Blog Archives: May 2013

Tea and Sympathy

Friday, 31 May 2013

One of the most wonderful things about being a celebrant is being introduced to music and artists we’ve never heard before.

Tea and Sympathy by Janis Ian

I don’t want to ride the milk train anymore
I’ll go to bed at nine and waken with the dawn
And lunch at half past noon and dinner prompt at five
The comfort of a few old friends long past their prime

Pass the tea and sympathy for the good old days long gone
We’ll drink a toast to those who most believe in what they’ve won
It’s a long, long time ’til morning plays wasted on the dawn
And I’ll not write another line, for my true love is gone

When the guests have gone, I’ll tidy up the rooms
And turn the covers down, and gazing at the moon
Will pray to go quite mad and live in long ago
When you and I were one, so very long ago

Pass the tea and sympathy for the good old days long gone
We’ll drink a toast to those who most believe in what they’ve won
It’s a long, long time ’til morning plays wasted on the dawn
And I’ll not write another line, for my true love is gone

When I have no dreams to give you anymore
I’ll light a blazing fire and wait within the door
And throw my life away, “I wonder why?” they all will say
And now I lay me down to sleep, forever and a day

Pass the tea and sympathy, for the good old days are dead
Let’s drink a toast to those who best survived the life they’ve led
It’s a long, long time ’til morning, so build your fires high
Now I lay me down to sleep, forever by your side


Hat tip to Kitty



Tuesday, 28 May 2013



Kanye West OBE, father of natural burial

Around 200 dedicated normal funeral sites have been created in the British, and the industry in the British isles includes a program code of training used through The Organization of Natural Funeral Coffee grounds. Ha Ken Gulf, professional cemetery via 1961-2006, and life-long amateur naturalist, launched wood land funeral as a principle to the City of Carlisle in The united kingdom in Michael went bonkers, leading with a “Living Churchyard” project which returned owls, voles, and some other animals to the town graveyard through concluding mowing and trimming and introducing wild flowers and look for food. West’s successes include: Instrumental in building the Connection of Organic Funeral Grounds; produced the Charter for the Bereaved and the Hire for the Surviving; Given MBE by simply HRH Royal prince Charles in 2004 for services to funeral and cremation; expert to Britian’s Parliament on managing pandemics and making environmental funeral services; existing determine for annual British normal funeral opposition; older specialized expert for the Sustainable Graveyard Management Party.


When death is no longer the worst thing that can happen to you

Monday, 27 May 2013



Phonobarbital — what they do you in with


It’s not the worthy efforts of the members of the Dying Matters coalition that have raised awareness of the need to talk about death and dying. What’s actually got more and more of us talking is our personal experiences of the difficult and protracted end-of-life suffering of members of our families. Alongside twenty-first century death agony, extinction is the least we have to fear. Bring it on, goes up the cry, as, just this week, the Falconer Assisted Dying Bill passed its first reading in the House of Lords, Vermont became the fourth state in the USA to legislate for assisted suicide (let’s call it what it is, shall we, Charlie?) and in liberal (if that’s the right word) Switzerland an 80 year old woman in perfectly good health appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to be allowed to go now rather than get any older. She’s had enough, thanks. 

Live issues in this debate are: 1) what constitutes suffering; 2) the right of the state to limit personal autonomy and an individual’s right to self-determination; 3) the duty of doctors to write a prescription for those who ask for a chemical exit; and 4) the protection of those going through a depressive patch or who are susceptible to duress from predatory relatives, etc.

Over time, of course, this is going to reconfigure attitudes to funerals. 

In the context of all this, I was struck by the following letter in last Sunday’s Sunday Times:  

It isn’t just dementia that thwarts our plans. I also dread the disease that robbed me of my mother, and the thought of my daughter changing my nappies and enduring tyrannical rages  and repeated conversations fills me with dismay.

So strong are my feelings that five years ago I wrote a detailed advance directive,  had it witnessed, shared it with my family and lodged a copy with my GP. I take little comfort from this as it  appears that some people — who do not know me but  have some religious or ethical opinion — are insisting they have more rights over my  body than me.

Why should the limited resources of this tiny planet be used on my dribbling, deranged shell when I’ve requested otherwise?

Sue Parkes, Halesowen, West Midlands

Funeral attendance in a transient, modern world

Friday, 24 May 2013

 Centenarian birthday candles spell out '100'


Posted by Richard Rawlinson (who is 100 today)

The love between husband and wife or parent and child is natural, bred into us over millions of years. Not so friendship, apparently. Until farms and villages started to appear around 35,000 years ago, people allegedly refused to talk to each other, networks of friends being anathema. 

