Blog Archives: June 2011

Need to know, ought to know?

Thursday, 30 June 2011

By Woody

So many questions!

When is it appropriate for people who work with the bereaved, be they funeral directors, celebrants, (long list of others) to give advice which they suspect might prove helpful even when they are not directly asked for it?  How can you be sure that your gut instinct is right?  To what extent should you have confidence in both your professional and life experience and just go for it?

I’ll try to give an example so that you get the gist without my betraying any confidences or identities.  There are many I could think of but this seems a good one for the purpose of illustration ….

Imagine if the fathers of two young men who died just under a year apart both in their early twenties and in similarly tragic but slightly different circumstances were to meet.  The Dads are from the same town and the boys are buried within one hundred yards of each other.  Is it possible that should these Dads happen to meet and get chatting that one might help the other?  Common ground is why organisations such as Widowed and Young, Survivors of Suicide, The Laura Centre, and similar groups exist but there isn’t a group for everyone and groups are not for everyone.

I am just an average human being working in the funeral business (but not the traditional variety).  I have a large family both biological and logical and a vast number of engaging things to do which amuse me which have nothing to do with my work.  In other words I have a life.  But, here’s the thing.  If anything keeps me awake at night it’s not the fact that I work in the death trade and know too much about the ways in which individuals cease to exist.  It’s this.  Bizarre sets of circumstances frequently come up when I think to myself “if only they (the person or people most affected by someone’s death) knew such and such, I’m sure it would help”.  But how can I be sure and is it any of my business?

Situations like this come up often and sometimes I go with my instinct.  I might just keep doing that until someone tells me I’m wrong.


Can you help?

Thursday, 30 June 2011

By Caroline Iandoli

Living funerals are gathering in popularity as more people are approaching death with a more positive frame of mind, taking the opportunity to celebrate with the people they love and have been important in their lives. It also means friends and relatives who might not be able to attend the funeral at short notice can say goodbye. This kind of celebration often has a positive effect for those coming to terms with illness and loss.

We aim to reflect this shift in attitudes by making a documentary celebrating life through the lens of the deceased apparent. The film will confront the traditional way of dealing with death, and demonstrate that planning for the end of your life doesn’t have to be morbid. It can be – and for many people is – positive and uplifting.

We are looking for people who are thinking of planning a life celebration to contribute to the film. For more information please contact Paisley Randell: 07554009286 or email us at

Thanatos meets Eros on an electric flower car

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Hiring young women to strip at a funeral ceremony might strike some as scandalous, but for many in Taiwan it is an important part of the grieving process.

The practice sees scantily clad women on “electric flower cars,” diesel trucks refashioned with a stage and special lighting), erotically gyrating to pop songs as a means of sending off the recently deceased — presumably with a smile.

Marc L. Moskowitz, an associate professor at the Department of Anthropology of the University of South Carolina and an expert on Taiwan’s folk religion and popular culture, has just released Dancing for the Dead: Funeral Strippers in Taiwan, a 40-minute documentary about the practice based on hundreds of hours of fieldwork he conducted throughout Taiwan in 2008.

The interview-driven film — interspersed with stripping performances, pilgrimages and other common religious practices — reveals many of the dichotomies in contemporary Taiwan: rural tradition versus urban modernity; mainstream pop culture versus marginal folk culture; global capitalism versus local identity; and the thin and shifting line between legal and illegal behavior.

Moskowitz says he made the documentary for two reasons. First, he wanted to show American audiences, who generally “have a very narrow idea of what culture is, what a proper funeral is and how to grieve,” the practice. He also wants to counter the negative perception, if not outright shame, exhibited by Taiwanese government officials, politicians and the media regarding the practice and folk traditions in general.

“As an outsider, I could lend a very different set of perspectives to a dialogue that was going on in Taiwan that was very critical of the practice,” Moskowitz said.

Interview with Marc L. Moskowitz here.



“It’s the people who aren’t comfortable with their life that can’t talk about their death.”

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


I had an email this morning from Chuck Lakin. The name rang a faint and distant bell. I unleashed Google, who soon ran him to ground.

Chuck makes coffins. Beautiful, simple coffins. Here’s a story about one of them:

Last September, Barbara Baker learned that breast cancer had spread to her bones and she had six months to live. Lakin had already made a coffin for Baker’s cat. The choice to have her own made came naturally. He delivered it a week before Christmas, when Baker had a friend, Carla, staying over.

