Blog Archives: June 2013

Desecration of Mum’s grave was the last straw

Saturday, 29 June 2013

staffs-hospital-scandal2-06022013-jpg_115430

 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

Julie Bailey, founder of the Cure the NHS campaign group, which exposed the Mid Staffordshire scandal, has closed her café in Stafford after “political activists” desecrated her mother’s grave.

“I am having to leave my home, my livelihood and my friends because a few misinformed local political activists have fuelled a hate campaign based on proven lies. The final straw for me was the desecration of my mum’s grave. It is a sad day today, but I have no alternative than to move out of Stafford. The last few months have been a very distressing time for myself and Cure the NHS; our main aim has always been a safer NHS for all. Difficult as it is for people, everyone must finally realise that patient safety must be the priority. The main focus for every hospital must be the patient.”

Who are these fanatics who treat the NHS like a religion and its critics as blasphemers? Ian Birell of The Independent recently wrote: “Britons cling to a nostalgic notion that this creaking, outdated institution is the envy of the world. Perhaps, as scandal after scandal washes over the service, our nation can finally grow up and see that such myopic worship helped foster a culture of complacency.”

Dying what comes naturally

Saturday, 29 June 2013

 

On Thursday the GFG donated an entire day to the Natural Death Centre — an act of generosity which has earned us the highest self-praise. We  agreed to deliver People’s Awards winners’ certificates to those owners and managers of natural burial grounds upon whom the People had bestowed them. As our 54-seater luxury executive coach vroomed away from the GFG-Batesville Shard, we were filled with a keen sense of adventure.

First stop was Upper Bryntalch Farm, Montgomeryshire, Wales, on which is situated Green Lane Burial Field. We were shown round by Ifor and Eira Humphreys and daughter Delyth. The burial ground occupies just an acre towards the top of a swooping slope that runs down to the Severn flood plain, and it commands, as you can see, wonderful views. The site is managed as a hay meadow. Graves – just £500 each – are set comfortably apart from each other, and only a small proportion of the whole site is  earmarked for burial. Everyone wants a plot at the top of the hill, but there’s too much shale up there. The site is bounded by woodland, and we particularly liked the green oak obelisk to which families can affix a plaque bearing the name of their person who’s died. It really does mark this place out as a sacred space. Graves are designated by a single cobblestone with a number — you hardly notice them. The house you can see in the slideshow was once lived in by the composer Peter Warlock, an attraction for musicians. Many families hold their funeral at the graveside in the fresh air. Some come on from church or their village hall.

Verdict: a natural burial ground that keeps it simple, occupies a sensationally beautiful site, provides access and parking that does not scar the ground, and is run by very, very nice people. Our score: 10/10

We celebrated being in Wales by stopping off in the county town, Montgomery. It’s an idyllic place glowered over by one of those (now ruined) castles built to subdue the revolting populace, a symbol of historic minority-abuse that makes English people feel prickly guilt when they visit the Principality. We browsed the market and, as a gesture of appeasement, bought some leaks. We marvelled at the ironmonger’s, one of those old-fashioned establishments that stocks everything.

 

Next stop was Westhope, some ten miles north of Ludlow. This is a seriously remote place whose approach reminded us of John Betjeman’s line: ‘By roads “not adopted”, by woodlanded ways’. You wouldn’t necessarily want to be a freshly polished hearse motoring to a funeral here. By the time we got through, rain had set in with some vim, but this was not something that our hosts, Andy Bruce and his daughter Fay, seemed to be aware of in the least. That’s countryfolk for you. 

The burial site is an old orchard. It’s been an orchard since time out of mind. In it stands a Victorian estate chapel built on the foundations of an earlier chapel dating back to the thirteenth century. You can hold a funeral here, if you like. It doesn’t have an especially churchy feel, probably because it does not host a lot in the way of regular worship. The site is grazed by Castlemilk Moorit sheep, a rare breed, now. They were bred to be decorative, and so they are, especially the lambs. Andy likes eating them. The apples are highly spoken of, too.

The sheep keep the grass down when it’s growing. They overwinter indoors and have their lambs there. When it’s time to let them out, the abundant spring flowers, daffodils and crocus especially, have begun to die back.

Verdict: Unique, mildly eccentric. Simple and natural. Very beautiful and agreeably remote. Andy and Fay are lovely people and they look after you really well. No website, which greatly enhances the sense of discovery. 10/10.

