The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Getting the best you can afford

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

funeralchoice

 

When the GFG started blogging all of 6 years ago, an appalled and furious undertaker rang his solicitor and instructed him to take out an injunction requiring us to cease and desist.

The solicitor told him it didn’t quite work like that; had the GFG libelled him?

No we hadn’t. But we were doing something no one had ever done before. We were disturbing the peace, talking publicly about the funerals business on a blog, asking impertinent questions. New. Shocking. Damnable. We weren’t the national treasure back then that we are today.

It’s the internet wot done it, the greatest change agent that consumer advocacy has ever seen. It informs bereaved people and enables them to shop around. Are they all going to rush to the cheapest? Not all by any means, they’re going to buy the best they can for what they can afford. How many people use TripAdvisor to find the cheapest? Price is important of course; funeral shoppers are extremely sensitive to being ripped off. But what they’re looking for above all is value for money, and that means hunting down the best possible personal service available in their price bracket.

Ironically, that’s often one of the cheapest.

Reputation testifies to quality of service, which is why undertakers prize it so highly. But it’s not enough any more for them to rely on word-of-mouth because funeral shoppers can now research more effectively on the internet where customer reviews are reckoned more reliable than haphazard hearsay. They like to make their minds up for themselves, not rely on the heads-up of a neighbour or the testimonials on an undertaker’s website. Everyone has those, so they tell you nothing.

The internet is the new maker and breaker of reputations.

The best undertakers have nothing to lose and everything to gain by embracing this. awlymn-logoAW Lymn publishes all essential information online, including prices. It also publishes, monthly, its client feedback. It is alone in doing this.

At present, the nationwide consumer reviews site is Funeral Advisor, funeral-advisor-logowhich is gaining traction not because it has a marketing budget of millions but because funeral shoppers need it to work and are therefore making it work. It is credible because it is sponsored by the National Death Centre. It doesn’t carry much info on prices, though.

Which is why there’s room in the market for a price comparison site and, as it happens, we now have one: FuneralChoice. I know the people behind it. They are everything you’d hope. FuneralChoice is a labour of love which hopes to find a way of becoming sustainable by proving its value.

FuneralChoice’s’s coverage is nowhere near national, but it’s spreading. I decided to look in London and typed in a postcode: SW1P 1SB. This is what I got. Click the pic to bring it up to full size.

funeralchoice2

Effective, isn’t it? I decided to go with Leverton’s. It’s not the cheapest, but look, it’s recommended by the Good Funeral Guide, which is notoriously hard to please. As for Evershed’s, the cheapest, I wonder if its clients love it? I can’t tell because FuneralChoice doesn’t enable client reviews and Evershed’s hasn’t asked us to accredit it. Shame, that.

You notice how Co-op Funeralcare and Dignity cluster at the most expensive end? It’ll be the death of them.

The ideal is a website which enables browsers to determine value by measuring price and other info against customer satisfaction — a capital-intensive instrument calling for big databases and complex software.

On the horizon there is RightChoice, a sophisticated instrument which is in the final stages of development. Definitely one to watch.

Does this spell the end for the GFG and NDC as consumer resources? Far from it. People buy a funeral far less frequently than they eat out, go on holiday and buy a car. Their knowledge of the market is close to zero. So there will always be a need for guidance by informed observers of the industry. Our knowledge and expertise are indispensable.

Our relationship with price comparison websites will be symbiotic. Our reviews of undertakers we recommend greatly enhance the info they carry. They in return publicise us and our recommended funeral directors.

It all helps put customers in the driving seat where they belong.

RightChoice

This year’s Good Funeral Award finalists

Friday, 15 August 2014

Judge1

 The GFA judges delivering the list of  last year’s winners

 

The Good Funeral Awards judges have sifted through hundreds of nominations for this year’s great event and have issued the following longlist. Every category is strong. Winners will be announced at the glittering, gala Good Funeral Awards dinner at Bournville, Birmingham, on 6 September 2014.

Who are the judges? We couldn’t possibly say. As with the Oscars and the Baftas, the identities of the judges are hidden in order to protect them from influence, on the one hand, and retribution, on the other. The process is as safe and fair and objective as possible.

Have you booked for either this event or for the Ideal Death Show, 5-7 September? Have a look at the Ideal Death Show website here and see what you’ll miss if you don’t book now. As ever, this is a great gathering of the most interesting people in the funerals biz. This year there will be lots of members of the public there, too.

