Blog Archives: January 2015

General Election blues … and greens

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Signpost, political parties

 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

With Funeralworld including many small businesses, will their owners and employees be voting in the 7 May General Election for the party they feel supports the UK’s 4.9 million small businesses the most?

But what can a government actually do other than make supportive noises encouraging enterprise, and championing the role of small businesses in economic growth? Cut business red tape? Improve access to finance? Lower business rates?
—-
One regret for me is that the Tories have allowed environmentalism to become a left-wing cause (eco-warriors fighting for the future victims of capitalism). In fact, environmentalism is not just about the radical re-ordering of society, but also about conservative causes such as conservation and safeguarding resources. It’s what Edmund Burke describes as a partnership between the dead, the living and the unborn.

It was the state-controlled projects of the Soviet empire that destroyed landscapes and poisoned waters. It’s private ownership that more often than not confers responsibility for the environment.

A fine example of this is woodland burial sites. It’s a shame that these pastures green are sometimes perceived as more for alternative types than mainstream conservationists who are equally keen to leave nature in good shape for future generations.
—–
Will any of the party’s manifestos propose, even in small print, legislation in favour of the re-use of graves after a period of, say, 50 to 75 years? Doubtful given the fear of tabloid headlines about MPs digging up great grandma.
When reuse has been piloted in London, there’s only been praise that traditional graveyards are no longer dead space.

In Greece today, and some other Orthodox countries, a body is buried only for about six years, at which time the grave is reused. There’s no scandal when, in a religious ceremony, bodily remains are dug up, the bones cleaned and stored in an ossuary.

Perhaps the disused crems of our utopian future could reinvent themselves as ossuaries.

Singing them on their way

Monday, 26 January 2015

 

Tim

 

Posted by Tim Clark

This is Threnody (above) all ready to sing into action at Colwyn Bay Crematorium. 

It’s our belief that the sound of unaccompanied natural voice singing, in three- or four-part harmony, can create a space for strong emotion; can console and comfort, can embody and say things we can’t say in prose or poetry alone. 

We sing in English and Welsh, with a scattering of Spanish, Gaelic, Maori, Xhosa, as the occasion demands. We sing a capella, though we are prepared to be organ-tolerant if necessary. We sing songs, laments, hymns, simple chant-like refrains. If we had a theme tune it might be “The Parting Glass,” but we are getting excited and a bit gospelly about learning “Lean On Me.” We cover North Wales, but we did go in for foreign travel once (Shrewsbury…)

 We have no religious affiliation, preference or prejudice – we’ve sung for atheists and agnostics, Catholics and for all I know or care, Rosicrucians. We’re interested in good funerals, not definitions. 

We are not a professional choir, i.e. we don’t do it “for the money.” We ask for some help with travel costs, that’s all. This is important; what we are committed to is enriching funeral ceremonies, not ourselves. We love singing, of course, or we wouldn’t do it, but we’re local people singing,  for – usually – local people. 

Why am I telling you all this? Because we grew out of Bangor Community Choir, and I want there to be Threnodies available across the land. Community choirs sometimes sing at funerals, of course (for friends, members) but it would be just great if they organised themselves into providing a local Threnody. Why not approach yours and give them a nudge? Get in touch via Charles at the Good Funeral Guide if you want to know more about how we work.

Celebrant turned zoo keeper

Friday, 23 January 2015

elephants

 

Posted by Wendy Coulton

I think my neighbours must have been impressed when they saw me clear out space in my garage this month. But the truth is I had no choice. You see, next week it will be the new home for the eye-catching and thought provoking centre piece for a free public event I have organised about end of life matters in my home city Plymouth.

My garage will be the temporary enclosure for an extra large paper mache elephant (as if sourcing one in the first place wasn’t difficult enough!) until it hopefully will stop people in their tracks at Plymouth Central Library at The Elephant in the Room event on Friday 27th and Saturday 28th March 2015.

The saying ‘elephant in the room’ refers to an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to acknowledge or talk about. And that is exactly what I have witnessed too often with bereaved families in distress, conflict and hardship because no preparation was discussed or made for death.