Finally, on our way back, we called in at Ludford Park Meadow of Remembrance in Ludlow, which had not won a prize but deserved to. How Lin and Roger Dalton came to own it by accident is a long and twisting story. Briefly, the church cemetery is now full, the townspeople still want to be buried there, so the strip of land adjoining was bought and made into a natural burial ground thanks in great part to the perseverance of Lin and Roger. 

It doesn’t appeal to the sort of folk who want the sort of away-from-it-all burial ground characterised by Green Lane and Westhope. Ludlow people want to visit their dead often, so they’re allowed a 15″x15″ stone plaque at the head of the grave – scarcely detectable when we looked round. (The rain was now falling profusely, by the way.) And there’s a gravelled area with vases where people can bring their flowers, rather than place them on the graves. 

What Ludford Park manages to pull off very well indeed is its relationship with its regimented, headstoned neighbour. Its special magic is that it doesn’t feel unkempt. 

The burial ground has been so popular that it is now three years off being full. Lin wants to buy a strip of land from the farmer over the fence, but he won’t sell. This doesn’t dismay Lin at all. She has set her sights. 

Verdict: A burial ground which has its own distinctive identity, yet rubs along very happily with the cemetery next door. Trees at the far end add to its beauty. Admirably and sensitively adapted to the particular needs of its clients. Run by very, very nice people. 10/10. 

I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes. ee cummings

 

 

 

 

 

 

You tried

Friday, 28 June 2013

James Gandolfini. photo: Barry Wetcher

 

One for you celebrants.

In a deceptively ‘unclever’ eulogy for James Gandolfini, David Chase, creator and head writer of the Sopranos, offered this thought about the subordinate value of coherence  in speechmaking:

I remember how you [Gandolfini] did speeches. I saw you do a lot of them at awards shows and stuff, and invariably you would scratch two or three thoughts on a sheet of paper and put it in your pocket, and then not really refer to it. And consequently, a lot of your speeches didn’t make sense. I think that could happen in here, except in your case, it didn’t matter that it didn’t make sense, because the feeling was real. The feeling was real. The feeling was real. I can’t say that enough.

He addressed, tacitly, the darker side of Gandolfini:

The paradox about you as a man is that I always felt personally, that with you, I was seeing a young boy. A boy about Michael’s age right now.  Because you were very boyish. And about the age when humankind, and life on the planet are really opening up and putting on a show, really revealing themselves in all their beautiful and horrible glory. And I saw you as a boy – as a sad boy, amazed and confused and loving and amazed by all that.

In pursuit of this idea, Chase understands the illustrative value of an anecdote.

We were on the set shooting a scene with Stevie Van Zandt, and I think the set-up was that Tony had received news of the death of someone, and it was inconvenient for him. And it said, ‘Tony opens the refrigerator door, closes it and he starts to speak.’ And the cameras rolled, and you opened the refrigerator door, and you slammed it really hard — you slammed it hard enough that it came open again. And so then you slammed it again, then it came open again. You kept slamming it and slamming it and slamming it and slamming it and went apes*** on that refrigerator … And I remember telling you, ‘Did I tell you to destroy the refrigerator? Did it say anywhere in the script, “Tony destroys a refrigerator?” It says “Tony angrily shuts the refrigerator door.”That’s what it says. You destroyed the fridge.’
… … …

You tried and you tried, more than most of us, and harder than most of us, and sometimes you tried too hard. That refrigerator is one example. Sometimes, your efforts were at cost to you and others, but you tried.

Abridged version of the whole eulogy here

 

‘Everyone has a plan til they get punched in the mouth.’ – Mike Tyson

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

gifthorse

 

Of all the products dreamt up in the secret, black and midnight minds of financial services sorcerers, the pay-now-die-later funeral plan must rank as one of the rankest. It stinks. It’s idiotic. 

A funeral plan purports to benefit consumers by enabling them to buy tomorrow’s funeral at today’s prices (or thereabouts). But it wasn’t invented to benefit consumers, it was invented to benefit funeral directors. It addresses a problem peculiar to funeral directors. The problem is this: however brilliant you are (and caring, dignified, etc), there’s absolutely nothing you can do to induce more people to die, and you can’t sweet-talk them into doing it more than once.

If you want to steal a march on your competitors, therefore, you need to stitch up tomorrow’s market by bagging the biggest share you can get of it in advance — by taking tomorrow’s clients off the market today. 

What a pity it ever started. As soon as one funeral firm does it, everyone else has to join in, like it or not. There’s even a formula to work to. If your sales of funeral plans are greater than 20 per cent of your sales of at-need funerals, you’re okay. Less, and you’re in doodoo.