Fast forward to the 21st century when prosperity and technology allow plenty of leisure time, when people cross the globe for education and employment, when social media allows friendships to form across countries and continents. 

But how many of us find we’re still so busy as to neglect all but a handful of our closest friends, that our A-Z list of names in our mobile is unsustainable? How many of us move jobs or homes, or change partners, and find former friends drop off the radar? Those friendships didn’t seem fragile at the time. 

And how has modern life affected funeral attendance? Do we go to more funerals because we know more people, even if some of them are not particularly close? Was friendship so much deeper in the days when more people lived in the same close-knit community all their lives, or is this a view of the past through rose-tinted spectacles? 

My hunch is that mobility and greater leisure time enable more meaningful friendships than in the past, but, as we no longer necessarily have intimate knowledge of many of our wider circle’s physical and internal lives, perhaps some friendships are less intense, less ‘familial’. 

And how has transient modern life affected the love between parent and child, and, therefore, family funerals? Despite the bonds of blood, I’m sure it was ever thus that parents and children can irritate each other, and even more so when being constantly in each other’s vicinity.

Death somehow strengthens bonds, whether or not we fully appreciated family in life. In our busy lives, we might live far from home, and fail in our duty of visits and phone calls. Some feel regret and guilt when their neglected parents die.

It’s spring, the season of cleansing and renewal. Make amends with a long lost friend. Show your Mum and Dad how you love them. Even make peace with a blog sparring partner. 

Footnote: Social media relationships are especially fickle. Strangers bond in agreement but, distanced by technology, also sneer more readily in disagreement. Mutual respect can end at the press of a ‘Send’ button, and a war of words can escalate at a pace it rarely would at a ‘real’ social gathering. Like Hyde Park Corner on a global scale, the internet liberates the ‘soap-boxer’ and heckler in us. I should know: this is my 100th blog here! Oh, the pain and pleasure of being a square peg in a round hole.


What taught Chuck about death?

Thursday, 23 May 2013



We like Chuck Lakin at the GFG. We’ve blogged about him here and here. Here’s his reply to the question ‘When did you begin learning about death?’

The precipitating incident was the death of my own father. This was in 1979 and he was home for the last six week of his life, and I’m glad to say I was there for the last month of that. And he was in his own bed with his wife and four kids touching him. It has been a very personal experience up until that point. And I didn’t know it before that, but I knew I wanted to be a part of whatever happened next. But I didn’t know what I could do. So, we called a funeral director. And he did what I’m sure he thought we wanted him to do, which was arrive promptly and zip dad in a body bag and take him away and mail us a box of ashes four days later. And that disconnect was very important to me. And it was almost 20 years later that I found the information that I needed that told me what I could have done at the point. I started giving people the information that they needed to have if they wanted the experience that I wanted to have when my father died. It has evolved past that. I started out just talking about home funerals. Now, I’m big on planning and making choices. It’s about thinking about it and making sure it is written down and you’ve had a conversation with the family. If you haven’t transmitted the information about what you’d like to have happen to your body to anybody, those people are going to have to make a lot of potentially expensive or contentious decisions. It’s a tragedy and it’s very stressful for everybody. If you’ve made the plans ahead of time, it can be a spiritual time. It can give them a chance to grieve.

Full interview here

An intimate and loving burial

Wednesday, 22 May 2013



Cothiemuir neolithic stone circle


When Alex Dudley-Smith’s mother died this month, she set about organising a fitting sendoff for her. Here is her account of what she did. 

The unexpected death of my mother meant we were not prepared in any way for the organisation and costs of a funeral.

This is the first time I’ve been responsible for sorting out a funeral and was anxious as I didn’t know where to start. But I did know what mum wanted, as we had often spoken of what to do with her body when she eventually died.

My mum died in hospital, so her body was held in the hospital morgue and I wanted to remove her body from there as quickly as possible and bury it. So I immediately started researching on the internet to see what was the usual way of doing a burial with the funeral directors, burial sites and coffins. It was expensive and, for me, it lacked something which at the time I could not put my finger on. I then started to look at natural burial sites, as mum had often spoken about wanting her body to be returned to the earth just as she had come into the world, completely naked!

Fortunately I found Natural Burial Grounds which showed photos of various sites in our area and there was one that immediately resonated with me and a burial plot was immediately arranged. The gentleman who runs Natural Burial Grounds organised this with the utmost sensitivity and kindness, taking a massive weight off my shoulders.

