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