The only way you can achieve this increased market share is by offering a product riddled with deficiencies and anomalies. In this, the age of the bespoke, personal funeral offering a high-value emotional and spiritual experience to the bereaved, you offer packages of the crudest, most mechanical sort — it’s the only way to do it. Package one: Crudholme coffin (4 handles), no viewing, hearse straight to crem. Package two: Greyfriars coffin, viewing, hearse and one. Package three — but you know all this.

The problem for funeral directors is that if you ask people to buy a funeral for themselves, they tend to buy the cheapest. What price superb personal service in all this? Zilch. Experiential value to those left behind? Irrelevant. Funeral plans offer nobbut disposal in limited and highly unimaginative cosmetic options. Its appeal is highest to the put-me-out-with-the-rubbish brigade.

The last person you should ever ask to arrange a funeral is the recipient.

Memo to the living: we mustn’t plan our funeral. All we can do is be available for it. Write your funeral wishes in pencil. Hint, don’t prescribe. Die. Butt out. 

There’s a lot more that’s wrong with funeral plans, as you well know.  Money hasn’t grown since 2008 and the economy isn’t recovering. Funeral costs — they double every ten years — are rising faster than RPI. As the battle for tomorrow’s market share becomes more strident and overheated, the battleground is looking more and more like Syria. Plans are coming in underfunded and funeral directors are having to bear the brunt of that (to the incidental benefit of the plan holder). Independent funeral directors are in danger of surrendering their independence, because there’s a real danger that some plan providers will, in desperation, be forced to become funeral brokers, offering work to the lowest bidder. Funeral plans aren’t regulated by the FCA

Never before has there been so much talk of a plan provider going bust. The Ponzi-word is much muttered these days. All the while, new products are coming onto the market, and new providers, and new enhancements, like legal services. It’s getting frenzied. Is there a big bust a-brewing? Consensus says yes.

If one of the plan providers does go bust, what happens? Do the others get together to bail it out? Up to a point, perhaps. If the provider is a member of the Funeral Planning Authority, its members “shall co-operate and examine ways in which the FPA might assist in arranging delivery of the funerals of customers of the insolvent Registered Provider.” If you bought a funeral plan from the heavily despised Avalon, you don’t even get this reassurance. Avalon is not a member of the FPA

No wonder funeral directors, for whom these plans were designed, fear and loathe the bloody things, today more than ever.

Where, you might ask, is the media now that the gelignite is beginning to sweat? Where are the expert, investigative journalists when you need them? Out to lunch. 

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that there will be PPI-style megascandal and we can all start from ground zero with a consumer-focussed funeral plan. 

What would a consumer focussed funeral plan look like?

Well, first of all, it would pay out to the family, not direct to a funeral director. 

Second, there would be change, a sum left over, if an executor decided not to spend it all. (Whoever got change from one of today’s plans?)

Third, the rights of the dead person would assume their rightful legal value — zero — and the bereaved would be empowered. People should get the funerals they deserve, not the funerals they want. We’d get much better funerals as a result. 

Fourth, the sum would not be assigned to any particular family member. If Granddad doesn’t go first because Wayne (17) drives into a tree, Wayne gets it and we top it up for Granddad — or whoever’s next. 

So, fifth, the family funeral fund does not expire with the death of any particular family member, but lives on and is handed down. 

What would be the best repository for a family’s funeral fund? A trust? 

We don’t know, but you probably do. 

Let’s not be daunted. There has to be a better way than the self-reinforcing shambles we have today. 

 

 

It’s all good at Clandon Wood

Monday, 24 June 2013

 

Friday and Saturday 21 and 22 June marked the opening of Clandon Wood natural burial ground in the Surrey Hills, south of Guildford. The moving spirit behind the venture is Simon Ferrar, a man whose meticulous research has made him really quite famous in Funeralworld. There can’t be anywhere he didn’t visit, nor any person he has not interviewed. We remember well when he rang the control tower of the GFG-Batesville Shard with the excited announcement, “I’ve found it! I’ve found a site!’ We googled it and verily, even at that stage, it looked good from the air. 

It has to be said that he’s got it absolutely right. Thirty acres of English meadow already, though planted only last year, looking really verdant and supporting a rich variety of wildflowers and, of course, attendant voles, raptors, owls, field mice and the voracious food chain that supports any English idyll. 

