The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Dignity in Blunderland

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

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Posted by Charles

A relatively new element of the Christmas experience is the themed winter wonderland. We’ve already had our first hilarious example of 2016 in Bakewell, Derbyshire. The Sun headline captured it neatly: WINTER BLUNDERLAND. Bakewell Winter Wonderland slammed by families as ‘pile of s***’ that is ‘so bad even Santa f***** it off’. The shocking muddy conditions saw the festive event likened to the Battle of the Somme.

Bit of a downer, obviously, but not enough to sully the good name of Christmas, a festival that remains robustly evergreen. Everyone complains how expensive it is. It has no utilitarian function. We do it the same way every year, ritualistically, so we know exactly what’s going to happen and what part we’re expected to play. Yes, it’s lovely to look at. But it celebrates an event – the birth of Christ – which to most people is of no relevance. Sure, there’s always a few bah-humbuggers who opt out, hunker down and have a no-Christmas Christmas instead, but vanishingly few, and their example is not influential. No, the overwhelming majority find the money and give it the full turkey. We love Christmas. Cheap at half the price. 

If only we could say the same about the traditional funeral. It’s got most of the same ingredients as Christmas. Everyone says it costs too much. It has no utilitarian function. Its format never varies – it’s ritualistic. Everyone knows what’s going to happen and what part they are expected to play. It is undeniably eyecatching. It was once the vehicle for a Christian funeral, but to most people now that’s of no relevance. And yet, and yet, the number of people copping out and opting for a no-funeral funeral – direct disposal – is growing exponentially. People are increasingly unwilling to find the money for a trad sendoff. Why?

I mean, a ‘traditional’ funeral is a heritage cultural artefact. It can trace its origins to the heraldic funeral of the middle ages. In a country that loves its pomp and ceremony, this is the British way of death. Where did it all go wrong?

I’ll tell you. The undertakers, finding themselves caught in a spot of commercial bad weather, had a straightforward choice to make and they called it wrong. They slashed their margins and introduced cheaper alternatives to the the product we call the traditional funeral. Hardly a creative response, nor a plucky one.

Steady the Buffs. When people say that funerals are too expensive, is this what they really mean?

Listen hard and you’ll discern that what they really mean is that funerals aren’t worth what they cost. They offer poor value for money. That’s not the same as too expensive. 

The problem is not with cost, it’s with value.

Last Thursday, Dignity bottled it and launched a direct cremation service under the branding of Simplicity Cremations. There’s a lot of the usual sales bilge on the website employing words like ‘dignified’ and ‘respectful’, as you’d yawnfully expect. There’s also a Ratneresque Cruise missile strike against the traditional funeral:

A full service funeral can be an expensive occasion that takes time and effort to arrange. You’ll often need a Funeral Director and a whole team of staff to co-ordinate the required services, vehicles and personnel, book the time with the crematorium, deal with paperwork, manage tributes and announcements and ensure everything runs smoothly on the day. And then there are also additional costs for items such as flowers, service cards, music, maybe a memorial or headstone and often a wake. It will usually take quite a few face-to-face meetings to arrange, not to mention several thousands of pounds.

In other words, yep, our flagship product is a bunch of crap. Too much time, too much effort, too much money. Don’t buy it.

Why would Dignity do that? These are clever people. Why diss the product that yields the best margin? This is industrial strength, Santa-killing insanity.

On the same day that Dignity was raising its cowardly white flag, Team GFG was, by happy coincidence, in London meeting a high-level ceremonialist with excellent connections and a strong belief that all is not lost. Because, dammit, we’re not giving up on the traditional funeral. We think the thing to do is to fix it – fix this issue around value.

What is a high-value funeral? It’s closely related to a high-value Christmas. It is something which does people a power of good. In the case of a funeral, it is transformative of grief.