Good Funeral Awards 2014 — the longlist

Funeral Director of the Year

Daniel and  Sarah Wolsey – Daniel Ross Funerals, West Midlands

Mark Catchpole – Harrison Funeral Home, Essex

Sarah Clarke – Arka Original Funerals, Sussex

Julian Hussey – AG Down, Dorset and Devon

Chris Parker – Abbey Funeral Services, Kent

Poppy Mardall – Poppy’s Funerals, London

David Parslow – Walter C Parson, Devon

Jill Huelin – Co-operative Funeralcare, West Yorkshire

Colin Fisher – Colin Fisher Funerals, Kent

Lucy Jane – Individual Funeral Company, Oxfordshire

 

Embalmer of the Year

Liz Davis – Freelance

Helen Bozon – Richard Ward Funeral Services, Leicestershire

Bob Dyer – Midlands Embalming Services

Cara Wisznieski – Fred Hamer Funeral Services, Lancashire

 

Most Promising New Funeral Director of the Year sponsored by the Church of England

Claire Turnham – Only With Love, Oxfordshire

Evelyn Temple – Evelyn’s Funerals, Berkshire

Louris Hilton – Hilton’s Funeral Directors, Shropshire

Lesley Wallace and Sarah Stuart – Wallace Stuart Funeral Directors, Somerset

 

Funeral Arranger of the Year

Angela Bailey – Harrison Funeral Home, Essex

Donna Adams – AR Adams, Essex

Emma Fisher – Colin Fisher Funerals, Kent

Rebecca Diamond – AW Lymn, Nottinghamshire

 

Celebrant of the Year

Belinda Forbes

Wendy Weavin

Katie Deverell

Dee Ryding

Jane Morgan

Terri Shanks

Steve Emmett

Rebecca Williams Dinsdale

Lynne Watson

Lyn Banham

Lesley Arnold Hopkins

 

Lifetime Achievement Award

David Meek – AW Lymn, Nottinghamshire

Eric de Chalon – Bungard, Sussex

Chris Parker – Abbey Funerals, Kent

 

Major Contribution to the Understanding of Death

Barbara Chalmers – Final Fling

Jon Underwood – Death Café

Chantal Lockey

 

Best Alternative Hearse

Volkswagen Funerals

Trike Funerals

Morris Minor Hearse Company

Land Rover 4 * 4 Funerals

 

Cemetery of the Year

Usk

Groby Garden of Remembrance

Kemnal Park

Welwyn Hatfield Lawn Cemetery

Clandon Wood

 

Florist of the Year

Cassandra Thompson – Stems

UK Flower Lounge – Didsbury, Yorks

Melanie Edwards – Flowers by Mel

 

Green Funeral Director of the Year sponsored by GreenAcres

Tracy O’Leary – Woodland Wishes

Respect – Margaret Rose

Tomalins, Henley

 

Crematorium Attendant

Peter Rodwell – Seven Hills

Paul James – Easthampstead Park

 

Gravedigger of the Year

Jonny Yaxley & Will Macdonald – Henley NBG

Ken McGarrigle & Steve Riddell – Dunstable Cemetery

Michael and Mark Symonds – Karen Hussey

 

Coffin Supplier of the Year

Sara Elliot – Terra Pura

Roger Fowle

ComparetheCoffin.com

Wealden Coffins

Honest Coffins

 

Best Bereavement Resource

Much Loved

Dead Social

FuneralChoices.co.uk

What to do if someone dies

Anubis

This year’s funeral Oscar, a statuette of Anubis, the Egyptian god of embalming

Lawrence’s story

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Lawrence

 

The following story is not new and it has been published elsewhere. I’d not seen it, and perhaps you hadn’t, either. It was sent to me by Lawrence’s mother, Virginia Prifti. 

Lawrence’s death and cremation was incredibly powerful for us as a family. We decided to take control, organise our own goodbyes and keep Lawrence with us at home. It was very therapeutic and helped us to come to terms with his death over the five days. During that time I learnt that death was nothing to be afraid of –but like birth, it is a completely natural event.

In late Spring 2004, my six-year-old son Lawrence was diagnosed with a very rare genetic degenerative terminal condition called Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). We were told that we might have another six months of near normality, but that after that the disease would take its hold quickly and that Lawrence would end up in a vegetative state.