Tons of people came. We missed the ceremonial opening by sundry assorted clergyfolk and the Mayor of Guildford, Diana Lockyer-Nibbs, a splendid name. Emma Curtis, a shamanic celebrant, uttered a marvellous pagan blessing. There were some seriously brilliant speakers to follow, including Ken West, Fran Hall, Kristie West, Barbara Chalmers, Rachel Wallace, Pia Interlandi and sundry folk from local wildlife orgs. 

There was even a funeral. Simon Ferrar rehearsed his own, his pallid corse drawn by horse and cart, followed by a long procession, and in the mid-afternoon he rose again from the dead and did it once more the next day. Good idea, that, to enable people to see what a natural burial looks like. 

We very much like the ceremony hall. Indeed, we liked everything we saw and everything we heard. We thank Simon and Dani for their hospitality and their warm welcome. 

Life stories don’t tell half the story

Thursday, 20 June 2013

oliver, for whitman website

 Oliver Bernard

For the living there is much pleasure to be derived from surveying a person’s life  when the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and their work is done. Dead, in other words.

Works in progress – biographies of the living – just don’t cut it.

Death focuses the mind on existential matters. The human mind abhors cosmic chaos and seeks to make sense of it. Considering the immensity of the universe and the littleness of a brain, you could call that either intellectual bravado or heroic defiance. Up here in the Midlands a dying man recently designed elements of his funeral and had the words ‘What was that all about?’ inscribed on the cover of the service sheets. Brilliant. Unsettling.

The living respond to a death with versions of the life story which draw threads together, discern patterns, make connections, explain anomalies and draw conclusions. Most of us feel our lives to be somewhat of a muddle. Fear not. Just as our deathbeds will be smoothed and tidied when we’re gone, so will our lives be, also.

Which is why we love to read obituaries in the newspapers. In the broadsheets, they follow the same format. First, the life is summed up in a single sentence:

Scholar of Latin literature with an extraordinary gift for communicating his enthusiasm for his subject

Chindit veteran who led an exhausted company of Gurkhas in a victory against a far larger enemy force

Offbeat actor and poet who played a fragile Tarzan in an Andy Warhol movie

Poet and pacifist admired for his translations of Rimbaud and Apollinaire and a leading figure in Soho’s artistic scene in the 1960s

Then follows a paragraph or two containing an illustrative anecdote which epitomises the dead person. Sometimes, a photograph serves this purpose better.

Taylor Mead’s bottom was a legend in the film world. The 1964 film ‘Taylor Mead’s Ass’ was simply footage of his naked buttocks, for over an hour, recorded for posterity by Andy Warhol.

John Lucas could claim, although he seldom did, that he had returned from death or at least from pretty close to it. Contracting sandfly fever in deep jungle during the second Chindit operation, he had to be abandoned with a full water-bottle and his revolver. Miraculously, he came round after two days and managed to catch up his column and continue on the line of march.

One day in 2007 David West went by train from Corbridge in Northumberland to Sanquhar in Dumfriesshire, carrying a long axe for use in a friend’s garden. He put it in the rack. At Carlisle he found himself surrounded by railway police. “Offensive weapon, officer? Let me show you: there is no room here to swing an axe . . .” This event prevented his journey to Sanquhar, but displayed his enthusiasm for explaining what he regarded as obvious even when prejudice or fashion might see things differently.

There then follows a chronological account of the person’s life. The account of  famous person’s life seeks to tell the whole story, secrets and all, sex secrets especially. The narrative is shaped by the author’s verdict, which is normally foregone. It is this subjective element that belies the author’s protestations of of objectivity, and accounts for the great number of disparate biographies of famous people. Mrs Thatcher has already spawned half a dozen, pro and con.

The life stories of ordinary folk like us as told in funeral eulogies are altogether different. The element of verdict — whether we were a Good Thing or a Bad Thing — is diminished. As is the shock-horror revelatory element. The prevailing element, as in biographies of the famous, is the analysis of what made us tick. That’s what everyone wants greedily to know – or have affirmed.

When all is said and done, we will, when we are dead, as we do while we are still living, mean different things to different people. We each spawn a bunch of differing life stories according to how we affect people.

The version offered at our funeral will be very much the authorised version, the official biography, because it will be a narrative created exclusively for the front row. There will likely be plenty of soft focus. There may also be any number of edits. In the matter of our faults, there is likely to be explanation and absolution. Not quite a pack of lies — but a long way from the whole truth. Closer, actually, to myth-making. But that’s okay, because the mood at a funeral is normally magnanimous.

