charge was £220, but despite an appeal to the DWP I was only paid £170. This left a shortfall of £50”.

However, she later found out that despite her son undergoing a post-mortem, she was within her legal rights to collect her son in her own vehicle and would have done so had she been aware of this at the time.

My constituent was also informed by the undertakers that the cheapest coffin available cost £680. Subsequently, she found that she could have bought the same coffin online for considerably less or buried her son in a shroud, which she had the legal right to do. In addition, had someone told her that she could still claim a funeral payment without using an undertaker, she would have done this, especially because she claims that the undertaker misled her with false information resulting in her not being able to return her son to his home to lie in wait for his burial. She would have done all these things had she been aware of her legal rights. This has led to her creating a campaign for the rights of newly bereaved people to be made known to them in sudden and unexpected circumstances.

Four years after her son was buried, my constituent discovered that no one had informed her that she could have recovered the fees for the burial rights to her son’s grave within three months of the funeral. If the system had worked properly, she would have received an additional £304 for the burial rights. Consequently, she was forced to surrender her life insurance policies to buy the burial rights, and she feels aggrieved that no one is held accountable for this action. She believes that the Department for Work and Pensions is overly reliant on the funeral industry to provide guidance to the relatives of a person who has died, specifically on what fees can be recovered. She claims to have evidence that proves that undertakers point applicants of a funeral payment to Jobcentre Plus for guidance. In addition, she claims that the National Association of Funeral Directors had no knowledge of the most technical information in existence-the DWP booklet SB16, which the Minister has stated is the most comprehensive guide. That this piece of literature is known only to some professionals would suggest that the bereaved may often not be aware of the full extent of their rights.

My constituent has also commented to me that a bereavement charity, the Alice Barker Trust, identified the same problem a long time ago. She is calling for much clearer guidance to be made available on the options open to relatives, particularly given that they will be in a highly emotional state. As the literature for the applicant may only be understood by those with technical knowledge, it needs to be written in plain language more readily intelligible to anyone. At present, the DWP relies upon undertakers to explain the rules to eligible claimants, resulting in the sort of problems experienced by my constituent. This generates unnecessary mystery and dependency, when we should be promoting education, self-help and self-reliance. A very simple and no-cost solution would be to amend the available literature in both print and online formats, making obvious what fees can be paid by the DWP in relation to the funeral, costs for opening the grave and burial rights for a fixed number of years.

I have already raised Teresa Evans’s case and her request for action with the Minister, but she has been dissatisfied with the response and with what she claims to be a lack of urgency in addressing the situation. She has therefore asked me to pose the following questions to the Minister. First, can he state, from records for the last financial year, how many claimants received payments for burials and what proportion of that number also received payments for what are technically known as burial rights, so they did not use what are known as pauper graves? Secondly, will the Minister consult the Alice Barker Trust to revise the wording of the advice that the DWP produces for printed, internet and other information? Thirdly, does the Minister agree that had the wording suggested by the charity been used before Boyd Evans was killed in 2006, his mother would have received her full entitlement to a funeral payment and would not have had to cash in her life insurance policies to cover the burial rights to her son’s grave? Fourthly, when it comes to the big society and developing strong communities, does the Minister agree that it is essential to empower all claimants in order to help them act independently and responsibly?

Nothing can bring Boyd Evans back, but his mother is hoping that her experience will result in the Department for Work and Pensions learning lessons, so that others do not encounter unnecessary emotional turmoil and financial hardship.

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): In response to this debate being called, I have looked at my hon. Friend’s constituent’s website. As he well knows, her tragic circumstances and the death of her son five years ago led her to campaign on these issues. She has her own website, which I have looked at today. I pay tribute to her for the way in which she has sought to turn her tragic circumstances into something more positive, so that others do not have the same difficult experiences that she did in dealing, as I understand it, not just with funeral grants and the DWP, but with a range of other public bodies and organisations. The way Ms Evans has pursued the issues over the following years is enormously to her credit. I hope that I can offer my hon. Friend some reassurance this evening that that campaigning has led to changes, and that the situation that someone who has been bereaved now encounters is a good deal better than it was five years ago. Clearly there is always room for improvement-we will continue to look at that-but we have made changes even this month in response to the points that his constituent has raised with us, which I will set out more in due course.

… … …

We, the DWP, will pay in full the costs of a cremation or burial, including the purchase of a grave with exclusive burial rights. That is a point to which I will return, because I know that it was important in Ms Evans’s son’s case, and it is something that might not have occurred to any of us unless we were faced with that situation. I can well imagine that it must have been very difficult to discover some time after she had buried her son that she did not have exclusive burial rights. I fully accept that we must ensure that that situation does not arise again.

