Blog Archives: December 2013

Right, that’s your lot

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Santa1

 

As 2013 totters down the pub for a festive pint, it’s time for us to hang up our trocar and call it a day.  

A big thank you to all our readers. An even bigger thank you to all our guest bloggers; you keep us fresh and unpredictable. Biggest thanks of all to Richard Rawlinson, our Holy See correspondent, and to Richard Hall whose monthly adventures in his vintage lorry hearse have already become an eagerly anticipated fixture. 

Please, if you ever feel like sounding off about something, send us your words and we’ll publish them (terms and conditions apply). The GFG blog is the Speakers’ Corner of Funeralworld. 

We know we ought to proudly and painstakingly list our greatest hits of the last twelve months, it’s what everyone does and it’s a proper and businesslike thing to do, but we simply can’t be arsed. My own personal highlight of the year was sitting up in bed one summer’s morning with my two-and-a-half year-old grandson chatting sagely about stuff. Come on, let’s get real, there’s more to life than death. 

We’ll be back soonish. In the meantime, have a terrific Christmas and a corking New Year. We have it on good authority that in 2014 all your dreams will come true. Onwards! 

Team GFG x

Eternal rest

 

 

 

In memory of England’s slaves

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Scipio grave

 

The arrival of slave trading ships at Bristol’s port helped make the city rich in the 18th century. But there are few memorials to the thousands of Africans put to work around Britain in that century.

It was, therefore, interesting to learn that the modern Pero’s Bridge at  Bristol Harbour is named after the slave of John Pinney, a successful sugar merchant whose Georgian town house is now preserved as a museum exemplifying the domestic interiors of the age.

When the bridge was opened, a Liberal Democrat councillor, Stephen Williams, condemned it as ‘gesture politics’.

A more historic, and therefore more remarkable memorial can be found in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church in the Henbury area of north Bristol. There’s an unusual, painted headstone and footstone, featuring black cherubs. The grave belongs to Scipio Africanus, who died, aged 18, in 1720 while in the service of a Charles William Howard.

The epitaph on the footstone reads:

I who was Born a PAGAN and a SLAVE
Now sweetly sleep a CHRISTIAN in my Grave
What tho’ my hue was dark my SAVIOR’S sight
Shall Change this darkness into radiant Light
Such grace to me my Lord on earth has given
To recommend me to my Lord in heaven
Whose glorious second coming here I wait
With saints and Angels him to celebrate

slave

Can grief be assuaged by a nice big car?

Thursday, 19 December 2013

binz-limo-1

 

 

Extract from  Therapy, Legitimation or Both: Funeral Directors and the Grief Process by Ivan Emke (2003):

One example of a product which is “sold” to funeral consumers is funeral automobiles. The sleek automobiles have become standard fare in funeral processions, but one can inquire about the function of these products. Do they help the families in their grieving? If not, why spend the money on them? Isard (2002) questions the need for funeral automobiles, arguing that families are choosing not to use them, in order to save money. The use of vehicles is generally a loss-leader, because funeral homes are not recovering the costs of a hearse and driver, which has a high fixed cost. But Isard notes that a funeral home’s fleet of vehicles is a great source of pride to the Funeral Directors, despite whether they are actually of value to clients or wanted by clients. (I have been told by Funeral Directors that they entered the occupation because, as young men, they were impressed by the cars that Funeral Directors had the chance to drive.)  

Maybe this is an example of a product that Funeral Directors want, but is of no clear therapeutic value to client. 

 

Raising money in memory

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

 

money_2196794b

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ’neath the western sky

The words of the well-known hymn put us in mind of our undertakerly comrades, slow adopters in everything — justly cautious of novelty. In the last year there’s been a lot of waking up to the benefits of online charity fundraising for communities of bereaved people. High time. The practice of collecting cash at funerals is in many ways breathtaking, leaving an undertaker open to heaven knows what imputations of impropriety. In any case, cash collections have poor yields.

Here at the GFG-Batesville Shard our specialist finance team has been looking at online charity fundraising from the point of view of consumers — who else? We’d be grateful for your feedback on their findings.

If you’re an undertaker who doesn’t yet get it, wake up!

Fundraising in memory 

It is increasingly popular to ask for donations to charity instead of funeral flowers. 

Yes, you can have a cash collection at the funeral service. Your funeral director will be pleased to organise this for you and send the money to your chosen charity. There’s unlikely to be a separate charge for this. 

But you will almost certainly raise much more money, and therefore do more good, if you ask people to contribute through a fundraising website. It’s far less painful for them to part with virtual money than five pound notes. 