“Carla comes home at 4:30, and my mom says, ‘Chuck’s coming and he’s bringing my casket today,’” Fenlason said. Carla pulled her aside and warned her: “I think there’s something wrong with your mother’s mind.”

Fenlason said her mom was touched that someone would make something so beautiful for her. After she died on Jan. 18, Fenlason and her husband, Glenn, assembled the coffin themselves at the funeral home. Family signed the inside of the plain pine lid. Guests were encouraged to sign on top. They wrote things like, “You’ll always be the queen of green fried tomatoes.”

“It was another healing thing for us,” Fenlason said. “Morbid didn’t even come into the picture at all. I hope 1,000 other people want to do this.”

Instructions for Chuck’s make-it-yourself quick coffin here.

More about Chuck here

And here

Chuck’s other wood designs here

Title quote: Chuck.

Up, up and away…

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


You have landed on the latest, most innovative, honorable, and dignified way to “release” and scatter  ashes, reverently up and away into the air, like a cloud forever and ever. An ash scattering event that is unforgettable, heartwarming and memorable.

Several years of design and engineering were invested to create an automated cremation urn, The Angel Aire Urn. This unique cremation urn completely “releases” and scatters all of the ashes, all with one simple pull of a knob. The cremated ashes ascend up and away into the atmosphere completely dissipating over a few moments.

The Angel Aire Urn is honorable and dignified because the cremated remains / ashes are first loaded by your preferred Funeral Home Director or Angel Aire Urn Representative. Once at your desired ash scattering / release site, with the “pull” of the release knob, the ashes are cleanly scattered from the cremation urn, released upwards and like a cloud away from you and your attendees.

Angel Aire website here.

Hat-tip to Sarah Murray, author of just-published Making an Exit.


The Home Death Movement

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

I’ve been reading an interesting research report published last month in Australia. Its title: Bringing our Dying Home: Creating community at the end of life.

It examines how networks of unpaid carers can supplement the services of professional carers and enable dying people to die at home. It shows that the lot of unpaid carers need not be one of drudgery, anxiety and isolation, but an experience which enhances bonds in families, among friends and within the wider community. It asks this important question: What if the Home Death Movement (of which there is undoubtedly a global one), named itself as such and claimed a place at the decision-making table?

The report begins by stating how things are now: Most people die in institutionalised care – usually a hospital – resulting in the modern death becoming “cellular, private, curtained, individualised and obscured” This type of death can mean that people “die badly in places not of our choosing, with services that are often impersonal, in systems that are unyielding, struggling to find meaning in death because we are cut off from the relationships which count most to us.” That most people do not experience dying and/or death in places of their choosing is an astonishing fact; a fact that, collectively, we are either ignorant of or just silent about. It is a fact that speaks to our failings as a society at a time of life that occurs for each and every one of us. [P7, refs omitted]

The report concludes: In the research reported here we found that people can and do care for their dying at home with the help of informal networks of community members. And they do it well. This is not to say that it is easy: it’s not. However, people overwhelming felt privileged and honoured to be involved in a caring network at EOL. Participants successfully mobilised and negotiated complex webs of relationships and engaged in acts of resistance to the Western, expert-based approach to EOL care. The knowledge and skills they developed as a result of the experiential, embodied learning about caring at EOL contributed to the development of social capital and community capacity for the people in this study. People’s relationships, on the whole, increased and intensified and these changes were maintained over time. [P8. EOL = end of life]

Importantly, the report adds that the professionals have a duty to support unpaid carers: In order to make sure that these networks are sustainable and that people who provide unpaid caring are not exploited and isolated, informal carers, and networks, need supporting. Carers need permission and practical hands-on help to gather caring networks together and to negotiate the type of help they need … We would also like to see organisations that provide paid care at EOL take on an active role in promoting death literacy and facilitating and supporting informal caring networks from a community development – or health promotion – perspective.

A Home Death Movement. Yes, we need one of those. This excellent report shows us that, far from being an anxiety-raddled ordeal, the experience of caring for our own as they lie dying offers rich rewards both to individuals and to society.

I am indebted to Hermione Elliott, director of LivingWell, DyingWell, who are, later this year, piloting a similar project in East Sussex, for sending me a pdf of the report, which I can’t upload because the filesize is too big. Email me and I’ll send you a copy:




Monday, 27 June 2011

Bill Jordan is on a  quest to have (when the time comes) his corpse laid out on the surface where it will be able to give most back to the ecosystem. He wants “to know I’ll be going back into the air, the soil, the rain, the mist, the snow–back to the ecstasy I feel while walking–these experiences are so comforting that I almost look forward to being laid out on the festive table of a Sierra Nevada meadow, or the large rocks in the Australian Alice, or the sagebrush scrub of the Great Basin.”