My response to this was to get 15 respected speakers all under one roof across this two day event to cover a wide range of end of life topics including:

*  money and legal matters before and following death

*  health and social care issues like choosing where to die and the identity loss carers may experience when the person they have looked after dies

*  last wishes

*  organ donation

*  what to do when you suspect someone may be suicidal

*  what happens at the crematorium

*  business succession planning for the self-employed and small firms

*  the work of the coroner; and

*  bereavement care for children and young people

There will also be a Death Cafe discussion forum and information stands in the advice hub.

The aim of this free event is to encourage people to come in and find out more about their choices and key issues they may need to consider and plan for in the future.

Wouldn’t it fantastic if just as university open days, wedding fayres and recruitment events are commonplace, we could establish at least annually a similar approach to a focus on end of life issues and services?

 More event detail will be posted in February on www.dragonflyfunerals.co.uk

Elephant

 

What the hell?

Monday, 19 January 2015

-Oil-painting-The-Hell-Detail

 

“Belief in life after death is as common in Britain as it was 30 years ago in spite of a sharp decline in church attendance” according to researchers at the University of Leicester. The story is in today’s Times. The stats in the Leicester report don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, probably; not if you work in the funerals business, anyway. But it’s fascinating to read the numbers all the same. 

44% believe in an afterlife. Belief in Hell has risen from 26.2% in 1981 to 28.6% today. Almost a third of the population of Britain believe in all 5 Christian tenets: 1) God 2) life after death 3) Heaven 4) Hell and 5) sin. Almost a third! 

Older people are less  likely to believe in an afterlife than the young. 

All the while the C of E carries on shedding churchgoers at a steady 1% a year. Spare a wince, too, for the atheists who supposed that people would cast aside superstition and come over to them. As for the institutional religions, the growth of spirituality shows they are clearly missing out on a growing market and have only themselves to blame. 

In its leader, The Times quotes the philosopher AJ Ayer, who died in 1989, and who “recorded towards the end of his life an experience in hospital when his heart appeared to stop beating. What he “saw”, in that state, he later wrote, had “slightly weakened my conviction that my genuine death, which is due fairly soon, will be the end of me, though I continue to hope that it will be”.”

The Times also paraphrases the political philosopher Edmund Burke, who described society as a partnership of the dead and the unborn as well as of the living

 

The good meeting place

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Coffee

 

 

Posted by our religious correspondent Richard Rawlinson

Where would we be without our Rover’s Return or Central Perk? The Corrie pub and Friends café are what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls a ‘third place’ in his book, The Great Good Place. They’re neither home nor work, but accessible, accommodating and inclusive neutral ground where we can go to relax and converse with other people.

These third places are useful locations for gathering TV characters together for plot development but they’re now few and far between in real life, at least from my perspective. I frequent a London pub after work but rarely talk to anyone beyond my colleagues. As for solo visits to the local Costa, I never recognise fellow regulars and ensure I have a laptop as my coffee break companion.

Common places don’t exist for conversation, at least not dialogue with strangers. Some blame the internet for us leading increasingly insular lives but it’s just as easy to argue that social media is popular for everything from courting soul mates to fighting reprobates.

God forbid if all third places went from physical to virtual and the next soap was set on Facebook, but forums such as the Good Funeral Guide are indeed the contemporary equivalent of the 17th-century coffeehouse!

Coffeehouses were places where people gathered for caffeine-fuelled discussion of topics ranging from politics and philosophy to fashion and gossip.

From Christopher Wren to Samuel Johnson, they attracted more virtuosi and wits than the taverns, the absence of alcohol creating an atmosphere conducive to serious conversation (apologies for the times I’ve posted on GFG when under the influence!).

While some vocal GFG debaters might wish more regulars shared their wit and wisdom, many would agree that Charles Cowling has provided a welcoming third place in which to discuss the politics, philosophy and fashions of Funeralworld.

Nor is GFG a forum devoid of face-to-face dialogue thanks to the Good Funeral Awards. People who have got to know each other’s views online have met in person.