For undertakers, ‘funeral flight’ represents an urgent existential threat. The business model of a funeral director is structured to provide all or most of the elements of a traditional funeral. Bankruptcy is hovering. When most funerals are private events or non-events, where will be the job satisfaction? For people grieving the death of someone, the consequences of the death of the funeral are quantified by John Birrell – here.

Christmas happens when we need it most. The days are short and dark, the weather awful. We all need cheering up. The retailers, whose livelihood depends on us splashing out bigtime, cleverly meet our needs with both the right merchandise and also cleverly pitched marketing messages – those supermarket  tv ads are all about the feelgood factor. Retailers understand that they will only sell us stuff if they can show us the Christmas is going to be a richly meaningful experience.

When commercial interests align with consumer needs you’ve got the makings of a thriving market, one in which everyone does well. Our undertakers would do well to ponder this, and so would our celebrants. Funerals happen when we need them most, too. If the public, processional, ceremonial funeral is, as we believe, the best way to deliver a high-value funeral experience – a funeral worth every penny – how can it be updated and repurposed in such a way as to accomplish that? 

 

40 comments on “Dignity in Blunderland

  1. Friday 9th December 2016 at 11:00 am

    Lucy Coulbert – very wise words! Listen to what people want, and then act on that. This could apply to all kinds of industries! What would the world be like then, I wonder?

    • Friday 9th December 2016 at 2:17 pm

      I think it is just common sense really and how I would like my family to be treated, but sadly this doesn’t always happen.

      After working for larger companies, the onus was always on “selling” things like and hitting targets on services like embalming.
      Anything out of the ordinary like a willow coffin was always made to feel like such a big deal. It wasn’t advertised anywhere or in any of the brochures.

      Traditional funerals where a service is held is still the norm but are taking a slightly different turn.
      From the outside, a traditional service in a crematorium with a traditional hearse and limousine, but with a civil celebrant and a willow coffin….why not?
      Giving people a choice between a black hearse and a silver one….more people are opting for silver at the moment.

      However, I think for larger companies it is all about training and offering these options. They won’t though….too much trouble.

      This is where independent funeral directors come in because they have the freedom and flexibility to offer these different products and services. The same with direct cremation services.

      Last month I helped a family who wanted a cremation service that people would attend but they didn’t want anyone to take it and the service was made up of nine pieces of music and a pre-recorded speech given my the deceased’s Mother.
      Still a ritualistic service in that people gathered at the crematorium and attended, but unlike any other service I have attended in 15 years of being an undertaker.

      I have helped three families in the last three months where they told me they wanted something simple and there would be a handful of people attending the funeral service.
      The first option I gave them was a direct cremation service which they all said wasn’t for them and we then worked up to what they did actually want.
      How many other companies would start off that way around?

      Choice should absolutely be the word in funerals moving forward. I would hate to lose the traditional funeral in which people attend a service, but I really believe people are making their own traditions now because there is so much more available to them than there was even ten years ago.

      Funeral directors now are in the hugely privileged position to have so many amazing products and services at their fingertips and they aren’t being offered to families.
      Personally, I couldn’t think of anything worse than a family coming back to me after a funeral to say “I wish you had told us about this. It would have been right up our street.”

  2. Thursday 8th December 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Many local authority owned crematoria offer early morning times at a reduced fee for full services with the use of the chapel. In other words the only difference between the 9.00am service and the more popular 2.00pm service is the cost and time. The uptake of the ‘unpopular’ times is high according to feedback from Institute members therefore it must be those bereaved people wanting a more traditional funeral whilst saving a few hundred pounds. Whilst local authorities will also use these times for public health funerals the direct funerals need no chapel time.

    Time will tell if the large companies now offering direct cremation will change the face of the whole of the funeral industry at a faster pace.

    • Thursday 8th December 2016 at 8:06 pm

      Is it still the case, Tim, that all coffins received into a crematorium must be borne to the cremator via the catafalque? (Sorry, I’m rusty on new developments.) Is there any reason why direct cremation candidates should not be dropped off at any time of day?