Bill has featured before on this blog. If you missed his extended rationale, read this and this.

Here is Bill’s latest update of his pursuit of his goal. He has been working with down-t0-earth idealist and natural burier Cynthia Beal. Bill says:

Cynthia and I are agreed to proceed, in principle as well as spirit, on the assumption that it’s always later than you think. The strategy includes several plans, based on practical reality, and one of these involves planting on Bernd Heinrich’s property in Maine. Bernd is an old friend–I met him while in graduate school at UC Berkeley in the late ’60s and early 70s–and we have discussed permanent parking on his mountain. He is, by the way, publishing a new book on decomposition in nature and I am mentioned in it–also mentioned in Summer World. Slowly, insidiously, we are infiltrating the modern mind.

Bill also sent me more photos of his duck, Jacqui. He says: Note the red caruncle around her eye in the last picture–let your mind flip and suddenly you see it as a small, red creature–some primitive, amphibious ancestor, pointing backwards”.


RT @GoodFunerals

Sunday, 26 June 2011


Latest in crematorium design, one in the shape of a foetus –

MakingAnExit Sarah Murray RT by GoodFunerals Remarkable pictures of a Tibetan sky burial:

“The funeral industry itself is heading for a crisis of relevance” Read and digest the wise, enlightened Pat McNally –

Like me! Follow me! Are social media really what a deathcare biz needs?

Marlon Brando’s ashes must come home to… Wales!! Wha?

A papier mache coffin. It’s really rather good!

Public health funerals in the UK £1,200 each, the same as we get for double the money. Why, please?

Access to suicide drugs & info empowers us to live as long as we can –

‘Burn the poor’. Burial of paupers in US to be phased out, an insidious dispargement of cremation?

Why do health nuts want us to live so long when there’s no funding to keep us going when we’re old? To hell with the Royal Coll Psychs!!

Ouch, another howling complaint re Funeralcare: “I won’t use the term funeralcare as there was no care shown by any of their staff.”

Bruce Springsteen played this at the funeral of Big Man Clarence Clemens yesterday –

@caregiving Denise M. Brown RT by GoodFunerals
Aging Gracefully: Why Getting Old Is a Lot Like Being Young via @huffingtonpost

What funeral consumers want – and what they don’t want –

Christians v Pagans in sleepy Bridport –

Rare orchid found at Middlesex crem. Something in the air?

Mellow_Knee Melanie Glenn RT by GoodFunerals
Chocolate #coffins and #caskets! How did I not know about this?!

The jewelled skeletons of Europe. Brilliant.

Thriller writer’s research project: experience being buried alive –

MakingAnExit Sarah Murray RT by GoodFunerals
I love the fact that there seems to be an “Expressing Sympathy Advisory Council”:

Dead woman revives at her own funeral then drops dead for good –

Two very promising new blogs, one by an undertaker one by a would-be undertaker

One is quoted in today’s Guardian –

Dead man unable to rest in peace with wrong teeth. Exhumed.

Some Oz undertakers are absolute rotters –

The willow tray from Passages, an excellent burial/cremation product. What a good idea –

Pt 2 of the Patrick McNally interview. Food for thought for consumers and undertakers alike –

“Remembering you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

The right way to carry a coffin

Friday, 24 June 2011

Family and friends carry the coffin of Rex ‘The Moose’ Mossop, rugby league legend, at his funeral. In his eulogy, his son said this of him: “He was an insufferable pain in the arse sometimes but I loved him to death.”

Respected voices don’t much like this arm’s length carrying, but I do. We don’t disagree, we just think differently. You can do that in Funeralworld.

Story here.

Things we can’t get enough of…

Friday, 24 June 2011


Breathe Me

Help, I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And, the worst part is there’s no-one else to blame

Be my friend
Hold me, wrap me up
Unfold me
I am small
I’m needy
Warm me up
And breathe me

Ouch I have lost myself again
Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found,
Yeah I think that I might break
I’ve lost myself again and I feel unsafe

Be my friend
Hold me, wrap me up
Unfold me
I am small
I’m needy
Warm me up
And breathe me

Be my friend
Hold me, wrap me up
Unfold me
I am small
I’m needy
Warm me up
And breathe me


The Six Feet Under Convention will be held in Bournemouth 12-14 August 2011. Official website here.

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