What’s more, a fundraising website enables you to make the most of the money subscribed because the website can reclaim Gift Aid (tax back), which adds 25% to each donation.  

With Gift Aid, a £10 donation is worth £12.50. 

Which is the best value fundraising website?

The best known fundraising website is JustGiving. But there are lots of other fundraising websites out there offering different terms and levels of service. 

By the time JustGiving has deducted commission and a fee for processing a credit card, your £12.50 is reduced to £11.74. Some charity-giving websites offer better terms than JustGiving — but few are as easy to use. Some of them are not-for-profits, some are charities and a good many, like JustGiving, are for-profit and very rich. 

All fundraising websites enable you to make a donation to a major charity. Some of them, though, charge charities a joining fee and/or an annual subscription. All of them ask new members to fill in forms and submit paperwork to verify their credentials. 

So if it’s a little, local charity you want to support, check first and make sure it’s already a member of the charity-giving website you favour, or you could cost it some expense and a lot of hassle.

 Choose with care

In addition to its level of charges on donations, you also need to check out how easy a website is to use. According to CivilSociety: “A survey of charities conducted by civilsociety.co.uk in 2012 found that on average just 11 per cent of charities were recommending their supporters use BT MyDonate, compared with 43 per cent recommending JustGiving and 27 per cent for Virgin Money Giving. Asked to rank the platforms based on performance, MyDonate did not perform as strongly as competitor products in the market, specifically JustGiving, Virgin Money Giving and own-site platforms – topping the rankings only on the question of ‘value for money’, given that the platform is entirely free for charities to use.”

The two specialist ‘in memoriam’ fundraising websites (*)

There are two fundraising websites, Memory Giving and MuchLoved, dedicated exclusively to people wanting to make donations in memory of someone.

Some of the best

Here are some of the best fundraising websites together with their charges:

MyDonate15p-1.3%

Charges: 1.3% credit cards, 15p debit cards. No commission payable on donations. Some users find the website clunky and baffling. MyDonate is a not-for-profit run by British Telecommunications plc. 

Charity Choice0-25p

Charges 25p to process donations made by card unless the donor opts not to pay this fee. No joining fee for charities.  CharityChoice is a member of the Wilmington Group plc. 

Virgin Money Giving 3.45-3.6%

Charges: 2% transaction fee + 1.45% card processing fee for all cards except American Express 1.6%. PayPal 1.6%. £100 joining fee for charities. A not-for-profit service owned by Virgin Money. 

Every Click 5.8%

Lists all charities. Will contact your chosen charity once the money is collected and ask it to register if necessary at no charge. Everyclick is a limited liability, for-profit company. 

*MuchLoved 4.5%

3.6% on the donation + 3.6% on gift aid where applicable. This is inclusive of all debit/credit card fees. Regardless of whether debit or credit card it’s the same all-inclusive 3.6% to keep the charges clear. No other VAT or membership fee for charities. All processing via the Charities Aid Foundation who administer the service and have been established for over 80 years as the leading UK charity donation processor. No joining fee for charities. MuchLoved is a charity. 

MuchLoved raises money for charities through its excellent online memorial website. It enables people who are unable to afford a donation to write a message. It also enables people to share memories and participate in, say, commemorating the anniversary of the person who has died by lighting a virtual candle. 

MuchLoved is a charity, so all profits are ploughed back into improving its service. It is highly sophisticated but very easy to use. Your funeral director can administer the donations process or you can do that by setting up an ‘in memory’ page yourself. Your memorial page can be public or private, and you can choose the administrators, as many as you like. Through MuchLoved you can link to any other fundraising platform and also to social media — so you can, for example, link through to your Facebook page. You can fundraise for all UK and international charities. In terms of branding, MuchLoved takes a low profile and puts the chosen charity in the spotlight. 

You can use MuchLoved as a one-off fundraising platform, or you can use it for continuing remembrance of the person who has died. 

*Memory Giving 5.02-5.96%

5% on the donation + 0.96% UK credit card transaction charge/17p debit card charge. No charge on Gift Aid reclaim. No membership fee for charities. Memory Giving is a private limited company owned and operated by 5th Generation funeral directors Julian and Matthew Walker, based in Berkshire. 

Simple, straightforward and easy to use. Ideal for a one-off charity fundraising effort. Collects for any charity or multiple charities per collection page, full reporting to you, your charity and your funeral director. Charity funds transferred weekly, independently audited and HMRC compliant. Charity- and funeral director-friendly system also offering conventional off-line collection process alongside on-line giving. SAIF and NAFD supplier memberships held. 