      • Friday 9th December 2016 at 10:34 am

        Hello Charles. At most crematoria the direct cremations are delivered before the day’s services commence and are taken through the chapel, to the catafalque and then into the committal/transfer room. There are two good reasons for this. Firstly, coffins being taken ‘around the back’ could be wrongly interpreted by any member of the public that might be visiting at the time, and secondly, it is usually much more dignified and safe for those carrying the coffin. I recall a crematorium that I worked at too many moons ago to admit that taking a coffin ‘around the back’ involved struggling through a side gate, a long walk to a downward flight of stairs that had a 90 degree bend and through a fire door into the basement crematory. Going through the chapel for most is speedier, safer and certainly more dignified. I realise this as the catafalque lift broke down on one occasion!!

        • Charles Cowling

          Friday 9th December 2016 at 11:41 am

          Tim, thank you. What you say is salutary for an armchair person like me. I’ve always thought, Dropoff service – what’s the problem? But now I see the practicalities I understand how tricky this is. Very grateful to you.

        • Sunday 11th December 2016 at 8:26 pm

          Both our local facilities can accept delivery any time via private entrance. Even if there is to be a service. Easy access.

  3. Thursday 8th December 2016 at 10:36 am

    I think Dignity are just bowing to the inevitable in a sensible manner. They know the market for direct cremation is growing and they want a slice of it without including it as part of their standard menu of services, because they know if they advertise it in their shopfronts quite a few people will chose it who would otherwise have bought a “traditional” funeral. I think the “traditional” funeral like the “traditional” wedding is slowly dying (sorry about the pun) not because people especially want to save money (it doesn’t stop people spending a fortune on weddings), but because for many of us the traditional disposal ritual no longer works even when tastefully executed with attention to detail. It’s not a very old tradition anyway going back maybe a 150 years or so, rather like a lot of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the British monarchy.

    Direct cremation doesn’t mean the end of the “proper send off” it’s just one of the things that are driving change. I’ve now been actively offering “ashes-centred” funeral ceremonies for the last year. OK I’ve only done two so far with a third this Sunday, but they’re not short on meaning and ritual and the feedback has been almost entirely positive and I’m now banding together with other humanist celebrants to market this style of ceremony more actively.

    Of course, the truly traditional funeral is actually a “do it yourself” one, as that’s what we all pretty well had to do two hundred years ago, but for those of us who don’t have the stomach for manhandling a corpse, conducting our own ceremonies around the cremated remains is a pretty effective alternative, which makes a fit with our modern lifestyles.

    • Thursday 8th December 2016 at 3:23 pm

      Would it not be more accurate to say that the traditional wedding is evolving, Douglas? It still features plenty of folderol and hoopla when I last looked, not to mention (dread word) ritual – all those speeches, cutting the cake, first dance, etc.The direct cremation equivalent would be nipping down to the register office with just a couple of witnesses, but there’s not a lot of buy-in for that, it’s not the way things are going. As to your 150-years assertion, I disagree: family, friends and neighbours have been forming an orderly procession for aeons in order to conduct or follow a dead person on their last journey on earth and be sent on their way with customary and familiar words and ceremonies. What we see now is a radical and pretty much unprecedented break with centuries of formal observances. I see no reason why the ‘proper’ funeral should be die if FDs and celebrants partner with each other to bring it up to date by making it once again meaningful and emotionally valuable. We’re talking about tapping in to deepseated needs here.

      The alternative is the death of both funeral directing and celebrancy, all replaced by little vans buzzing hither and yon driving dead people from their deathbeds to a convenient incinerator, the whole operation designed by logistics geeks and overseen by computer screens in Milton Keynes. The lifespan of secular celebrancy is beginning to look very fleeting indeed. I can’t see many people hiring strangers to preside over commemorative events held over ashes. These private, intimate occasions are more fittingly family-led.

