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!