Not being in the trade myself, I’ve declined an invitation to the awards but I did drop by the Southbank Deathfest at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2012. Vale, reviewing it on this blog, wrote:
‘Through the door and, whoop! there are old friends and GFG regulars – Sweetpea, Belinda Forbes, Charles (whose phone rings constantly so that he is no sooner there than darting off again) and Gloria Mundi. There seemed to be friends of the GFG everywhere. Our religious correspondent Richard Rawlinson, Ru Callender, Fran Hall and Rosie Inman-Cooke at a very lively NDC stand, Tony Piper and then GFG heroes like Simon Smith from Green Fuse, Shaun Powell from the Quaker initiative in the East End, helping poorer families to a good funeral. James Showers, Kathryn Edwards too. Who have I missed out? Who did I miss?’

It was indeed fun even though this so-called religious correspondent felt somewhat in a minority. Having just been introduced to Ru, he then introduced me to his friend from the British Humanist Association, describing me as ‘on the other side’!

Perhaps I was being paranoid but I also thought Vale observed me as a suspicious curiosity, too! Vale, Charles and the ever-charming Gloria Mundi accompanied me to a champagne reception marking an exhibition of whacky Ghanaian coffins. It’s a small world even when it isn’t ‘your world’ as I happened to know both the party’s host and the photographer hired to snap the event.
 
Happy 2015 to GFG and all who sail in her.

Empathy and sympathy – what’s the difference?

Monday, 5 January 2015

JP2

 

Posted by John Porter

Sometimes the boundaries of the definitions of these two words, empathy and sympathy, become fuzzy. 

They become fuzzy for good reasons. This is from Confessions of a Funeral Director, which is often mentioned in GFG posts, entitled 10 Marks of a good funeral director

8. Empathy and sympathy. 

Imagine being at the bottom of a deep, dark hole. Peer up to the top of the hole and you might see some of your friends and family waiting for you, offering words of support and encouragement.  This is sympathy; they want to help you out of the pit you have found yourself in. This can assist, but not as much as the person who is standing beside you; the person who is in that hole with you and can see the world from your perspective; this is empathy.  — Dr Nicola Davies 

There are times (at funerals especially) when all we can give is sympathy.  When it’s outside of our ability to fully empathize with a person’s situation.  After all, the person laying in the casket isn’t my father.  This isn’t my daughter.  This isn’t my family. 

And that’s our job.  You pay us to be directors. And we couldn’t handle much more.  We have to maintain a certain level of objectivity because there’s only so much pain, grief and heartache we can share until we too start to crash … burn out. 

But, there’s other times when you can’t help but be drawn into the narrative, so that you enter the narrative and become a character in the story.  Not just a director, but an actual character in the drama of life and death. 

Knowing the difference between empathy and sympathy and having the ability of to use both is what can separate an average funeral director from a good one.   

I know that the ability to use both is important for funeral celebrants too. One of the things I do when someone is contributing to a ceremony (or a song/music is being played) I’m leading is to sit down in a chair that I have deliberately placed. It is a comfortable distance away from the person speaking. It faces forward. This means that I am no longer the focus of attention but have a clear angled line of sight to the person/s. It allows the person/s contributing to take the stage. Some ministers and celebrants stand nearby facing the mourners or at an angle. I have my back to the mourners. I am still leading the event but am now the backup guy in case the person falters. If they do I subtly lean forward, as if to say in silence “go on you can do it” without taking over. If they can’t continue then I’ll read it for them – if it’s a person singing I’ll read the rest if appropriate. So far I have not had to take over. 

Stuff happens to me in that chair whether it’s for 30 seconds or three minutes. If everything fine it gives me a physical break even though I give the contributor/s 99% of my attention. In some ceremonies I become, fleetingly, a character in the story. It happened at my last funeral. A person was just about to read a poem and he introduced it by sharing a beautiful message from the person who died to her two daughters. He wept. Tears welled in my eyes. I was in the hole with him. I have several techniques to compose myself in an instant and I used one of them. He looked at me and I gently nodded with assurance and encouragement which helped him to continue and read the poem. 

If I only sympathise then I do not give the client everything they need. If I only empathise then I’m held in their drama. I think the poem reader saw my wet eyes. It didn’t matter because he knew that although I was with him in a hole I was at the top of the hole in an instant – not pulling him out but allowing him to draw on his own strength to climb out. 

It is an extraordinary privilege to assist another human being in this semi-private way in a ceremony with many others present but who are likely unaware of what I have described. 

Anyone like to comment on the other nine or add more to the list? http://www.calebwilde.com/2014/12/10-marks-of-a-good-funeral-director/