      It’s an odd state of affairs in this dawning future age that children’s pets look like getting better sendoffs than dead humans.

      Sorry to sound so bleak, someone’s got to. Very good to hear from you again, by the way.

      • Thursday 8th December 2016 at 4:32 pm

        Hello again Charles. I do enjoy debating with you because it helps me sharpen up what I actually think and mean. It could be argued that the real break with the past came when the funeral was “professionalised” a process that started in the UK in the late 19th century. I think you are confusing body disposal/processing and funeral rites and rituals. For me and lots of other people who don’t even think about this stuff until circumstances force them to, the actual care and disposal of a body is no big deal and attending at a crem is a chore that has to be done before the real business of reminiscence and family bonding can begin at the reception. I think FDs often get a misleading impression of the reaction of consumers, because most people are a bit intimidated by the funeral parlour or just want to be polite, although many of them would rather not be there at all and lots more would chose direct cremation if that option were offered to them as a positive choice when they’re sat down with a funeral arranger.

        Yes, I do worry that this means that some people will not have any sort of rite of passage and that having such a rite is an important part of grieving. But people create their own rituals with or without the help of people like you and me and I feel increasingly confident about offering people funerals around the cremated remains because my practical experience shows me that they put the bereaved more in control, they are better value for money and as rituals they can really work, often better than a conventional funeral.

        In my case, and I’m sure that of many others, this dislike of the traditional rigmarole has got nothing to do with death denial. I personally think that every bereaved person should have the opportunity to look hard at the corpse of someone they were close to and I’ve always instinctively sought to do this as soon after the death as possible on the ward or in the hospital morgue.

        And you know the comparison with weddings is very relevant. Humanist weddings are quite similar to having a funeral with someone’s cremated ashes. In both cases they are rituals that people chose to observe and pay a celebrant for because they want to, even though there is no legal or practical requirement for them whatsoever. In this respect the municipal crematorium is very much like the registry office, a place that people have to go to (or think they have to), although very little actual meaning now resides there for them.

        Of course, I’m not speaking for everyone when I make these points. Lots of people, probably the majority, would still opt for a “traditional” send off, but there are growing numbers of people like me who either see the traditional funeral as irrelevant or something that they actively dislike, not because we don’t like ritual or tradition but because for us they don’t work anymore.

        • Thursday 8th December 2016 at 8:45 pm

          If the traditional funeral’s content is increasingly irrelevant then what it needs is a makeover. This is fixable. I am glad you are pro-ceremonial and ritual.

          Fifteen years ago there was this idea that secular celebrants were going to fix it. They are part of the current failure of funerals to do what they’re supposed to do, though I don’t suppose they’ll thank me for pointing it out.

      • Thursday 8th December 2016 at 6:05 pm

        Charles you are a brilliant and funny writer. Milton Keynes indeed, I have a vision of a UPS style hub, with parcel style sorting system. Although hang on, don’t most hospitals now fit you with a bar-coded wristband on admission? Help!

  4. Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 10:36 pm

    We had a letter today from our local Dignity owned crematorium – offering a new service! A no-frills early-morning cremation for just £499. Are these new ‘products’ linked?

  5. Fran Hall

    Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 9:40 pm

    I’ve looked and looked but see no mention of this price busting new service on Dignity’s website – can anyone else find it?

    http://www.dignityfunerals.co.uk

    • Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 10:30 pm

      Now there’s a surprise Fran!

      My feeling is this cunning plan was hatched after your Sctish funeral poverty discussion? They can now claim to offer arguably the lowest cost ‘funeral’ in the UK. If the public can find it of course 🙂

      • Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 10:31 pm

        * Scottish – note to self, read posts before posting.

      • Nick Gandon

        Thursday 8th December 2016 at 10:42 am

        David – my best guess is that this venture by Dignity has been in the pipeline for quite some time, and was, in any case, inevitable once Memoria (and now the CoOp) have begun offering direct cremation.