Next thing on my list was what to put mum’s body in. She had mentioned being buried in her birthday suit, but that was too much for me and the hospital would dig their heels in, seeing it as being disrespectful to the deceased. I then came across a YouTube video of an amazing lady who did her mother’s burial herself, completely from start to finish,  collecting her mother’s body (which was wrapped in a shroud, no coffin!) from the morgue and going on a wonderful journey to the burial site, where she dug the grave herself and finally laid her mother’s body to rest. It was very inspirational and gave me the hope and focus that I could give mum’s body the intimate and loving burial she had wished for. Deciding that her body would be buried in a shroud, a beautiful American quilt with stars embroidered all over it, in remembrance of the joyful years we had living in Washington DC, and eventually laying her body to rest on a bed of roses. We did not have a minister, as we chose to do the service ourselves, each member of the family and friends playing a part.

Now the hospital had to be informed of my plans to collect mum’s body from their morgue. Usually this is done by funeral directors, but there is another way: you can do it yourself. This may sound daunting, as the idea of handling the dead body of a loved one can be strange to say the least. The truth is, it was the most natural thing to do. Having spent my whole life with my mother it seemed right to be the one to carry her body from the morgue to the burial site, rather then leaving it to a funeral director, a stranger, who had no connection with my mum during her lifetime.

I telephoned the hospital, informing them of the date and time I would be collecting mum’s body. Of course they were very unsure of what the rules and regulations are and I could understand their uncertainty, as most hospitals and doctors do not know the law on who is legally responsible for the body of a loved one. I was mum’s Power of Attorney and Executor of her will and therefore legally allowed to take her body from the morgue to the burial. If the hospital refused to release her body to me, they would be breaking the law! Wanting to make sure everything ran smoothly on the day of the collection, I did a dummy run the previous day, which was very useful in meeting the hospital staff who would be helping me with mum’s body, and essential in finding the pick-up point for the morgue. It was a first time for them, handing a body over to someone who wasn’t a funeral director, and a first time for me. On the day of the funeral, the transfer of mum’s body went quickly and smoothly, with the hospital porter remarking how good it was that family and friends were participating in such a way and that he expects to see more of this happening in the future.

Mum’s body comfortably positioned in the car and surrounded by roses, we began our journey through beautiful scenery of mountains, rivers and woodlands, finally reaching our destination where mum’s body was to be buried. The estate manager was there to greet us and had very thoughtfully built a board with straps, in order to lower mum’s body into the grave. This he made, knowing that mum’s body wasn’t in a coffin, something I hadn’t thought of! I’m so grateful for his kindness.

Everything about that day was so beautiful and I’m blessed to have had such a life enhancing opportunity. It is a day that my family, friends and I will always hold dear in our hearts and remember with joy and gratitude.

The burial ground was Cothiemuir Hill and the helpful man from the estate was Steven Clark, the grave digger.

Where did it all go so terribly wrong for the Co-op?

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Co-op Logo 001


The GFG is relentless in its criticism of Co-operative Funeralcare for two reasons above all.

First, we believe that Funeralcare does not operate in accordance with the vision Rochdale Pioneers, who would be dismayed, at a time of rising funeral poverty, to see the way Funeralcare treats the poor. Instead of focussing on its core purpose, namely, to enable working people to buy what they would not otherwise be able to afford, Funeralcare’s latest utterance was a trifling press release, billed as “new research”, about the use of mobile phones at funerals

Second, we fail to understand how a business can apply economies of scale (hub mortuaries, car pools, peripatetic funeral conductors) and come up with a standard funeral price several hundred pounds more than most independents. 

Despite this, The Co-operative Group continues to be held in great affection — so the bad news about the Co-operative Bank, whose debts have been downgraded to junk status, was not greeted by Occupy protesters and the sort of howling vilification reserved for other banks in trouble. 

I had an email the other day from Edgar Parnell, onetime Chief Executive of the excellent Plunkett Foundation, which was so helpful to us when we were developing our community funerals initiative. Parnell, whose life has been dedicated to the co-operative movement, has long deplored the errant ways of some co-operative societies, and he is clear in his analysis of where so many of them have gone wrong. His analysis of the regrettable state of The Co-operative Group is, in our opinion, persuasive. This is what he said: 

Many will have been shocked by Friday’s news that the Co-op Bank chief had resigned following the downgrade of the bank’s debt, this as a sequel to the abortion of the Bank’s plan to takeover 632 branches from Lloyds Bank.  Ostensibly, the causes of these events have their origins in the financial downturn, problematic loans and the increases in the sums of capital that will be required to be held to meet new regulations in the banking sector. However, the underlying issues run much deeper than this. 