The creation of a pen portrait of a dead person by a celebrant is the outcome of a negotiation with the immediate family, and of family members with each other. The edits are determined by consensus.  Some families will go for a warts and all approach. Others will require the warts to receive expert cosmetic treatment. The resulting depiction, if it’s the work of good wordsmith who speaks well, is likely to be regarded as quite as marvellous and valuable as a portrait in oils. If it plonks the dead person on a rearing white charger and puts a sword in his hand — well, a celebrant just has to go along with that. Sir Joshua Reynolds didn’t complain, he just banked the cheques. It’s not the job of the portraitist to speak truth to she who pays the piper.

This being so, I find it hard to understand the practice of those celebrants who treat a ceremony as if it were a present to be unwrapped in front of the family. To do so misunderstands, it seems to me, the nature of the commission. It’s also far too risky. A funeral is no place to misspeak. 

But there are two sides to this, I am sure. I wish I could see the other. You’ll probably point it out to me. 

What will be the one-sentence summary of your life, do you suppose? 

 

What would you like to see on your TV?

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

professional-mourner

 

What a professional mourner might look like

 

When media people phone the press office here at the GFG-Batesville Shard, their requests for information often conform to whatever they suppose to be trending.

“We’re doing something on living funerals. Are these catching on?”

“No.”

“We’re doing a documentary about the dying process and we want to film someone actually dying. Can you help us?”

“No.”

“Arranging a funeral?”

“No.”

When they say they want to expose malpractice, we urge them to shine a light on good practice, too, in the interest of fairness and balance.  We can introduce you to lots of good undertakers, we say. They always promise. They never do.

Today we received an enquiry about the growth of professional mourners in the UK. We replied a little perfunctorily that there hasn’t been. Actually, there’s an outfit called Rent A Mourner but we’ve always thought it must be a spoof. Have you ever encountered a professional mourner? We thought that would be the end of it.

But the enquirer, Malcolm Neaum of CB Films, pursued the topic on a broader front. Are British funerals being in any way cross-fertilised by multiculturalism, he wondered. And it’s a good question because, even though they haven’t to any remarkable degree, we have from time to time, on this blog, discussed the desirability of respectfully and gratefully adapting rituals and observances from other cultures with which to enrich our own ‘secular’ funerals, many of which are beautifully and expertly scripted, but are characterised by a DVT-threatening inactivity on the part of the audience. Funerals are going to go on evolving. The question is whether they are going to evolve in the direction of elaboration or extinction. 

Malcolm is keen to make a documentary about funerals — has been for some time. He tells us: I’ve been working in documentaries for 15 years and have never been able to get a commissioning editor interested in even approaching the topic of death.’ 

He adds: ‘My grandfather died last year and I can’t help but feel that so much of the symbolism and power has been stripped from a modern day funeral. Hopefully, an interesting programme may be an opportunity to you explore the funeral ritual in modern times.’

Malcolm has asked me to ask you what you think. What could he most usefully make a programme about? 

It’s a rare thing to be asked what we think. I hope you will tell him. He says, ‘it’s very exciting to think what we will hear back.’ 

Go on: excite him!

 

I like large funerals, they’re so intimate

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

F._Scott_and_Zelda_Fitzgerald_grave

 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

“I like large parties, they’re so intimate. At small parties, there isn’t any privacy.” With this memorable quip in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald captures the emptiness of Jordan Baker, one of the flappers who attend the parties at the mansion of Jay Gatsby.

A great thing about The Great Gatsby is that none of the characters are great. It’s about flawed individuals forming a flawed society. Gatsby made himself rich by dodgy means, and invented a persona to disguise his humble roots: the dapper bootlegger makes out he attended Oxford University and insists on calling everyone “old sport”. And his charade is part of an obsessive-compulsive ploy to win the heart of the socially-privileged Daisy Buchanan, who ultimately puts class status before love.

West Egg, the part of Long Island where our anti-hero lives, is for the nouvs, and East Egg, across the bay where Daisy lives, is for the toffs. It’s a commentary about East Coast snobbery which, in common with Europe, is where old money had traditionally kept new money in its place.

Gatsby, who hails from the wholesome Mid-West, is a dreamer but the American Dream is hollow in the east. Yet his romantic idealism is what makes him great in the eyes of the novel’s narrator, Nick Carraway. “‘They’re a rotten crowd,’ I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.’”