By December Lawrence had developed a sickness bug and ended up in hospital. He recovered quickly and was discharged from hospital the following day, but when I went to get him up I discovered to my horror that he had lost the ability to walk. This was the start of a pattern – sickness bug followed by a dramatic decline – until the ability to move, talk and swallow had disappeared.

In late July Lawrence developed yet another sickness bug. My husband, Peter, and I took the decision that Lawrence had spent too long in hospital recently and that we would keep him at home. When we first received the diagnosis I was adamant that I did not want Lawrence to die at home, but now I realised that he needed to die in his home, surrounded by familiar things, and with us with him.

On the evening of July 22nd 2005 Lawrence died at home, surrounded by his family and all things familiar.  We had been able to love and comfort him and I put his favourite Mozart CD on which seemed to calm him. I sat next to him and stroked his arm. I told him just to let go – that he shouldn’t fight. I told him how much we loved him and how much we were going to miss him, but that he would always be with us.

After Lawrence had died, we took him up to his bedroom and laid him on his bed, we changed him into his favourite clothes – combat trousers and a khaki T-shirt. We knew we should turn our minds to his cremation, but I have always had a problem with the undertaking business, and find the idea of lavish funerals distasteful.

I had seen a programme about a ‘green funeral service’ and had been struck by how lovely it was. I couldn’t imagine how one would go about organising this, but the local crematorium advised me that it would be much easier if involved a funeral director. I phoned our recommended undertaker and was horrified by the call – he wanted to come and get Lawrence’s body that afternoon, but wouldn’t tell me how much he was going to charge for the service. He wouldn’t entertain my idea of an ‘eco friendly’ cardboard coffin and tried to push me into a quick decision. He ‘phoned again to say that he would be in the vicinity soon so could collect the body. When I told him that this was not possible, he started to sound quite menacing – he told me that he had heard that I was considering a ‘DIY’ funeral and informed me that I couldn’t just do my own thing, I needed to ‘play by the book’.

I realised that there was no way that I was going to let my precious child go off with some complete stranger. I wanted him at home – it was still where he belonged even though he was dead! I still needed to look after him.

Two friends who had been medically trained very kindly offered to come and give Lawrence what I called his ‘makeover’. They closed his eyes and mouth and washed him, cut his nails and did his hair. All the time they were with him they chatted to him and treated him with such care and tenderness. This was the turning point for me – I realised that if I treated him as if he was still alive, I would find going into his room much less scary.

A friend brought an industrial air conditioner to keep his room chilled. Another friend came to visit with a gorgeous bunch of highly scented stocks, and another with a posy that she had made out of lavender and rosemary also to put in his room. I was amazed and very touched at the number of people who wanted to say goodbye to him. Imogen our daughter, meanwhile had made herself scarce. We were worried about the fact that she was scared to be in the house with Lawrence.

Imogen, by this time, had completely come to terms with Lawrence being at home, and spent hours in his room with her friends – chatting to him, doing his hair, stroking his arms and kissing him. It was really lovely to see her behaving like this, having been so scared of Lawrence just after he had died.

On the Wednesday we decorated the coffin We had found a supplier of wicker coffins on the Internet – it was the most beautifully hand crafted object. Our neighbours helped to decorate it, creating posies using garden flowers and herbs. Another neighbour made the most magnificent bouquet out of garden roses, honeysuckle and wild flowers. I wanted something soft for Lawrence to lie on, so Imogen cut down half our leylandi hedge and mixed this with the best part of a rosemary bush – it did look very comfortable and smelled lovely.And then just before we left, Peter carried Lawrence downstairs and put him into it. We loaded him into our car – it felt as if we were going on a family outing. We had a very simple but moving ceremony at the crematorium.

The whole process of Lawrence’s death and cremation was incredibly powerful for us as a family. Keeping Lawrence at home was very therapeutic and helped us to come to terms with his death over the five days. During that time I learnt that death was nothing to be afraid of – like birth, it is a completely natural event. I am still so glad that we did things the way we did, it helped us to move on and feel more positive about Lawrence’s illness and death.

I would encourage anyone who has ever thought about making their own arrangements for a funeral or cremation to go ahead. It is very simple and we found the local crematorium very helpful. The Register Office can also help you complete the paperwork. Most district nurses would be willing to come out and sort the body out after death. There are various sites on the Internet which sell alternative coffins – cardboard, willow or bamboo.