JustGiving up to 7.55%

5% on the donation plus Gift Aid, hence 6.25% on the actual donation before credit card fees of up to 1.3%. Variable fee for charities 2-7.55%. Annual £180 annual membership for all charities. Website very user-friendly. JustGiving is a private limited, for-profit company.

 

 

Don’t stop all the clocks

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

busy man

 

Posted by Baggaman

Yesterday Quokkagirl had a go at crappy crematoria. Fair do’s. But it’s not all bad.

Take the time limit. Is that a restraint or a constraint? A restraint is bad, something to be got round. A constraint is good. The best art, literature and music are inspired by self-imposed constraints. The haiku, for example. 12-note composition. Blank verse. Street art.

The 20-minute funeral.

It drives up attendance. It reassures us we won’t be there all day, praise the lord. We’ve got 21st century thresholds of impatience, we haven’t time or inclination to get whirled into a vortex of ritual and la-di-da and, god forbid, the sacrifice of an ox.

He was 78. That’s a decent innings. Death happens.

Time constraint enforces concision. Time for just one eulogy, and a snappy one at that. No time for close family members and friends to speak one after another with extreme difficulty, inarticulacy or egotism. No time for open-mic. Phew. 

Keep the private separate from the public. Don’t do in public what’s best done at home. Don’t do in the funeral what’s best left for afterwards over a few drinks.

Constraints concentrate the mind and condense the content. Make a decent fist of it but don’t overplay your hand, we won’t feel cheated. Cut to the chase, distil to the essence. 

We come to do our bit, pay our respects. Understand who a funeral is for. Enough’s enough.

Crème de la crem

Monday, 16 December 2013

redditch-crematorium-2

Redditch crematorium

 
A rant by Quokkagirl 

Imagine if you will – a member of the mourning congregation spends the funeral ceremony of a dear 100 year old friend, listening intently to me …..….awaiting his cue. When the cue comes, he leaves his role as a mourner to fiddle with his mp3 player (which he’d had to go out and purchase the day before) having already arrived ahead of the mourning party, to be in position to set up the cd player hurriedly in between the previous service finishing and before ‘his’ dead one’s coffin came in so as not to eat too much into the miserable allocated half hour slot for the ceremony. He had to do this because? Because a perfectly reasonable (i.e. not obscure, recorded and released on album) piece of music the family had wanted had been ordered by Wesley but hadn’t arrived because of the ‘Christmas post’. ……..and even if the family downloaded the piece, the crem in question doesn’t have a cd player (what the….?)……. and anyway, if they did have one, who would operate it?

Is it me? Do YOU get the point?  I was flipping fuming but I have started to think it is me who is out of step because when I dared to query this farce piece by piece to the crem staff and the funeral director, they looked at me with that expression of ‘is she hormonal or something?’ and responded indifferently, ‘well at least the piece of music will now be on library for the next person who wants it.’

I repeat, is it me?

THIS family wanted that music. A common piece sung by a renowned singer who happens to be a great friend of the family. This music was for THIS family, not next week’s family. THIS family had the right, surely, to expect that a downloadable system of music supply would be, er…. downloadable…. not reliant on the Christmas post. Even so, having begrudgingly to accept some really simple things are not possible even on the internet, there is the issue of a distinct lack of music-playing machine/cd player of any description available in this ‘room-and-oven-for-hire-at-£610 per-30-minutes’  for those families who DO want obscure or bespoke pieces of music. Don’t even ask if a slide show of pictures could be shown. Oh, and if you want an eco coffin here, think again. This crem has banned the majority of them. Don’t look for a candlestick on which to light a candle, or a table on which to place a picture of your departed surrounded by tea lights. They haven’t got one. They haven’t got time for one. And anyway ….’elf and safety….there are curtains, you know.’

If you hired the scruffiest of old village halls for 50 quid an hour, you’d get a hi fi system of some sort, more tables than anyone could ever want or need, an extension cable, a kitchen ….and a caretaker/keyholder to help out with technicals if necessary – even if it means bunging him an extra tenner. Of course, our current penchant for having the funeral at the place of despatch has much to commend it, most of all, the removal of the logistical and tiresome problems of going to one place for ceremony and another for cremation.

 I suggest that this crematorium, in line with others in my working area, is barely fit for purpose in our fast-changing funeral landscape. Unfortunately, the councils and their staff are not changing anywhere nearly as quickly as their customers; they are operating a fire-brigade attitude to the changing face of funerals, responding too late to problems, being surprised by fairly benign ceremonial requests, but quick to take the money, reach the targets and throw the profits into the communal council pot instead of ploughing it back into their services. And we, the users and ratepayers are allowing this to happen.