After Gatsby is shot dead in his pool, Nick sets to work trying to organise the lavish funeral he thinks his friend would have wanted. No-one shows up, except Gatsby’s servants and his father, who is touchingly proud of his son’s social mobility. Everyone else turns out to be uncaring: Gatsby was a drink ticket and a corpse can’t throw parties.

There are echoes with Fitzgerald’s life and death. An Irish Catholic, he felt like a pauper among the WASPs in the fast set at Ivy League university, Princeton. When he fell for his well-to-do wife-to-be, Zelda, he was spurred on to make his fortune in order to win her and keep her in the style to which she was accustomed. His first novel, This Side of Paradise, was a hit and the couple briefly became the decadent darlings of the Jazz Age.

But their lifestyle took its toll, Zelda ending up in asylums, and Scott becoming an alcoholic whose work was greeted with apathy. The Great Depression was looming and there was little appetite for the frivolity of the roaring 20s. Even The Great Gatsby was a flop.

With no book sales and estranged from Zelda, he tried his luck as a hack in Hollywood, where he took a gossip columnist mistress. It was there that he died in 1940 of a heart attack, aged 44, broke and feeling like a failure. Only a handful of people attended his funeral. His lifestyle also meant he was considered a non-practicing Catholic, so was denied the right to be buried on the family plot. He was buried by a Protestant minister—who allegedly didn’t know who he was—in the Rockville Union Cemetery in Maryland. Zelda joined him in his grave in 1948, but, in 1975, they were both moved to Rockville’s Catholic St Mary Cemetery.

Near the rail tracks and glum office blocks, it’s a modest setting for one of America’s greatest 20th century novelists. The only thing that distinguishes his grave is the placing by visitors of the occasional bottle of booze and coins, symbols of the two things he needed most before his death.

With Baz Luhrmann’s film being a box office hit 70 years after Fitzgerald’s death, the writer’s finest novel is at the top of the Amazon bestseller list. Had he and his creation, Gatsby, died in happier and more fulfilled circumstances, they would no doubt have appreciated more ceremonial fanfare. Manhattan’s St Patrick’s Cathedral perhaps, where mourners could have contemplated their transition from this life to the next in the intimacy of a crowd.

How they wear you down

Sunday, 16 June 2013

I first heard from Lisa Mullan when she wrote to me on 23 Feb 2013: 

My father was told he had terminal lung cancer in May 2012 and had around 6 months to live. He subsequently purchased a Funeral Care Plan from the Cooperative Funeral Care, Plympton, Devon and requested he be buried at the Crossways Woodland Burial site. A Mr Richard Parson, Hub manager of the branch, sent my father’s cheque off to Mr Chatfield [the owner of Crossways] to purchase a plot in May. 
 
When my father sadly passed away in November, my mother and sister went to the funeral home to be told my father did not have a plot. The confusion had arisen as Mr Parson was away on holiday and could not confirm the purchase and also Mr Chatfield was also away on holiday and could not be instantly contacted. This was Tuesday 6th November. Whilst this was unfortunate timing, contact was made with Mr Chatfield, and by Thursday 8th November the Coop had received an email from him confirming the time and date of the burial as 20th November, at 12:45pm. This would have been seen by the Coop staff on the Friday morning at open of business.
 
On that Friday my mother popped in to the branch to ask if they had heard anything from Crossways. The Coop version of events differs slightly with each telling and currently stands that my mother was told Crossways had not confirmed and to take the weekend to visit both it and another burial ground at Yealmpton and decide where she would like to bury my father.
 
On the Monday my mother rang the Coop again for news on whether they had heard anything from Crossways and was told that they had not but the funeral could be postponed. We had already had the date confirmed as the 20th and so postponement was not an option as family had made their travel arrangements. My mother panicked and, gently guided by the Coop staff, she opted to book a plot in Yealmpton where the subsequent funeral was held and where my father now lies. 
 
In dismay at the lack of communication from Crossways, my sister took the time to find out their governing body and wrote a complaint to the Natural Death Centre. We were then shocked to discover that Crossways had indeed confirmed all arrangements and we had not been informed. 
 
To further complicate matters, Mr Chatfield had been away on holiday and his return flight was hit by a baggage handlers strike, so he had to pay to fly back earlier than scheduled with another airline. 
 