        There is little doubt in my mind that Dignity have arrived at the near-perfect nationwide business model within the DC market.

    • Thursday 8th December 2016 at 2:16 pm

      https://www.simplicitycremations.co.uk/

    • Thursday 8th December 2016 at 3:38 pm

      I’ve had a letter from my local Dignity crematorium and now the 8.15am and 8.20am slots are open to all funeral directors for £499 for direct cremation services and not just reserved for those who have a contact with Environmental Health or the Department of Human Anatomy which it was previously.

      For once, my local Dignity crematorium is less expensive than my local Memoria crematorium for direct cremation services.
      Memoria will be putting their prices up on 1st January to £599. Some funeral directors were using this service in an inappropriate way and not actually using it for a direct cremation service at all but rather as a committal service which isn’t what these service times were designed for.

      • Fran Hall

        Thursday 8th December 2016 at 7:50 pm

        I understand that the letter that has gone out to funeral directors announcing the low cost early morning slots now being available to all is to ensure that Dignity comply with their commitment for their crematoria not to favour their funeral homes, so the £499 crem fee has to be universally available to everyone.

        One has to wonder though how easy it will be for non Dignity / Simplicity FDs to book an early time at a Dignity crem should the company’s new arms-length direct cremation service takes off though. Those early morning slots could be booked up for weeks and weeks.

        Or, are the Dignity crems perhaps going to start operating 24 hours a day to accommodate hundreds of direct cremations? No reason why not, it would be far more environmentally friendly. Who knows.

        While we look on and ponder, Dignity’s share price has had a gentle downward incline since last Thursday’s announcement, slipping by 3.4%. Glad I don’t have a stash in my portfolio.

        • Saturday 10th December 2016 at 9:43 am

          South West Middlesex crematorium have today informed us that they are offering an 8.30 am contract cremation for £245. I was not aware this was previously offered – but it’s great news for anyone choosing direct cremation, and the funeral directors who advise them.

          And there was me thinking nothing much changes in funeral-world, we’ve had enormous change in a week!

  6. Andrew Rush

    Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 10:04 am

    I notice that one of the FAQs is:
    “is the deceased given any less care, to help save money?”

    Answer:
    “With us, absolutely not. A Simplicity Cremation does not mean sub-standard care. From the moment the deceased is collected to when the ashes are returned or scattered, every step of the process is carried out with dedication, expertise and compassion.”

    A somewhat sneaky implication that some FDs *do* take less care to save money…

    • Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 7:55 pm

      Some FDs are very open that their care of deceased in direct cremation cases is minimal. I guess the question is “does process equal care?”

  7. Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 1:07 am

    Race to the bottom!!

    • Charles Cowling

      Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 9:53 am

      Quite so, Mark. Of greater gravity, even, is Dignity stating publicly that they have no belief whatever in the value of what they exist to do. Who in the history of the sale of goods and services has ever marketed their flagship product under the strapline ‘Pointless waste of time and money’?

  8. Tuesday 6th December 2016 at 8:42 pm

    Hello. I think it is all about choice – offering that and letting people make their own decisions. There is definitely a place for direct cremations out there and I have found it a popular choice for pre planning. Elderly people with no children don’t want a service with no-one there, not even their partner. Very often they have discussed this and a memorial event, such as a favourite meal is what they prefer rather than attending the crematorium. Single people often chose this Option but just as often couples who have no religion and simply don’t believe that a funeral is the ‘way to go’. It is NOT an alternative to a funeral but at a cheaper cost ! It is an informed decision. Perhaps if some companies made their prices lower and ,didn’t take money upfront / very shortly after, then people could chose the funeral they want rather than being led by cost ?

