Blog Archives: January 2012

She went to glory!

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Pic

Some reflections here by Guardian commenter StoPeriyali on the way we do cremation in the UK:

Having been to several (far too many) crematorium services, I have always felt the moment when the curtain closes and they start to hoosh you all out ready for the next one, is utterly dismal, flat, anti-climactic, unsatisfying. You have to leave knowing the box is still just right there, behind a bit off curtain, and it feels like you’re abandoning the person right at the last bitter moment, and doesn’t feel any kind of closure, unlike if you could see the white heat and the coffin ignite.

When it’s me I would like to be put in old family dinghy with all my favourite treats and sentimentally valued stuff, set alight with something spectacularly flammable, and pushed off with sails set towards the Western horizon at sunset.”

This dismal process was what was putting me off cremating one of my late cats. Belize, a splendid Siamese, was the cat of my prime but she finally died during weather like the present and I couldn’t face digging a grave in the slushy mud. I took her to pets’ crematorium and the experience was quite the opposite from the standard human crematorium. I got to lay her out as if she were asleep – all curled up – and surrounded her with flowers. Then she was placed on a sheet of metal and slid into the cremation area (not so much an oven, more open). And then – by now H and S kicked in and this was being seen on a screen – she was seen to burst into flames. It was magnificent and I thought of Patroclus’ funeral pyre in the Iliad. She went to glory!

The kindness of the crematorium staff towards the owners of the pets was exemplary and the day which started out so sadly ended with the feeling I’d done the right thing by a well-loved pet. I think we probably need to actually see flames consuming the coffin to achieve the sense of closure (can’t think of a better expression but appreciate it’s become hackneyed )

Source

Death masks

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

 

L’Inconnue de la Seine

 

L’Inconnue de la Seine was a young woman who was pulled, dead, out of the River Seine some time in the 1880s. One of the pathologists at the Paris Morgue was so taken with her etherial beauty that he had a death mask made. Copies were taken, and soon thousands of homes had one. L’Inconnue was very popular with artists and writers on account of her enigmatic smile reminiscent of that of the Mona Lisa.  

 

Leland Stanford Jr

 

Leland Stanford Jr died aged 15 of typhoid in 1884. His distraught parents founded the university which bears his name. 

 

This is one way to make a death mask.

 

More excellent photos of death masks here

 

 

 

 

Post mortem photographs

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

 

 

I’m sorry, but this post has been suspended. We like to be a very open forum, and objections to it were balanced by approval of it — but we just don’t feel comfortable about it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can undertaking ever be a respectable commercial activity?

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

 

Posted by Charles

 

Commentators on Mr Maiden’s letter to the Funeral Service Journal (here) deploring some coffin manufacturers’ willingness to sell their boxes direct to the public did not find in favour of Mr Maiden’s practice of burying some of his service charge in an excessively marked-up coffin. The latest score is 26-0. 

James Leedam summed it up well when he offered Mr Maiden this counsel: ‘Charge a commercial rate for the time and care you take to make sure that everything runs faultlessly on the day and for the service you take pride in – much of which is not apparent to the consumer. Don’t be embarrassed to mention all that you do – proudly justify your charges. Don’t hide costs in the inflated price of the coffin – you’ll get found out.’ 

It’s not that Mr Maiden, let’s be fair, is being slippery and sly in doing what he does, it’s that he exhibits commercial timidity. In this he is not alone. 

Kathryn observed: ‘I can see why it’s not such a sacrifice for undertakers to offer their ‘services’ for ‘free’ in the context of babies’ and children’s funerals if they’re charging £££ for a small box.’ If undertaking is a proper, respectable commercial activity, why would you not charge for babies’ funerals? 

Which focuses on the question: Can undertaking ever be a respectable commercial activity? 

And the answer is yes, of course it can. Can’t it? You offer to do for others what they can’t or don’t want to do, and you charge them for it. This is mainstream stuff. Isn’t it?

It’s not necessarily how consumers see it. They don’t silently accuse plumbers of preying on the misery of others, though plumbers certainly profit from just that. Undertakers, with some shining exceptions, have never managed to dispel the perception that what they do is exploitative of the bereaved. It is a perception which Mr Maiden and his kind only reinforce. 

But it’s not all their fault. The public’s refusal to engage with the reality of what undertakers are there for compounds the dysfunctional relationship. 