I am currently in discussions with the Coop. Initially after a face to face meeting with Mr Parson I was reimbursed the mileage money my father had paid for the hearse to take him to Crossways and was also expecting communication from him regarding exactly what had happened and how this miscommunication had come about. My mother received the money, but I heard nothing from him regarding the circumstances in which the lack of information had taken place. I then wrote to him again and asked to be reimbursed for the 20% administration fee Crossways charged on the refunded monies for the plot, an apology for my mother and the £300 for Mr Chatfield’s flight.  I have since been in contact with the regional manager, Mr Adrian Smart, and am waiting for him to provide me with details of his manager. Needless to say, all requests have so far been refused.
 
This whole situation is a cause of stress and upset to myself and my family and also to Mr Chatfield who has lost out financially but also has a complaint against his name and reputation. 

 

I replied with what I hope was helpful advice and a warning that the process of seeing the complaint through was likely to be drawn out. 

 

On 16 May Lisa wrote to individual senior managers at Funeralcare in Manchester and informed them, among other things, that: 

 

I am seeking to recover costs … and as your Regional Manager has failed to attend to the matter in nearly four months, I appeal to you to take this further. 

 

Lisa sent the senior managers a timeline: 

 

24th May 2012: My father paid for a Tailor Made Funeral Care Plan at the Co-op Funeralcare in Plympton, Devon (hereafter known as Plympton). His contact was Hub Manager Mr Richard Parson. His wish was to be buried at the Crossways Burial Ground in Okehampton (hereafter known as Crossways) and Mr Parson sent a cheque for £835 to pay for the plot to Mr Martin Chatfield on his behalf. The “Grave Details” specify Crossways.

 

25 May 2012: Payment for plot received by Crossways.

 

6th November 2012, 0140: My father died.  0900: My mother received a call from Plympton inviting her to come in.  10.00: My mother and sister attended this appointment and were assisted with information pertaining to administration of a late relative. They also discussed initial funeral arrangements and were informed my father did not have a plot booked. Mr Parson was away on holiday and could not clarify the situation and unfortunately so was Mr Chatfield. Apparently repeated attempts to contact him by Plympton were unsuccessful. pm: My sister managed to speak to Mr Chatfield who would contact the UK to check plot status. Stiil no contact between Mr Chatfield and Plympton.
 

7th November 2012, 1245: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield requesting he inform them of plot status.

8th November 2012, 1231: Email from Mr Chatfield to Plympton stating the existence of a plot for my father and potential accommodation of a funeral any time after 18th November 2012. 1353: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield requesting a burial at 1245 on 20th November 2012. 18.16: Reply from Mr Chatfield to Plympton confirming time and place of burial. 

9 November 2012, 0900: My mother pops into Plympton. It is suggested she look at both Crossways and a burial site at Yealmpton, Devon (hereafter known as Yealmpton) over the weekend and inform Plympton of her decision on the Monday. As far as she is aware, funeral arrangements are for 20th November 2012 but contact with Crossways has not yet been established.

10-11 November 2012: The family inform relatives and friends that the funeral would be held on 20th November 2012

12 November 2012, 1100: My mother speaks to Plympton to be told there is still no word from Crossways but the funeral could be postponed until they had. Various: Phone records show several phone calls to myself and my sister from my mother. Unfortunately no one was home to take them. Midday: My mother confirms with Plympton that the burial should be moved to Yealmpton and agrees to pay an extra £950 for the plot and grave digging. 1451: Email from Plympton to Mr Chatfield informing him of my mother’s decision and requesting a full refund of the £835 my father paid for the plot. 0900: Mr Chatfield paid £300 to a second airline and started returning to the UK two days premature of his original departure date due to an unforeseen baggage handlers strike with his original airline. 2100: Mr Chatfield discovered the email from Plympton cancelling the burial.

13 November 2012: Mr Chatfield spoke to Mr Parson to express his displeasure but promised to refund the plot money minus a 20% administration fee.

20 November 2012: My father’s funeral at Plympton and Burial in Yealmpton. The requested donations box was not present before or after the service in Plympton.

25 November 2012, 1552: Email from my sister, Caroline Fielden, to Rosie Inman-Cook at the Natural Death Centre to complain about Mr Chatfield’s conduct in not contacting Plympton to arrange the burial at Crossways that my father had requested and paid for.

27 November 2012, 1245: Email from Rosie Inman-Cook to my sister informing her that Mr Chatfield had indeed confirmed the burial, returning early due to the aforementioned strike to be present.

29 November 2012, 1941: My sister forwarded to email from Rosie Inman-Cook to Plympton and requested sight of emails from 7th and 8th November to confirm this. She never received a reply.

Early December 2012: I was informed of the above and agreed to take it further. I arranged to meet Mr Parson on a trip to Plympton that month. I also rang Mr Chatfield who immediately forwarded the pertinent emails from 7th and 8th November.