ED’S NOTE: Virginia set up a charity project in Lawrence’s memory. It’s called Lawrence’s Roundabout Well Appeal. All money raised is used for building PlayPumps™ in Africa. “The roundabout playpump combines a children’s roundabout with a pump. The pumps are usually installed in schools to harness the natural energy of children. As the children play on the roundabout they pump water into a holding tank at the rate of 1400 litres per hour.”  You can see Lawrence’s wells here.

 

At last, another celebrant trainer

Friday, 8 August 2014

angry_computer_user

 

A flurry of forwarded emails flies into our inbox. “What do you think of this?!?” they all demand.

This?

The NFFD’s freshly launched celebrant training venture. The consensus is that it stinks.

What do we think? Well, let’s have a look.

The NFFD’s given reason for entering the celebrant training market is “growing demand”. Some will question whether, in a supersaturated market, there is any demand whatever. The answer is that market forces may confidently be relied upon to eliminate the less competent. There’s always room at the top.

What quality assurance can the NFFD offer? Selection for training is via “a telephone screening process”. The course, which seems not to be externally accredited, has been “Designed and developed in close conjunction with a number of industry experts” none of whom is named. The course is delivered at an intriguing venue, “our private church chapel” by “Rev Victor Johnson … an Ordained Priest of the Church of England” with “over 20 years’ experience conducting contemporary, civil-celebrant funeral ceremonies.”

The NFFD reckons that “funeral directors … are ideally placed to perform this valuable, satisfying, and lucrative, [celebrancy] role,” which sort of makes you wonder why they never thought of it before. The NFFD adds: “if public speaking isn’t for you, but you have a more confident driver, bearer, or other member of staff, why not give them an opportunity to develop their skills by enrolling them on the course instead?” Whoa, there’s one from out of left field.

The NFFD reckons “There’s rarely more than an hour or two’s work involved” in researching and writing a funeral ceremony. Our view is that if a celebrant were to use a laminated script on which he or she simply rubbed out an old name and wrote in a new one, that time could be halved. There are a lot of celebrants who reckon a bespoke funeral takes at least 10 hours to write but, let’s face it, they’re making a bit of a meal of it, aren’t they? You can’t be any good if you find it that difficult.

The NFFD is keen to help its celebrants to maximise their business. Projected earnings are given as “between £100 and £200 per hour,” a rate they describe as “incredibly lucrative”. Isn’t it, just? And if that isn’t enough, “You will also be invited to attend a one-day course FREE OF CHARGE to teach you how to supplement your income through the sale of pre-paid funeral plans. Given the environment that celebrants routinely work in, selling funeral plans is a brilliant way for you to easily generate an extra £500 – £1500 per week on top of your earnings as a straightforward celebrant.” There aren’t many vocations that make you this sort of dough.

The NFFD has made a name for itself as a creatively disruptive force in a highly conservative industry. It has certainly made feathers fly.

It has exposed itself to market forces and consumer scrutiny, which may be trusted, we think, to do their Darwinian work.

If you wish to comment, please be aware that the NFFD is retributive in the matter of libel.

 

Window shopping in Lubeck

Thursday, 7 August 2014

2014-07-15 10

 

Yeah yeah, it’s a rubbish photo, I know, I’m not blind. It’s the best I could do. It’s an undertaker’s window.

In Germany. Me and the missus have been holidaying there. This undertaker is in the ancient city of Lubeck. As you can see (through a glass, darkly) the display is a series of objects on plinths.  It’s eyecatching. There’s a sign asking people who don’t understand the symbolism of the objects displayed to pop in and find out. It gives a reason for people to go in before they absolutely have to. Brilliant, eh? Beats luring the bowls team in to buy a funeral plan (the condemned men and women had a nice cup of tea and a sandwich).

Well of course we had to pop in and ask about the display and have a bit of a gossip. I don’t speak more German than it takes me to order pils and buy tobacco, but my wife (the one with the brains) is fluent. It ought to have been a good opportunity for her to practise, but the undertaker who greeted us, Carsten Berend, insisted on speaking English.

We had a good chat, and might have had a better one if Carsten hadn’t been so busy. They cremate 80% of their clients. We talked about the reuse of graves, and he was surprised that something considered so normal in Germany is reckoned so unacceptable by British politicians. He told us that there are 30 undertakers in Lubeck serving a population just over 200,000. His is a high-end business. He expressed exasperation at the incursion of semi-trained, cheapskate opportunists, which of course is something we know nothing about in Britain. Their window displays are created for them by an arty marketing agency and change regularly. We never found out what the display above actually means. Very nice piece of work, though, even better than dusty tombstones and upside-down bluebottles.