The management of the Co-operative Group appear to believe that they are running a conventional business, with the aim of profit maximization, that just happens to be owned by members rather than by investors. Whereas they need to be clear that the function of all co-operatives and mutuals is to intervene within the marketplace in the best interests of their members. The Group’s management either do not  fully understand, or choose not to adhere to, the underlying essentials of the model of enterprise required for any form of co-operative or mutual to be successful. 

Chasing growth to the detriment of the real interests of the membership has proved to be the downfall of major consumer co-ops in many countries in Europe*. Executives often seek to pursue a growth strategy because it means a bigger empire, more status and higher pay for them. The correct response to expansion proposals, including merger proposals, should always be to focus upon what is best for the membership and most likely to result in the achievement of the purpose of the enterprise. When co-operatives grow, in terms of the number of members and/or turnover, they are frequently beset by multiple problems. They lose sight of their original purpose, are prone to switch towards serving the interests of senior executives or cliques rather than those of the bulk of their members. As a consequence, they come to be regarded as irrelevant to the lives of their members and in the worst case they are hijacked by self-interested groups. 

If co-operatives and mutuals are to carry out their function and achieve their purpose then it is vital that all involved have a clear understanding of:

  • ·         The member-controlled enterprise model
  • ·         The organizational risks inherent within the model
  • ·         Their economic basis
  • ·         The specific requirements of MCEs in terms of their leadership, organization & governance, management & accounting, financing, human relationships, and the public policy framework required 

A video (12 minutes) explaining the ‘Member-controlled Enterprise model’ can be viewed at: 

More information is available at the Member-controlled Enterprise website at: 

Examples:  two European consumer co-operatives that failed to understand the nature of the risks involved in following inappropriate growth strategies 

Dortmund-Kassel, Germany: Coop Dortmund started in 1902 with 349 members, one shop and two employees; following successive mergers it became Dortmund-Kassel, an enterprise with 500,000 members, 350 supermarkets, 16 department stores and 74 business centres, employing 15,000 staff and with a total turnover of DM 2.5 billion. In 1989 approximately DM 45 million was invested in shop modernisation, 31 new shops with a surface of 25,000 sq. m., and the expansion of 12 shops. In 1998 Coop Dortmund-Kassel collapsed and was eventually liquidated. The reasons for this failure are attributed to the management seeking to follow practices and methods more appropriate in investor-driven organisations, i.e. the exclusion of members from goal-setting and policy decisions; full autonomy of the professional board; measurement of success by growth, market share, volume of turnover, profit and shareholder value; and corporate methods of fundraising to attract investor-members (promising high return on invested capital in the form of share dividends). One result of this strategy was to reduce members simply to passive shareholders and ordinary customers. 

Konsum Austria: In 1995 Konsum Austria became bankrupt. It had slipped from being known as the ‘Red Giant’ on the retail scene and having 25% of the Austrian population as members. In 1978 the process of merging all of Austria’s consumer co-operatives into a single national society commenced. Unfortunately, the management was left to run the new super-co-op, which began chasing market share with little regard for its position as a member-controlled enterprise.

Enerprise Diagram

Dilemma over memorialising slaughtered innocents

Monday, 20 May 2013

ortranto-cathedral (1)


Posted by Richard Rawlinson 

I wonder how Pope Francis felt about his duty last Sunday. His predecessor, Pope Benedict, announced the canonisation of 800 unknown people just before dropping the bombshell of his resignation. By carrying out Benedict’s decree in St Peter’s Square last weekend, Francis instantly broke the record for the pontiff who has created the most saints. 

But is there conflict between this and Francis’s goal of greater ecumenical dialogue between faiths? The 800 new saints happen to be the townsfolk of Otranto in southern Italy who were beheaded by Ottoman soldiers in 1480, each martyred for refusing to surrender to a siege and convert to Islam.  

Their skulls currently adorn the walls around the altar of Otranto Cathedral as a memorial to their sacrifice. Benedict was in turn continuing the line of the late John Paul II who visited Otranto in 1980 for the 500th anniversary of the martyrs’ deaths. Miracles must be recognised by the Vatican in order for people to become saints, and a Poor Clare Sister, Francesca Levote, was apparently healed from a serious form of cancer after a pilgrimage to pray before the martyrs’ relics in 1980, a few months before John Paul’s visit. She died in 2012, aged 85. 