12 December 2102, 1230: Meeting with Mr Parson to explain entire incident. He claimed not to be aware of any of it and needed to speak to his staff. We arranged a further meeting for the following day. There were several points regarding anecdotal evidence that Plympton had been rather persuasive in steering my mother to use Yealmpton and not Crossways for the burial.

13 December 2012, 0900: Second meeting with Mr Parson. We discussed various anecdotal evidence. He did not, however, say he had discovered exactly why my mother had not been informed that Mr Chatfield had confirmed the time and date of the burial. This, in my mind was the sole reason for reconvening the meeting. Mr Parson agreed to reimburse the mileage money my father had paid for the hearse to drive to Crossways, offered to help me with full reimbursement from Crossways should they refuse and let me know via email exactly how the confusion had arisen.

End December 2012: A cheque for £112 was sent to my mother to reimburse mileage.

4 January 2013, 2207: Email from me to Mr Parson explaining my disappointment at not hearing from him regarding the confusion.

7 January 2013, 0813:  Email from Mr Parson to me stating he thought we had sorted the problem and when he would be contactable by phone.

7-9 January 2103, various: Tried to contact Mr Parson by phone but to no avail.

9 January 2013, 2133: Email from me to Mr Parson requesting Plympton reimburse the 20% Crossways administration fee, issue a full apology to my mother and reimburse Mr Chatfield the £300 he was obliged to pay to return to the UK.

11 January 2013, 1020: Email from Mr Parson re-stating that Plympton were not at fault. Inclusion of the Funeral Arbitration Scheme Leaflet.

12 January 2013, 1943: Email to Mr Parson stating that I will be taking the matter further.

13 January 2013, 0900: Phone call to Co-op Funeral Care Customer services. Matter discussed with the member of staff who sent the mileage cheque to my mother. 1700: Contact from Mr Adrian Smart, Regional Manager overseeing Plympton. He promises to investigate the issue and phone back. 

18 January 2013, 1713: Email from Mr Smart. Attached letter details incident as he has understood it and the Arbitration leaflet. An apology was made for contacting my mother so soon after my father’s death but not for withholding information from Crossways.

10 February 2013, 2114: Reply to Mr Smart detailing the reasons I believe my mother was misled by Co-op staff.

11 February 2013, 0944: Reply from Mr Smart stating he cannot respond at this particular time but I will hear from him in due course. I have never heard from him or anybody else from the Co-op again.

Today, 16 June 2013, I received the following from Lisa: 

Hi Charles, 

I have reached an impasse with the Co-op. They insist on concentrating on the Tuesday (my father died) and the Friday (where they reckon they told my mother about Crossways, but really all they seem to have done is told her to visit both plots) and not on the following Monday (when she was told they still hadn’t heard from Crossways and the funeral could be postponed). Jack Walsh (the sector manager) has offered to pay 10% of the Crossways admin fee as apparently they have communication from Martin Chatfield stating as much, even though we only received 80% reimbursement (not that I begrudge Martin the 10% as he is out of pocket too). 
 
Jack Walsh is apparently now writing to my mother about his findings and it will be interesting to see what happens there. However, I would now like you to, if you can and want to, publish our story.

For Father’s Day

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Father and daughter

 

Posted by Kitty

My dad died when he was 70. Just a few years earlier, he had been diagnosed with leukaemia. It was my sister who realised that something was wrong. He was yellow. He hadn’t noticed. Too busy enjoying his well-earned retirement.

His doctor told him he would die with it rather than from it. However, were it not for the underlying illness, he wouldn’t have contracted the septicaemia which finished him off. He was shopping in town when he slipped and fell. Typical of Dad, he refused any help from kind passers-by, picked himself up and walked home.

Purely by luck, I visited him the following morning. I took one look at him and called an ambulance. A few minutes later he was on his way to hospital.

He died twelve hours later. He was fully conscious, chatting and joking with us – his two daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. He didn’t ask what we were all doing there in the middle of the night.

The line between life and death is heartbreakingly thin.

I’ll never forget what he said to me a few weeks before he died, because it was one of the best things he could have said.

‘I’ve had a great life.’

One of the songs we played at his funeral was Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong.

 Today is Father’s Day. And I’ll be outside, whatever the weather, because he wouldn’t have stayed in feeling sorry for himself.

And I loved him and he loved me.
And lord, I cried the day he died,
’cause I thought that he walked on water. 

Dad

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