You can see their website here. You’ll need Google Translate to help you work through it.

It may intrigue you to know what music Germans like to play at funerals. Here’s what they recommend:

Screenshot 2014-08-03 at 11

Yup, Germans are much more relaxed about beastly foreign influences than we xenophobic Brits. Some of the songs you’ve never heard of are worth a listen. Not the Mancini Dornervogel (Thornbirds) perhaps. Xavier Naidoo is interesting; here’s his Abschied Nehmen (Farewell). Gronenmeyer’s really good. Try Der Weg (The Way) and Halt Mich (Hold Me), with its searing sax.

Historical note. So many people wanted to live in medieval Lubeck that they built houses for artisans in the gardens of the merchants’ houses. Thy are reached through narrow alleys. The only planning condition was that that the alley had to be wide enough to convey a coffin. Here’s what they look like:

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Portrait of a deaf man

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


 

 

Posted by Vale

I was listening to a programme about the recordings John Betjeman made with Jim Parker, setting his verse to some glorious music.

Until they played this, though, I’d forgotten how dark Betjeman could be.

On A Portrait Of A Deaf Man

The kind old face, the egg-shaped head,
The tie, discretely loud,
The loosely fitting shooting clothes,
A closely fitting shroud.

He liked old city dining rooms,
Potatoes in their skin,
But now his mouth is wide to let
The London clay come in.

He took me on long silent walks
In country lanes when young.
He knew the names of ev’ry bird
But not the song it sung.

And when he could not hear me speak
He smiled and looked so wise
That now I do not like to think
Of maggots in his eyes.

He liked the rain-washed Cornish air
And smell of ploughed-up soil,
He liked a landscape big and bare
And painted it in oil.

But least of all he liked that place
Which hangs on Highgate Hill
Of soaked Carrara-covered earth
For Londoners to fill.

He would have liked to say goodbye,
Shake hands with many friends,
In Highgate now his finger-bones
Stick through his finger-ends.

You, God, who treat him thus and thus,
Say “Save his soul and pray.”
You ask me to believe You and
I only see decay.

This, I realise is number three in my very occasional series of tributes to fathers – the ‘Old Deaf Man – is certainly Betjemn senior. See numbers 1 (Horace Silver) and 2 (Astor Piazolla) here and here.

Avoiding a Parking Fine before a Coventry Funeral

Monday, 4 August 2014

Coventry_City_Centre_aerial_view

 

Celebrating another adventure in the life of the Vintage Lorry Hearse

When David Hall, of Vintage Lorry Funerals, was booked for a funeral in the centre of Coventry he undertook research using Google Street-view. It was evident that building the inner city ring road had dissected streets, splitting them into two distinct parts, similarly to the impact imposed by the creation of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. Also Coventry has a Medieval Centre like Berlin, however, David didn’t realise until he got there that the Berlin analogy should have a third strand as the Traffic Warden, who was responsible for the streets around the Funeral Director was known locally as ‘Little Hitler.’

On pulling up outside the Funeral Directors in Lower Holyhead Road, David noticed that the street was sectioned off into parking zones, which restricted parking to 2 hours with no return allowed for a further 2 hours. As the 1950 Leyland Beaver was envisaged to be outside the Funeral Directors for over 5 hours, the staff at the Funeral Director suggested that David should park the vintage vehicle on the paved area between the shop front and the footpath. It was explained that the street was patrolled by a most enthusiastic female Traffic Warden who booked any vehicle without a ticket, including a Hearse with a coffin that was due to depart. David could envisage the problem with the Traffic Warden, however, he elected to park on the street without a ticket and declined the offer to park on the paved area, due to the lorry’s 5.5 ton weight causing potential damage.

As David was sitting in his lorry, drinking his coffee and completing a So Doku puzzle he noticed in his wing mirror a small lady with a peaked cap who literally jumped for joy when she spotted a car parked illegally. Using her phone, she proceeded to take 4 pictures of the car, one from each corner, and then repeated the procedure once a prosecution notice had been positioned beneath the wind screen wipers. Working down the street the Traffic Warden came to the 1950 Leyland Beaver, walked around it and acknowledged David’s smile. As she moved to the next vehicle, the Funeral Director’s staff were flabbergasted that the Leyland Beaver received no parking prosecution notice.