But the subject is undoubtedly sensitive. On the one hand, remembering Christian martyrs, including anonymous folk, inspires the faithful to examine their own life and how it corresponds with the Gospel call to love and forgive. The move also redresses the revisionism of liberal historians who paint the Crusaders always as aggressors rather than defenders, and whitewashes the violence of Islamists. 

However, it must be noted that it was the barbaric practice of Medieval armies of diverse nationalities and faiths to kill those captured after a siege. Is the mass canonisation stoking up old flames, or is it a poignant reminder of the awful reality of war, and the principled steadfastness and bravery of innocents caught up in it?  

We’re called to forgive but not to forget just as we seek forgiveness for our own sins without expecting them to be airbrushed to oblivion.  

This memorial happens also to be highly relevant today when Christians are increasingly persecuted brutally in part of the Middle East and Asia.

Not in front of the family

Friday, 17 May 2013



The removal of Amy Winehouse


Funeral directors have strong and varying views on what families should and should not be allowed to see — in the families’ best interests of course. Some undertakers are heavier-handed than others in the way in which they express their advice. The law is perfectly clear: the dead person belongs to the family, not them. They need to be sure not to infringe this right. 

I remember being hurried out of the room when my Mum died by a policeman who wanted to ask questions and chide me for having lifted her up from the floor and put her on the bed. It was a gambit to allow the undertaker’s men to take her away without upsetting me. Whether or not it might have upset me was not discussed. The assumption seemed to be that no bereaved person wants to witness this or lend a hand. 

Different undertakers have different ways of talking through with families what they need to do when they come to take someone ‘into their care’. With a home removal there’s a big, stark contrast between a comfy dead person (Mum, Dad, Nan) tucked up in bed… and a bagged, zipped corpse being trolleyed out into the 2am rain. It’s not a good look. For those who were gathered round the deathbed, it takes some taking in. Some undertakers address the aesthetics better than others. 

Is this sudden status adjustment something families need to be spared, or is it something they would benefit from witnessing and even assisting in? 

There’s an analogy here with CPR, around which a similar debate swirls. Is it better for families to witness CPR, or should they be hurried away where they can’t see? Some new research seems to show that those who stay and witness suffer less psychic distress afterwards. 

Responses from doctors are as polarised as would be those of undertakers. If for CPR and ‘resuscitation’ you read ‘removal’, the responses below might have come from undertakers: 

I would have hated to watch CPR being performed on [my mother’s] frail body, and I know she would not have liked me to watch either.

It would have been extremely traumatic to have been required to leave her when she needed us the most, as she left this world … I will forever be grateful for not being forced out and for knowing that everything possible was done and done well.

In most cases, I advise that the family leave the room and be attended to by a member of the medical/nursing team.

I believe that there are a lot of people out there who could handle being in the room … On the other hand, there are many who could not … I think that the physician should discuss it with the family and loved ones. This way they will know what is best.

I don’t think family members should witness CPR on relatives first because of my personal experience and second because I think it might impair the performance of the caregivers at some level.

We have offered family presence during resuscitation at our institution for seven years now, and the experience for providers and family alike has been overwhelmingly positive.

In my experience … the family can only be harmed by witnessing what we have to do

Family choice must be determinant.

I don’t find any single reason for the family to be present at that stressful moment that could be of benefit to the patient or themselves.





Forward into the past

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Last Respects


Most progressive initiatives in the world of death and funerals are characterised by a spirit of ‘Stop the clock, I want to go back’. 

Up in Tyneside, Michele Rutherford (DipFD) has just launched a retro initiative. It’s for those people who don’t want men in black macs taking away the person who has died, but would rather keep them at home and have them looked after there. Michele is going to look after people who have died in their own homes. 

Michele says, “Really, what Last Respects is offering is a return to the old-fashioned type of funeral, when a local woman would be responsible for laying out the deceased.  This means that someone does not have to leave their own home and we can organise all the funeral, from the cars to the service to any reception afterwards. I have no overheads, because I operate from home, and there are no ‘hidden extras’ for customers. I am offering a personal, less conventional option for funerals, as well as a bereavement aftercare service.”

I rang Michele and we had a nice chat. She’s very nice. If you feel inclined to wish her good fortune, please add a comment, or contact her:  0191 597 1872 or 07766 221 539 – She’s still working on her website. 

Full story here


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