People ask, ‘Do undertakers sit by the phone hoping that someone is going to die?’ Well, of course they do — though they’d rather it wasn’t anyone they know. That’s not the same thing as causing people to die. Get real. 

People — educated people — ask what really goes on at a crematorium. You lay it on. You tell them about lids prised off, bodies crammed into cremators, and the rusty white van out the back waiting to take the coffins away for re-use. And they exclaim, spellbound by such pornography,  ‘I always thought so!’ And you shout back, ‘If you always thought so, what are you doing about it?’ 

Where do we go from here? 

Gambaccini at the Southbank deathfest

Monday, 30 January 2012

 

Paul Gambaccini presented his Desert Island Death Discs at the Southbank Deathfest.

He could easily have done this without trying — chosen a few and spoken about them off the cuff. But he didn’t. He’d done lots of research and thinking and he’d written lots of script. He is a conscientious, admirable man.

He talked of how he went to Kenny Everett’s funeral — a Catholic requiem mass. He just couldn’t see Kenny he knew in it. But there was clearly much about it that had impressed him, and he talked of how he wished there was a serious secular ritual to match. He seems not to be a fan of the celebration of life tendency.

Back to the music. He’d read lots of surveys and scrunched the stats, and he gave us the people’s top ten. He speculated on why these songs get chosen — so many of them have only a tangential relevance to death. Are they chosen for the entertainment of the survivors or to express the dead person’s personality? Perhaps it’s just about how they make you feel.

He interspersed the nation’s favourites with some of his own, and we’ll ‘play’ some of those this week.

Here’s one.   Beth Nielsen Chapman’s Sand and Water

All alone I didn’t like the feeling
All alone I sat and cried
All alone I had to find some meaning
In the center of the pain I felt inside

All alone I came into this world
All alone I will someday die
Solid stone is just sand and water, baby
Sand and water, and a million years gone by

I will see you in the light of a thousand suns
I will hear you in the sound of the waves
I will know you when I come, as we all will come
Through the doors beyond the grave

All alone I heal this heart of sorrow
All alone I raise this child
Flesh and bone, he’s just
Bursting towards tomorrow
And his laughter fills my world and wears your smile

I will see you in the light of a thousand suns
I will hear you in the sound of the waves
I will know you when I come, as we all will come
Through the doors beyond the grave

All alone I came into this world
All alone I will someday die
Solid stone is just sand and water, baby
Sand and water and a million years gone by

 

 

Shame

Monday, 30 January 2012

David Durden

 

UPDATE

On July 21 2011 Sonny, the stillborn baby of Sandra and Sai Lao, was cremated. The Laos were distraught when they were told. They denied having signed the cremation forms. Co-op funeral director David Durden said no, they had, claiming they were so distressed they must have forgotten. Durden was taken to court, found guilty, fined £400, and ordered to pay £15 victim surcharge and £350 court costs. Durden appealed against the sentence. 

When all this was happening, Mrs Lao contacted us. We publicised the case here and here

On 14 January 2012 Durden lost his appeal.  “Judge Cotter said it was “inconceivable” that Mrs Lao or her husband Sai Lao had mis-remembered the incident in Durden’s office at Co-operative Funeral Services in Crownhill.”

 

Hat tip to Teresa Evans for this.

 

Quote of the day

Monday, 30 January 2012

 

“I know this is a sad occasion but I think that Dixie would be amazed to know that even in death he could draw a bigger crowd than Everton can on a Saturday afternoon.”

 

Bill Shankly at Dixie Dean’s funeral. With apologies to non-football fans. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Southbank Deathfest

Monday, 30 January 2012

Posted by Vale

Some personal reflections on the Southbank Deathfest this weekend:

Imagine a wire and steel footbridge over the Thames: brown water lapping, St Paul’s, pale in the wintry light, downstream. Drop down to buildings, a collection of concrete and glass halls that were modern once but which, in the way of those brave 50s buildings, now feel curiously dated.

Inside, people. Lots of them. It’s like an arty concourse in a railway station. Not everyone has come for the Deathfest – though hundreds of them have – but it seems that the lobbies of the Royal Festival Hall are a gathering place for Londoners anyway. The mill of people – talking, drinking coffee, mooching about, characterises the whole of the Deathfest. The day is made up of different events – talks, Death Cafe’s, discussions, stalls, happenings. Each of them has a charge of energy – and, depending on the venue and what’s going on, this mill of people round about sometimes makes them seem open and dynamic and, sometimes, dissipates them so that it is impossible to concentrate.
Actually there was a general sense of mild chaos everywhere. 


