Blog Archives: January 2013


Thursday, 31 January 2013




“Blessed be the inventor of photography! I set him above even the inventor of chloroform! It has given more positive pleasure to poor suffering humanity than anything else that has cast up in my time or is like to — this art by which even the poor can possess themselves of tolerable likenesses of their absent dear ones.”

Jane Carlyle

Sarco turns up in Northumberland garden

Thursday, 31 January 2013



A retired couple in Northumberland have discovered that an unregarded planter in their garden is in fact a Roman sarcophagus dating from the first or second century AD. They stand to make £100,000 by selling it at auction. Full story in the Daily Mail here

FACT: The word ‘sarcophagus’ derives from the ancient Greek word ‘sarkophagos’, meaning ‘flesh-eater’. Ancient Greeks believed that the stone consumed the flesh of the occupant. 

The biggest social issue coming down the pipe

Thursday, 31 January 2013



From an article in last Sunday’s Sunday Times: 

You may not be part of Britain’s 6.4m-strong army of carers yet, but if your parents are still alive, the dilemmas surrounding how to look after them as they get older will surely come.

Future Identities, a government report published last week, drew attention to what one expert calls the biggest issue we face as a society. Because women are giving birth later in life, the baby-boomers’ time-poor children are increasingly being hit with a double whammy: they are having to care for their own offspring and their elderly parents simultaneously.

Christopher Lambert’s story is typical of this so-called Sandwich Generation. “My son was five, I was 58 and my dad was 87. I’d divorced my wife and was living back with Dad as his main carer,” he says. “My son would come at weekends, which was supposed to be our ‘special time’. It was bedlam. Dad would be screaming, ‘Breakfast! Breakfast!’ My son would be yelling, ‘Dad, Dad, you said you’d . . .’

“I felt trapped in the middle, the only grown-up. I remember being out in the garden and Dad collapsing on the ground and my son wanting to play football and me saying, ‘Let’s play looking after Grandpa,’ and he’d say, ‘No, that’s boring and he’s smelly.’ I was at my wits’ end.”

The feelings of conflicted loyalties, divided between the parents who raised you and the children who need you to raise them, are so common that more than 4 in 10 Sandwich Generation carers are struggling to cope or at breaking point, according to a recent survey by Carers UK.

The problem will only intensify as the postwar baby-boomers enter their seventies — by 2022 there will be a 20% rise in over-75s (up from 5.1m to 6.6m). “People live longer now with severe disabilities who would have died years ago,” says Helena Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK. “A revolution is required in family care akin to the new understanding we have around working parents, as in the future so many of us will be juggling work around elder care and children.”

The forecast is also for the number of children aged under 16 to increase from 11.8m now to 13.2m in 2022, exacerbating the Sandwich Generation squeeze.

Source (£)

Add the GFG blog to your Facebook torrent

Thursday, 31 January 2013



You can have the GFG blog spewed into your Facebook feed if that’s how you’d rather ‘consume’ your deathnews. 

Type, er… hang on a minute… ah, yes, ‘Good Funeral Guide’ into the searchbox, go to the page, and ‘like’ it. 

Brings a refreshing chill to the heedless merriment of your ‘friends’.

Don’t forget that you can also have weekly blog highlights delivered on a Monday morning to your inbox by the GFG’s trusty, highly-trained urchin, Eric (below). Sign up here

The social media team at the GFG-Batesville Shard x 



Eric out delivering the GFG e-newsletter

A seamless, faultless funeral

Thursday, 31 January 2013


Posted by Sara Elliot

In case you missed it earlier in the week (it was hiding as a comment) — ED

My mother’s funeral should have been a carbon copy of my father’s.  We therefore dispensed with the services of a Funeral Director, having effectively already had the Dress Rehearsal, and knowing exactly what was needed.

Seven years previously I had shown up, at the same churchyard, with £150 in cash for the grave digger.  This time I had £200 on me, to allow for inflation.  When I had asked my siblings about mother’s grave being dug, I was told my younger brother had ‘spoken to Minstead’.

I was on costumes and props this time. Oh, and I was paying for it. Having cared for our Mother at home, for the last eight years, the logistics were handed over to three brothers.

I awoke on the day of my mother’s burial, for some reason announcing firmly that we needed at least three spades!  I determined to go next door and borrow a few spades from our neighbours, so that we could fill in the grave Jamaican style.  I felt that grief and shock were having their effect on my brothers and they needed to be more engaged in the whole process.  I was assured that the grave-diggers would have good spades, and we would surely be able to use them, and I was being a control freak.

Self-willed as always, I insisted on taking my own spade with me in the car boot.  Decided to get to Minstead early, in case there were lots of people having lunch at the Trusty Servant.  Parked at lych gate, and popped in to have a look at my father’s grave, where Mother’s bones were due to cuddle up with his.  Yes, there it was.  There was the rose I had planted, yes, there was the rosemary.  There was his grave.  …..Yes, there was the grave…..WHERE was the ***** HOLE?!  Surely the grave diggers were cutting it a bit fine?