Is it me? Is it?

The crematorium of which I speak is based in a particularly pleasant and leafy suburb of the West Midlands, serving the great and the good of their largely AB socio-economic community,  and charges £610 for a half hour slot including cremation. The cost of an extra half hour is £172 for a room which just about holds a hundred people if you are standing sardine-like. When it’s full, the extra mourners have to stand outside – no loudspeaker –  in all weathers come rain or shine – and all the time running  the risk of being run over by the next funeral hearse keenly arriving. There is no breathing space between one service and another…….they are back to back all day long. The underpaid staff are nearly always pleasant but they are clearly stretched and totally de-sensitised by the production line, one- in-one-out-grab-as-much-money-as-possible-in-a-day system that they serve. The local users regularly tell me they hate the place but are never really aware that they could take their business elsewhere.

I pinpoint this particular crematorium only because it is the one that has got up my nose this week. I could tell you about the other local one which is so old and gloomy it has little to recommend it – and where the organist has complete control of the Wesley system so you have to give him stage winks and nods at appropriate places to start/stop – that’s if you ‘re tall enough to see him and assuming he’s watching you.……or the other crem, where admittedly they have a forty five minute slot, but where  the  organist who is in charge of the music buttons (because we funeral officiants can’t be trusted to operate buttons) sits behind a curtain so there is absolutely no visual connection. It’s all done by smoke and no mirrors. A mirror would be very helpful! You just have to rely on him staying awake and responding to your cues. Which sometimes he doesn’t.

 Is it me? Is it?

Drive ten miles down the road. And breathe……..different council, different ethos, different feeling altogether. The attendants have a relaxed attitude, the ceremony room is bright and airy with magnificent views across the local hills. Well, alright, if you are tall and sit up in your pew seat you can see a few roof tops of a housing estate, but mainly you can see sky and hills. You get my point. The ceremony slot is also 30 minutes……plus 15 minutes – allowing for in/out movement, allowing the room to breathe between congregations….or a little slippage time for when things go wrong or family speakers go on a bit too long.  Their catchment socio-economic community is much lower down the scale than its aforementioned neighbour. The cost? £510. If you pick an early slot it’s £380 plus £135 for each additional 45 minutes. That’s a whole hour and half to celebrate the life of/give thanks for/pay tribute to your dead one — or simply howl with grief for your loss for  less than the cost of a half hour slot with the next funeral banging on the door at the neighbouring crem  fifteen minutes away.

Here, in this crème de la crem, there is a sense of peace and calm – of not being rushed. Any download cd can be played if the music is unobtainable via the Wesley system. They just test it first to see that it works. No fuss – no big deal. No great drama. The ceremony can be filmed, or recorded on cd without any real fuss other than some form filling. There is never any issue over candles being lit because the celebrants/ministers are treated like adults and are trusted not to set fire to the place.  The attendants monitor the progress of the ceremony throughout and will cheerfully play your bespoke track on cd at the appropriate moment in the ceremony  from their backroom control area where they watch you on cctv and can hear what you are saying.  The in-house organist not only plays well but sings loftily and encouragingly to help along the choked and stifled voices of the bereaved.

 It’s not perfect of course – it is a council building after all and there are some inadequacies. But I have worked there hundreds of times and have never found it stressful in any way. I have turned up during a quiet patch and caught the attendants ‘properly’ polishing the brassware – door handles, catafalque facias etc, cleaning windows ‘til they gleam, cheerfully singing as they do so.  If there is a huge crowd – 200 plus, there is never any problem. Surplus mourners can stand in the large and warm vestibule with the chapel doors open, watch it on a tv screen and hear every word uttered. If something goes unexpectedly wrong, it is sorted cheerfully and helpfully……never a panic. I had the Home Secretary turn up unexpectedly for one funeral – she had her flunkies with her – there was no drama at all.

Here, in this financially poor old market town-cum-newtown, bereaved families are rightly happy with, and served well by, their local crem. The heat generated by the cremators is ingeniously transferred to heat the leisure pool next door. There is a ‘can do approach’ from the management right the way down, which seems sadly lacking in most of the other crematoria I work at, where the approach seems to be despatch’em as fast as you can and don’t let bereaved families or dead people – and especially not celebrants or funeral directors – get in the way of the sloppy council attitude to this very important service.

Which is why, of course, Redditch Crematorium’s staff were nominated and achieved runner up status  (just pipped at the post by Colwyn Bay)  in the national Good Funeral Awards this year. 