… … …

The information and guidance that goes to relatives is at the heart of the issues that my hon. Friend has raised. In Ms Evans’s case, the information that came to her from the funeral director was incomplete, for whatever reason, and led to her making choices that, had she been fully informed, she would have made differently. I have made some inquiries into where the right information should come from, and the key is the fact that, on becoming bereaved, the family or its representatives will register the death. That is the point at which we aim to ensure that people get the relevant information. We will not have to rely on funeral directors to provide it. Indeed, there might not be a funeral director involved. The Government as a whole want to ensure that the information gets through to people at the point at which they register the death.

This is already being rolled out more or less nationwide, and we will continue to develop this “tell us once” service. The idea is to allow customers to report a birth or a death to multiple central and local government departments, agencies and services just once.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of forms and paperwork. I can tell him that this month, in response to some of the points that his constituent raised with us, we have made a number of changes to the claim form for the funeral grant. Let me briefly run through them, as she would be interested to know what those changes are.

There are two documents. The first is a note sheet that accompanies the funeral payment application, and we have made three changes to it. On page 6 of the form, we have added a bullet point that says people can send “evidence of the costs incurred if the funeral arrangements were made without using a funeral director“.

That is one of Ms Evans’s points – that people do not always realise that they do not have to use one and do not always realise that they can get their costs reimbursed if they have not used one. We have made it explicit that evidence of costs can be provided if a funeral director has not been used.

The third change we made to the explanatory notes is in the bullet point list of what can be included in the funeral payment. The second bullet point refers to “the cost of opening a new grave and burial costs”, and we have now added “including any exclusive right of burial fee“.

… … …

Ms Evans faced a very difficult and tragic situation five years ago, which was not helped by her dealings with the Department for Work and Pensions or other Government bodies. I pay tribute to her for taking the issues forward in such a constructive way, and I hope I have reassured my hon. Friend that we have listened and responded.

Read the entire debate here. Watch the debate here.


Some of last week’s stories

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

“Do you swear on a stack of bibles that this dongle will definitely receive a strong, clear, unwavering signal on the Isle of Portland?” You wait for that look that young persons give us folk of uncertain age and temper, a blend of impatience, indulgence and pity. Then he says “Yes, oh yes, definitely” and nods very affirmatively and takes my money. And it’s all nonsense, of course. The Isle of Portland is no place for Vodafone.

So I’ve not managed to collect a great many stories in the last week. Here’s what I garnered:

Drive-thru funeral home popular for gang funerals. The corpse is behind bullet-proof glass


Damned Co-op, damned Tories and the damnable sale of Bretby Crematorium


Corpse flower blooms in Basel. Hat tip to Norfolk Boi


Upcoming courses by Archa Robinson “For anyone facing death in the next 90 years.”


BBC films man dying. Storm expected.


Wrong grave dug. Co-op blames the cemetery, the cemetery blames the Co-op.


Very sorry to see that Grete Waitz, the great Norwegian marathon runner, has died


18 year-old opens funeral home in Staffs. Her other job? Bodyguard. Honest!


So wife burning still goes on in some parts of India, it seems


Very interesting-looking blog here written by a bright and thoughtful FD


Funeral home embraces opportunity to stop people dying. Self-restraint of trade?


Blimey, Midlands Co-op charges £605 for a cardboard coffin! But what do you reckon to the balance of this piece?

Meeting his Macca

Tuesday, 26 April 2011


Following the story of the tea-drinking, cake-eating undertakers which caused such ire a few days ago (read it here), here’s a US undertaker up to much of the same , if in a far more downmarket way.

Story here.

What are you worth dead?

Sunday, 24 April 2011

$2755.00The Cadaver Calculator – Find out how much your body is worth.

Created by OnePlusYou – Free Online Dating

If your curiosity is in idle mode, this being holiday time, you may be wondering what your dead body’s worth to those who would like to recycle its bits and pieces.

Make your way over to the Cadaver Calculator and discover. You’ll find a short questionnaire followed by a request to join an online dating site. You don’t have to join. Instead, click on the link at the foot of the page which takes you straight to your value.

I am worth (dead) $2755. I don’t suppose you’ll get anywhere near that.

Go to the questionnaire.