We repaired to the Trusty Servant pub, to await more family who were due at 1pm for a burial at 2pm.  Eventually went back up to Church, to find my middle brother, wearing his Afghan hat and a foxy smile, deep in conversation with the charming, and very anxious Churchwardens.  They could not have been more apologetic, and had contacted the Funeral Director at J & L Sturney in Lyndhurst, who couldn’t understand how it had happened, but had now appeared and was anxious to make amends.  (Er, they hadn’t been engaged in the first place.. eek…)

I produced my spade with a flourish, which at least got a laugh.  Then I found myself consoling the Churchwarden, whom I now knew as Diana, thinking, ‘This is odd, here I am, trying to bury my mother, and yet here I am, comforting and reassuring this nice lady in a fur coat!’ ‘I am So-o-o sorry!’ says Diana.  ‘No, no, dinna fret yerself, everything is perfect, and clearly as it is meant to be’.   I couldn’t understand why SHE was so upset.  Then I got it, and said ‘Ah, if we were a different sort of family, this really would be a nightmare for you, wouldn’t it?’  On reflection, though, had we been a different sort of a family it wouldn’t have happened. I shared this thought with her too, and we both grinned ruefully.

A rather puzzled American friend, and younger brother (in full Afghan bandit rig) guarded Mother and her coffin, while surreal negotiations took place.  (It did give everyone a lot of time to admire the coffin, which, though I says it as shouldn’t, was as exquisite as a Fabergé egg).

I put my spade to good use and dug up the rose and rosemary carefully.  The grave digger came with his little JCB, and the troupe repaired once more to the pub while he did his digging.  Calling out a grave digger at short notice on a Saturday can cost upwards of £500.  You have been warned!  If you have a Saturday afternoon burial in Winter, get the grave dug on the Friday!

Suitably ‘refreshed’, the troupe gathered once again.  This time with a lovely confident FD, resplendent in top hat and tails, directing operations, whom we had neither really wanted, and didn’t really need any more now that the grave digger had been alerted.  He was doing his best to be useful and to put things right in case they had been engaged and somehow he hadn’t understood.  (He hadn’t, of course, it was just that the necessary follow-through hadn’t happened).  Anyway I liked him, and the whole thing was so marvellous it was now worth paying for, if only for the visuals when I came to write an insanely funny, one hour TV screen play based on the occasion.

The FD, who was remarkably composed, had indeed organised the grave digger, and after giving careful instuctions to the bearers, led the way, that we all knew, to the grave – Aha!  There was the hole we needed.  (But, WHO forgets to have the hole dug?!)  Should I warn him that Mother had promised to haunt anyone who wore black?

Mother was finally laid to rest, as the sun cast eerily beautiful shadows on the end of an extraordinary day.  I had brought tulips with me, for her, as a welcome from her husband, and to commemorate sixty years of a passionate love affair which had started in Amsterdam.  She was clearly determined to be the centre of attention, and to milk every last ounce of drama out of her departure.  If the only way of getting another four hours of being a Prima Donna was to orchestrate leaving the grave digging till the Last Possible Moment, then so be it!

The moral of the story is, even if you think you have experience of funerals, event planning, stage management etc, in fact, you cannot tell what effect grief and shock and various levels of family dysfunction may have on you – and having a decent FD (eg J & L Sturney) may well be A Very Good Idea!  When I settled their invoice, I asked if it had ever happened before.  Apparently it had, twice, in the whole history of that particular firm. A dubious distinction.

It took one brother several months to confess that he had had the blue form which the FD needed, in his pocket, all along.

What do you want them to talk about?

Wednesday, 30 January 2013



Posted by Richard Rawlinson

How much emphasis in your funeral do you want to be on a celebration of your past life, and how much on a future life beyond death?


Nailed it

Wednesday, 30 January 2013


Chocolate cake — a foretaste of Heaven

Wednesday, 30 January 2013



In the southern states of the US they like to eat big after a funeral — heart-attack food, mostly. No polite little British ham sandwiches and finger food for Texans. It says a lot about the difference in grieving styles between us and them. 

Here, a Baptist minister proposes that funeral food should be thought of as a forerunner of the heavenly banquet to come:

There are some rules everyone needs to understand about death and funerals. For starters, funerals call for a certain kind of food. There had better be chocolate cake involved, or the family is going to be left to scramble on their own for comfort foods.

We had an experience a few years ago with a death in the family, and all the food the widow’s friends brought to the house was health food. There was no green bean casserole, no fried chicken, no homemade rolls, no chocolate cake. Finally, someone in the family drove over to KFC to bring home the kind of food we all needed in the moment. And did I mention there wasn’t even a single piece of chocolate cake brought to the house?

In Texas, we’re fond of a particular type of chocolate sheet cake that’s almost as common at church gatherings as communion elements.

Is it wrong of me to think of chocolate cake as heaven-sent? I don’t think so. Too often, we think of food for the soul as what’s bland or even bitter. The Bible says, though, that we are to “taste and see, the Lord is good.”