Decorative coffins from Ghana

Through the door and, whoop! there are old friends and GFG regulars – Sweetpea, Belinda Forbes, Charles (whose phone rings constantly so that he is no sooner there than darting off again) and Gloria Mundi.There seemed to be friends of the GFG everywhere. Our religious correspondent Richard Rawlinson, Ru Callender, Fran Hall and Rosie Inman-Cooke at a very lively NDC stand, Tony Piper and then GFG heroes like Simon Smith from Green Fuse, Shaun Powell from the Quaker initiative in the East End, helping poorer families to a good funeral. James Showers, Kathryn Edwards too. Who have I missed out? Who did I miss?

If I am honest there was a lot that was interesting, some that was moving and a little that I thought was not really for me as a practicing Celebrant. But it wasn’t aimed at the likes of us and it was hugely exciting that so many there had come for themselves, to find out and start their own explorations. At the sessions I took part in – where the question was asked – I think 80%-90% were ‘ordinary’ people.

I enjoyed an NDC hosted talk about the need to prepare for death. It made me realise that, as a celebrant, almost all of our time is spent with families after the event. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to meet people earlier? I came away with a resolution to start to make a video recording as part of my own end of life preparations. Just, you know, to make sure a few good things get said. Met an inspiring spiritual midwife too!

After, off to the Beyond Goodbye session that began with Charles’ talk and closed with the film and questions about Josh’s extraordinary funeral. Well, extraordinary because of the film and the standard and quality of what was done, but, I wanted to call out, there are lots of ‘extraordinary’ funerals now. Any family can – should – have one. But that hardly needs saying here. Josh’s mum and brother though came across as pure gold. It really is worth watching it – find the GFGs original posting here. The website for Josh and for Beyond Goodbye is here.

I hung on to my seat (this was in the smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall) because after Josh came John Snow and the assisted dying discussion and lot’s of people wanted to see that.

At the end of a lively discussion I’m with Helena Kennedy on this: let’s, for goodness sake, have a proper commission about end of life issues. We’re mired in piffling debates in the Leveson enquiry and the doubtful (but surely unsurprising) morals of newspapers when there is an issue here that is both urgent and important and where popular feeling is pulling ahead of the current legal position. Society as a whole would benefit from open, reasoned, public enquiry and debate. I feel a GFG campaign coming on…

There were lots of things in the discussion that did make me think – especially the realisation that assisted dying has to be considered in the whole context of how we, as a society, treat vulnerable people. The whole debate would change – wouldn’t it? – if we could be confident that we treated the elderly and disabled generously, with respect and true consideration?

So much that I didn’t see. Paul Gambaccini’s session on Friday about Desert Island Death Discs, the poetry, Paul Morley and Sandi Toksvig – but I still came away with a sense that, maybe, in places like the pages of this blog, in the work of pioneers like the NDC and the Quaker Social Action project, and most of all in the energy and interest of the people who came and took part, we really might be able to bring death our lives. One thing is certain – we need more festivals like this one.

I’ll see you in my dreams

Friday, 27 January 2012

Posted by Vale

An old song in a modern version by Joe Brown. He sang it, memorably, at the close of the tribute concert for George Harrison in 2002.

Though the days are long
Twilight sings a song
Of a happiness that used to be
Soon my eyes will close (soon my eyes will close)
Soon I’ll find repose
And in dreams, you’re always near to me

I’ll see you in my dreams
Hold you in my dreams
Someone took you out of my arms
Still, I feel the thrill of your charms
Lips that once were mine
Tender eyes that shine
They will light our way tonight
I’ll see you in my dreams

In the dreary gray
Of another day
You are far away and I am blue
Still I hope and pray (still I hope and pray)
Through each weary day
For it brings the night and dreams of you

I’ll see you in my dreams
Hold you in my dreams
Someone took you out of my arms
Still, I feel the thrill of your charms
Lips that once were mine
Tender eyes that shine
They will light our way tonight
I’ll see you in my dreams
They will light our way tonight
I’ll see you in my dreams
Hmmm….

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