    • Charles Cowling

      Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 9:47 am

      Hi Karen – Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment. My feeling is that people aren’t led by cost, they’re led by value. Sure, they say that funerals are too expensive, but we shouldn’t take this at face value. Funerals would have a better reputation if they made a bigger difference to how people feel. I have reservations about people choosing direct cremation for themselves. Ours is becoming a very me-me culture. I think they should think more about what those who will mourn them might need and let them plan the sendoff that’s right for them. Lastly, since no one out there is making the case for the public, processional, ceremonial funeral, I feel that someone’s got to do it!

      There’s much in what you say. But could we not do better?

      • Friday 9th December 2016 at 10:53 am

        Good points Karen and Charles – about value, choice and options. I also believe that people are voting with their feet and that your points re value are very ‘valuable’ (!) Charles. It seems to me there has been some complacency in the funeral industry and that this may shake it up.

        However, I also think that if death were less of a taboo subject, and that more open discussions were happening (it’s beginning thank goodness), then many more would have planned in advance what they wanted, have discussed it with family and friends, and it would all be out in the open re finances, value, tradition, ritual and ceremony. All of which have their place.

        i think it’s decisions made on the spot when suddenly bereaved that can cause a lot of trouble down the line, so part of the answer to all of this is more education, more comfort with discussing all matters to do with end of life, and more options.

  9. Tuesday 6th December 2016 at 5:31 pm

    Brilliant comment about Ratner’s! We have also seen a rise in direct cremation but still a small proportion and never, with us, purely on financial grounds. Usually because the person who died requested it and the family are often uncomfortable with it. On two occasions family have asked to be present to witness the coffin onto the catafalque and the curtains closing. (Important idea, ‘witnessing’, I may come back to it later.
    Ritual, when done well, it not worthless, it does a job. How do we ‘save’ the traditional funeral? Well we could stop calling it traditional for a start. Each family needs the funeral to do a job (or they don’t) Our job is to work with them to work out what that job is and ritualise it appropriately. One size cannot, doesn’t and shouldn’t fit all.
    Hi, Charles!

    • Tuesday 6th December 2016 at 6:53 pm

      Witnessing is a really important point and a very strong reason for inviting the dead person to their sendoff.

      I wonder if a familiar format is not capable of accommodating individual needs so that, in the words of the peerless Tom Lynch, “I don’t have to spend the first several hours or days or weeks trying to figure out what to do next, because it’s already been told by tradition, by custom, by culture, by form .. It is really helpful … to have a certain part of the wheel already invented.’

      As to the wider social implications of the trend toward less-is-best, there’s what Gladstone said: “Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.” I honestly don’t know if there’s anything in that or not.

      Hi Jenny!!!

      • Andrew Rush

        Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 10:01 am

        The “familiar format” can indeed accommodate individual needs – if you offer it to the client.

        In the last few months I have arranged a Jewish service which ended with the congregation gathering outside and lighting sparklers, and a CofE which concluded with a waltz by professional ballroom dancers.

  10. Tuesday 6th December 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Personally, I think the direct cremation service does have it’s place. Of the seventeen I have carried out since March, ten were because the families were so international that they couldn’t get home and so planned a memorial service instead. Five were because the person who died was explicit in their instructions that they didn’t want a funeral in any way shape or form and only two were because the cost was a lot less than a more “traditional” funeral.

    After attending a load of funeral related events this year, I finally had that dreaded conversation with my partner about the funeral I would like should anything happen to me, and I want a direct cremation.
    I can’t remember what the Vicar said about Grandad or the hymns we sang in the Church, but I can remember being with all of my cousins throwing his flowers into the sea and laughing with each other about all the stupid stuff he did.
    I would rather we skip the stuff people won’t remember for me, but move straight onto the laughing and stories about me which I am sure will be laden with more than one expletive that would make a sailor blush!

    I believe that direct cremation services are on the rise for a variety of different reasons but it shouldn’t be used as a money saving alternative by any company who’s prices are perhaps maybe too high for a traditional funeral.