What families need at times of loss—and what all of us need in times of distress—is a portent of the goodness of God.

If the dinner table serves up a symbol of the heavenly banquet to come, we may draw strength in the reminder that there is comfort to be found as we gather around the heavenly host, whether in worship or in fellowship, whether in comfort or in sorrow.

Now, please pass the cake.


It’s your funeral

Wednesday, 30 January 2013



 Posted by Richard Rawlinson

In recent decades the emphasis of funerals has gone from forward-looking to backward-looking. The traditional funeral marked the transition from this life to the future life beyond death. Details of the life of the dead person were less significant than the existence of the immortal soul. This eschatological approach has given way to thanksgiving services celebrating a past life, the quality of which are judged less on their hope of heavenly peace, and more on whether they capture the essence of the life that’s ended. 

This is clearly a reflection of declining faith but it’s not merely a result of funerals being offered by secular celebrants. The vast majority of the 500,000-plus funerals in the UK each year continue to be conducted by Christian priests or the clergy of other faiths. While Christian funeral liturgy, with its eschatological emphasis, has changed little in centuries, the clergy are nevertheless responding to grass-roots demand for more eulogy, just as secular celebrants have emerged to meet this same demand for a retrospective approach at funerals. 

So, committal aside, are both religious and secular funerals becoming what used to be the post-funeral memorial service, traditionally given to those deemed to have led remarkable lives? To rephrase Andy Warhol, even in death everyone is famous for 15 minutes. 

It isn’t that simple, of course. Christian funerals don’t totally replace the future trajectory of the religious service, but simply add increasing time to the backward-looking aspects. Similarly, secular celebrations of life might include prayers, Bible readings and hymns that commend the soul to ever-lasting peace.  

By popular demand, a middle way is winning the day. ‘I’m Christian-lite but I want my send-off to be largely about me’. ‘I’m atheist-lite but want some reference to an afterlife, just in case’. ‘I’m bereaved and want his/her send-off to move through a mix of fond recollections and hope that his/her essence continues, not just in memory but in some spiritual form’. 

Will people in time increasingly let go of the hope of life beyond death? If more people today were persuaded to think deeply about their funeral requirements, would this be happening more quickly? Imagine, for example, a consumer survey which asked a cross section of people:

How much emphasis in your funeral do you want to be on a celebration of your past life, and how much on a future life beyond death?

Multiple choice answers could then range from 100% and 0% either way to a 50/50 split. (Note: it’s possible to have 0% after-life in a secular funeral but impossible to have 0% ‘you’ in a religious funeral). 

Such an invitation to focus the mind might bring more clarity of purpose to funerals. Some might conclude: ‘As I never really think about spiritual matters, my plans for a quasi-religious service are lazy. I’ll instead nail my colours to the mast of the British Humanist Association with a totally godless ceremony.’ 

Others might go the other way. ‘I’ll now opt for Cranmer’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer, with its words filled with the promise of heaven. I’ll save talk of my career accomplishments, contribution to the community, family life, hobbies and interests for a memorial service later, or for a speech at a post-funeral gathering – rather like the best man’s speech during the wedding party that follows the ceremony itself’. 

Then again, greater thought about funerals might not change the status quo one iota. An 80/20 mix of past and future might be any survey’s majority outcome.  

A barrier to the acceleration of secular funerals is the liberal flexibility of the Church of England. Outside other Christian denominations and other faiths, it continues to have a virtual monopoly regardless of whether you’re devout, lapsed or never-really-think-about-it. This is because its instinct is to be malleable. Some funeral directors lead inbetweeners, as well as strident non-believers, to secular funeral celebrants, but more still steer them to the C of E clergy regardless. 

In some ways, you have to pity the C of E’s predicament. Conspiracy theorists might claim the established church of the nation is determined not to relinquish its ‘ownership’ of the death arena, that it’s fighting to keep power. But Marx’s ‘religion is the opium of the people’ claim increasingly lacks substance as a slur on Christianity, and is, in fact, far more applicable to atheistic Communism, which tried, and failed, to control people’s lives and deny them free will. 

While some clergy surely want to keep their foot in the door of as many households as possible in the hope of evangelising to ‘lost’ souls, others would content themselves with a smaller ministry to the existing faithful if a broader church meant diluting faith by being all things to all people. Some overworked priests are quietly exasperated when asked to take the funeral of someone who ‘was not religious’. What to include and what to leave out? I’ve heard references to a ‘crem duty funeral’ (when there’s been no opportunity to meet the family beforehand), and the funeral director has said, on the day, that the family don’t want any mention of resurrection or life beyond death. 

Religious or secular, it’s important to think about your funeral service and celebrant, not automatically heed the advice of your appointed funeral director. Some FDs listen and offer good advice, whether you want a priest, secular celebrant, Interfaith minister or New Age guru. Others, to rephrase Henry Ford, say ‘you can have any colour as long as it’s the C of E’.


Thought for the day

Wednesday, 30 January 2013



“Sometimes I think grief is love that has been made homeless.”




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