Damned lies

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Here’s a curious case of what looks to me like damnable stupidity whose aftermath is irreparable emotional damage. I can think of no reason for the undertaker in the following case to have behaved as he did – to have forged signatures on an application for cremation. I’d be interested to know what other funeral directors can read between the lines here.

The case is reported on the this is Devon website. Here’s what happened:

Mrs Lau, aged 30, fought back tears as she told the court how she learned last June that her unborn 26-week baby had died. Two days later she endured the heartbreak of giving birth to the stillborn boy, whom the couple named Sonny.

On July 2, while a post-mortem examination was carried out in Oxford, they attended the Plymouth Crownhill branch of Co-operative funeral services and met with Durden who, they told the court, answered their questions about what was available.

However, unable to decide at that stage, they left with lists of costs and visited a memorial company to find out about gravestones, plaques and memorials.

By July 9 they were told by the funeral home that Sonny’s remains were back from Oxford and they could proceed with funeral arrangements.

Over that weekend they agreed to cremation and contacted Durden on July 13, adding they wanted an envelope, containing Sonny’s birth certificate, an origami paper key and an origami paper star, to be placed in the casket.

However, Durden – who had worked at the firm for 10 years, but was manager for only 18 months – claimed he never received the call and no-one passed him any such message. He also denied saying the couple could dress their son in clothes of their choice.

On July 22, Mr Lau phoned Durden who told them their boy had been cremated the previous day at Bodmin crematorium. When the couple went to Bodmin the following day, staff showed them the forms authorising the cremation. When the couple saw the forged signatures, police were called. Durden denied any wrongdoing, claiming Mrs Lau was so distressed she forgot signing the two forms on the July 2 meeting. Durden – who was later sacked from his job – was fined £400, ordered to pay £15 victim surcharge and £350 court costs.

The link to this story was supplied to me by Mrs Lau who, in her email, adds: “This should be made aware nationwide and should never ever be allowed to happen again.


Blog off!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

This blog is rolling up its trousers, fashioning a newspaper hat and taking itself off to the seaside for a week.

I shall try to do emails and stuff but I’ll be on a dongle and it’s a painfully slow connection on the island of dreams — they don’t want our chatter to interfere with that of the mariners who ply our waters with their cargoes of spices, apes, gold moidores, etc.

Have a great week!

The week in shorts

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Royal wedding route will be the same as that to be taken by Queen’s cortege –


Interesting that political campaigning should be reckoned disrespectful of a dead politico –


Man dies at best friend’s funeral –


RT @beachwordsmith: Sia Furler and Six Feet Under Such a great song!


Judicious juxtaposition. Hat tip @StNeotsFunerals


The Funeral Director (2009). Maddest movie of all time?


The excellent Mr D Cuttlefish on what atheists believe (and don’t) –


Man hanged for murder gets Christian burial –


RT @DenOfGeek The growing problem with death in science fiction movies and TV shows – Den of Geek


How can any crematory be so incredibly incompetent?


Grievers bang to rights for out of order parking up at t’crem –


Scan those prints for the family archive + a BEAUTIFUL photo –


Is that nice Mr Mugabe on his last legs?


Not Dead (Alive) Beard-o-Bees Remix – ‘a cerebral celebration of life’. Not of mine, ta –


ShineOnBrightly shineonbrightly by GoodFunerals

At Ghanaian Funerals, a Time to Dance and Celebrate –


beachwordsmith Brian Jenner by GoodFunerals

I May Very Well Vomit…The Snoopy Dance…Responses From Fans | Six Feet Under… New blog


Country star’s father won’t die –


Clock stopped never to go again when the old man died –


Good website and very promising new death blog from UK academic – innovation and spirituality. Worth following –


New disposal technologies a reinvention of the wheel? Natural burial all we need, thanks? Comment here:


New nbg in Lincs. 20 years in the planning. Twenty years??!


Daily Mail bashes travellers with grievers. Are there no depths to its malign ingenuity?


Co-op Funeralcare wants us to Like them on Facebook. Just one person does when I looked. Where’s the love?????


ECRI_Institute ECRI Institute by GoodFunerals

Great blog conversation on #ptsafety blog post “The Messy Business of Dying” National Healthcare Decisions Day @NHDD


suebrayne Sue Brayne by GoodFunerals

Wonderful R4 Bk of Week Marie de Hennezel’s Warmth of Heart prevents Body rusting. Available on podcast


OK, so who do you think cocked up, the Co-op or the florist? –


Hereford mortuary to charge undertakers £50 a day to store bodies. Sign of the times?


New consumer resource to guide grievers in choosing the right services and the right funeral home –


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