    However, I think there is a way to save the “proper send off” and the answer is really quite simple…..do what the family ask.
    This year, I would say that celebrants have taken 90% of all of the funerals I have been asked to undertake.
    Out of that 90%, 85% still wanted a traditional hearse with the others opting for our Land Rover Discovery.

    This year, 95% of families have wanted to carry the coffin (and lower where applicable) themselves.
    Bearers are an additional and separate charge with us and not bundled into another like the removal charge for example. Don’t need bearers? No problem….you won’t be charged for them.

    There are amazing funeral directors already doing it, but by listening to what someone wants and making suggestions like carrying the coffin themselves, not only are you still having a relatively traditional service, but you are also allowing the family freedom to do something a little bit differently.
    By itemising every single component and not bundling charges together, families may want to get a little more involved then they perhaps would have done.

    • Tuesday 6th December 2016 at 6:44 pm

      “Listening to what someone wants” Couldn’t agree with you more, Lucy, that there’s not nearly enough of that, there’s still to much undertaker-knows-best out there. I’m not aware of any research exploring in depth what people want or expect from a funeral. There was the NAFD Funerals Matter study but it doesn’t get under the skin of the matter and offers stats that are likely only to encourage complacency – http://www.nafd.org.uk/news/funerals-matter/. What we do know is that the tendency is for funeral shoppers to opt for depleted rather than enriched funerals, whatever the NAFD stats say.

      Direct cremation has been described as the I’m-not-worth-it funeral. I don’t know about that, either. I have to confess, but only to you, and in strictest confidence, that it’s my exit of choice too.

      • Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 11:44 am

        Choice is the most important word when talking about funerals. The majority of my clients start conversations with “I know it isn’t normal,” or “this might sound strange but could we….,” and as long as it is legal, my answer is always yes.

        I don’t think there is “normal” anymore and people are making their own traditions in some ways.
        Getting away from a religious service is certainly one of them but it never surprises me when someone doesn’t want a religious service but they would like to sing a hymn or have the Lord’s Prayer read.

        In the context of this article though, some traditions will always remain. Taking the coffin into the venue for the ceremony feet first (unless a Vicar or Buddhist) will continue to happen for example.

        I think the most important thing about the rise of direct cremations though is that it should be for the right reason. Cost and the fact a direct cremation service is vastly reduced, should never be the reason for this choice.

        A lot of funeral directors take enormous pride in what they do and like me, it doesn’t matter to us if someone wants to spend £15,000 or £1,500 on a funeral. The person they have asked us to look after, is exactly that, looked after.
        Treated with the upmost reverence and respect because we haven’t lost sight of the fact that the person is still someone’s Mother, husband or child.

        Traditions and ceremonies absolutely have their place and I would hate to see anyone make the choice of direct cremation purely down to cost and because they don’t have £2,500 + disbursements for a “simple funeral service.”

  11. Tuesday 6th December 2016 at 11:48 am

    I guess Dignity’s carefully cultivated brand anonymity will serve them here. How many people are going to make a connection between Simplicity and Dignity Caring Funerals? No one’s ever heard of either. That knocking copy will have been carefully weighed by the copywriter, then the whole caboodle will have gone to the board. Still don’t think it’s the least bit cunning, though. Seems to show a fundamental lack of faith in what funerals endeavour to do.

    Mike, do you think there’s any saving the proper sendoff? Do you think the funerals business is fragmenting into segments or simply collapsing? If you are pro-save, where would you start?

    Jolly good to hear from you, by the way.

    • Michael Jarvis

      Tuesday 6th December 2016 at 3:08 pm

      Ah, Charles, you are Funeralworld’s answer to Jeremy Paxman – you know how to pose the exacting question.

      I’ll do my best to respond. First, I do think that direct disposal has its place. I have spoken to thousands of people about funerals over the years, and there is no doubt that some wish nothing for themselves other than that. Whether or not their bereaved go along with it is another matter, but some will be satisfied and there is always the option for a memorial gathering away from the committal.