And it is why I urge people all over the country to think hard and long about which crematorium they are going to use, come the day of reckoning. You are free to be cremated wherever you wish and can take your business to whichever crem you want – or to the crem which gives you the best service and value for money. And all you funeral professionals out there – tell everyone you know about the good crems and discourage the bad ones. Whilst people are still using them, they see no reason to change. Funeral directors and arrangers have great power – you can help bereaved clients to make good decisions and by doing so force the hand of the worst-run bereavement services.

I say vote with your feet – first of course!

The sacred role of the embalmer

Monday, 16 December 2013

Embalmer

 

“In an age when the materialistic threatens to undo the mystical, there is place for him who in that hour of deepest sorrow is able, by his art, his compassion, his wisdom and knowledge, indeed, by his very presence, to minister alike to the body bereft of soul and to those loved ones who need both worldly and spiritual consolation and guidance. There is no greater art. The embalmer of tomorrow may transcend the priestly function, and by and through his professional attainments glorify the divinity in man.” Letter in Embalmers’ Monthly, 1936

“Embalming has played a major role in shaping our contemporary civilization and culture, in protecting the physical and emotional health of the people of the United States, and in making possible funeral customs and practices which provide maximum beauty, dignity and consolation.” Clarence G Strub, article in Funeral Service 1970

‘Nelson Mandela’s eyes were closed and he had one of his favourite colourful shirts on. He looked completely at peace and had what seemed like a small, contented smile. He lay in state in a glass-topped coffin – his face looking slightly bloated.’ Daily Mirror 2013

 

 

Time the law caught up with the unmarried bereaved?

Sunday, 15 December 2013

bike-accident

 

Joe Wilkins was killed by a car while out cycling. The motorist responsible admitted causing death by dangerous driving.

In England, under the terms of the Fatal Accidents Act, a spouse, civil partner or the parents of a minor killed in an accident caused by the negligence of breach of duty of another are eligible for a bereavement payment of £12,980.

Nicci Saunders, Joe’s partner of seven years and the father of their two children, was not eligible for the grant. She and Joe weren’t married.

They do things differently under Scottish law. There’s no fixed limit on the payout and there’s much more flexibility about who qualifies.

Fortunately for Nicci, Joe had his affairs in order and she is provided for. Had he not named her in his will she’d have had no right to inherit, either.

Terribly unfair? Solicitor Joanne Berry thinks so: “The English system does not reflect modern family life … A couple who may have been together for decades but chosen not to marry are treated differently from a bereaved newlywed.

Sources and more detail here and here.

 

Warhol inspires from beyond the grave

Sunday, 15 December 2013

AndyGrave

 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson


As the big chill looms in the UK, it’s already snowing in Philadelphia. I know this as I’ve stumbled across a Facebook page dedicated to Andy Warhol’s grave in a Pittsburgh cemetery. Here

It seems the page is updated daily with images taken by fans of the pop artist who visit the grave, come wind or snow, to leave mementos such as Campbell’s soup cans.

An even more appropriate tribute is the painting below of the grave by a Jeff Schaller. He created a rubbing of the headstone, and then silkscreened it on top of a hand painted image.

warhole grave painting

And taking inspiration from Warhol’s film-making phase, another endeavour is a live 24/7 webcam feed of the grave. Warhol’s movie ‘Sleep’ famously filmed a man sleeping for five hours. If you watch the grave webcam long enough, it promises to be more eventful: you might spot the next visitor arriving with a can of soup.  Here

Happy birthday to you!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

 

Screenshot 2013-12-13 at 19

 

Trawling through a stack of local papers of a weary Friday afternoon, the GFG’s gannet-eyed media monitoring team came across some advertorial in the Ipswich Star which gladdened their eyes. It was half a page of advertorial celebrating the first birthday of GM Taylor, Independent Funeral Director.

They very much liked its directness and transparency. One said, “This is exactly how undertakers ought to define their relationship with their clients.” Another murmured, “Coffins on the internet… prices in the window…” A third hazarded, “Ken West would probably like this one.” Here is some of the text:

“There is no law that states a family must use a funeral director and a lot can be done by the family if they wish to do so. We can do as much or as little as the family request us to do – if a family wishes to buy a coffin from the internet and only use our chapel of rest, for example, we are only too happy to assist. Or, if a family requires us to only collect the deceased, again we are only too pleased to assist and we will adjust our prices accordingly.

“We have a price structure that lets a family know the breakdown of our professional services. We also advertise all our prices on our website, and in our shop window.”

You can read the whole piece here:  GM Taylor advertorial

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