      When we turn to the remainder it seems to me that it is a mistake to assume that secularism is all pervasive. It’s growing, certainly, but Sandra Millar tells me that C of E priests are officiating at a third of all funerals here at present. Then add on all the other faith services. Indeed the 2011 census only had a quarter of the population saying ‘no religion’; make that a third if you wish by adding in those who declined to answer the question, it still leaves a majority from whom a considerable number could be presumed to want a ritual send-off. Step forward our ‘traditional’ funeral. But, big but, at what cost? Has it been prepared for financially? If not, why not? Perhaps because someone died unexpectedly aged 29 or 41. Otherwise the answer lies with education, or lack of it. So, I would start (finally answering your poser) with death education in schools and colleges.

      I’m tempted to expand further, but I have a pheasant to roast and as a country boy living in London that’s a rare treat!

      • Tuesday 6th December 2016 at 6:19 pm

        A pheasant?! Are you living in the eighteenth century? I expect you’ll be making your way to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese afterwards for a cup of gin with Samuel Pepys.

        Seriously, Mike, I think that’s a very good place to start. The fact that it isn’t taught at school must plant a subliminal message that it’s not important.

        As to irresistible march of atheism, Theos records that “…religion is the fastest-growing A-level subject in all of the humanities, social sciences, and arts, increasing a whopping 110% since 2003 … religious believing in the UK has become detached from religious belonging, which reflects a wider social shift to individualism … God isn’t dead. People are just looking for him in a different way.”

    • Wednesday 7th December 2016 at 8:13 pm

      Various commentators have knocked the “dastardly men in black”. But now that said persons move to broaden the spectrum of options they are knocked for being cheap and raising questions over the value of the funeral procession, ceremony, viewing, sense of occasion and importance of people gathering etc.

      Strategy
      1. Poss a challenge to new entrants relying on DC and who are challenging the traditional funeral model.
      2. Generate highly flexible volume for own crematoria, coffin factory and funeral homes
      3. Gain massive ammunition against future criticism of being overpriced and non transparent. (much of which comes from THIS site.). Website clearly says who is behind this new brand.

      I think the Board deserve a bonus for this one. (That does not equate to my approval of the move!)

      Will the COOP do likewise, or is price matching as far as they will go?

      Whether or not the traditional funeral ceremony, or some progressive form of it endures will depend largely on whether those of us arranging such events can create an experience which client families find positive value in rather than being occasions to endure.

      Interesting days.

      • Charles Cowling

        Thursday 8th December 2016 at 10:22 am

        Not so fast, Mark! You will find that this website has defended Dignity against the Funeral Poverty Alliance and championed its right to operate according to the laws of the market and charge what that market will stand. I think you will find that on every prominent issue in the funerals business the GFG has taken both sides. So yes, we have merrily attacked Dignity, too.

        Does the board deserve a bonus? Certainly not. It’s absurd to offer a menu of options and then make value judgements about those options. I would expect to see chairs being thrown in the Dignity boardroom because of this. And heads rolling.

        Dignity’s commercial strength in this dc business is logistics. It has nationwide coverage and it owns the incinerators. Funeral directors have always operated locally, but direct cremation benefits greatly from economies of scale. Another name for direct cremation could be Parcelcorpse. If Dignity has awoken to the realisation of this they can clean up.

        As to the Co-op, yes, I wonder where they are in all this…

  12. Michael Jarvis

    Tuesday 6th December 2016 at 9:04 am

    Charles:

    For me to agree with you (well, largely) will not surprise too many. My first thought when reading Dignity’s online blurb launching their direct cremation offering was: ‘Gerald Ratner rides again’. If one assumes that those who wrote and approved it are not total numbskulls then one has to conclude that they are awash with the conviction that they are more intelligent and perceptive than the general public whom they can easily hoodwink.

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