DSCN3483

Three hours later the Traffic Warden started to inspect cars at the bottom of the street and when she came to the 1950 Leyland Beaver she said, ‘You have been here for over 4 hours with no parking ticket.’ David replied, ‘I’m not parked, I’m waiting to load a coffin for a funeral due to depart within the hour.’ The Traffic Warden asked, ‘Can’t you reverse your lorry into the yard behind the Funeral Director?’ David replied, ‘The entrance is too narrow so I have no option but to wait here.’ The staff members, in the Funeral Directors office, were all standing at their window anticipating a parking prosecution notice to be given to David, however, to everyone’s amazement the Traffic Warden gave the Leyland Beaver a free pass.

Why did this Traffic Warden, who was renowned for never passing up an opportunity to book a vehicle, turn a blind eye to the Leyland Beaver being parked without a ticket for over 5 hours? Perhaps when walking around the vehicle she realised that her small frame would make it impossible for her to reach the Windscreen. In addition the Windscreen Wipers are fixed at the top of the screen and even if she had been taller and placed her document under a wiper, then there would be little to stop it blowing away.

Perhaps she noticed that David was wearing a Black Beret and she surmised wrongly that he was from a Military background, like her, and it is known that former personnel from the Armed Forces tend to stick together.

In between the visits from the Traffic Warden, David met a young boy, Joe Williams, and his Granddad, Stu Huffer, who were out for a walk. Apparently the 5 year old had spotted the 1950 Leyland Beaver’s wing embellishments catching the sunlight and pestered his Granddad to take him to see the lorry. The Granddad asked if the little lad could see inside the cab and David gave him a guided tour demonstrating the impact of putting down any switch that the young man pointed to.

A youth crossed the road to speak with David and told him about a relative who confessed on his deathbed to killing a Japanese prisoner in WWII who had committed atrocities on British troops and had shown no remorse. It is amazing what people tell David and sometimes the open cab window is like the grill between the priest and the person on the other side in a confessional box.

The events resulted in a win, win, win, win situation. The minimalistic display exceeded a Family’s expectations, 5 year old Joe had his day made, a youth got the world off his shoulders and a Traffic Warden showed compassion apparently for the first time.

Joe Williams


http://www.vintagelorryfunerals.co.uk

 

Eulogies are never the last word

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Peacock

 

“There is the official notice and ceremony, and then the long and agonizing process that follows … Eulogies are never the last word.”

That’s a quote from an article sent to me by a friend (thanks, Kathryn). In full, it’s even better:

“I had nearly forgotten how death plays out over time — not the biological episode that collapses it all into a nanosecond of being and nonbeing, but the slower arc of our leaving, the long goodbye — sorting through the mail, paying the bills, stumbling upon notes. It is like the decommissioning of a great battleship. There is the official notice and ceremony, and then the long and agonizing process that follows — the disposition of so much tonnage. Eulogies are never the last word.”

Never the last word, maybe, but eulogies are important to those who hear them because they serve a particular purpose within a particular context. The context, a funeral, is an event which attempts to restore order after the disruption of a death: to settle people’s minds and assure them that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”.

Hence the orderly format of a funeral eulogy. It’s customarily a story. The story form works best because, with its beginning, middle and end, it is complete in itself, as is, now, the life of the one who died. Much more comforting to think of a life being tidily complete rather than raggedly cut short leaving lots of loose ends.

But, however psychologically therapeutic, a eulogy is not, actually, the last word because, yes, “death plays out over time”.

And there’s more to it than that. Eulogies are written from the memories of others, and memories are not good places for archiving stuff.  In his autobiography, Matthew Parris quotes from the memoir of politician John Payton:

“Memory loses much that was important, and yet clings on to, and preserves, quite small things which, like stray, unconnected footprints, have escaped erosion by the winds and tides of time. [Much is] lost beyond recovery: of the remainder, some glimpsed like a fish in clear, still water, vanish as you move towards them; the outstretched hand comes back empty but for some bits of unmemorable debris from the bed of the stream.”

All funeral celebrants have suffered some of that when gathering material for their life stories.

Parris concludes:

“A life is not a story, any more than a yew tree is a bird. Topiary can make a yew tree into a bird, and a determined editor’s shears can clip a shapeless history into apparent significance; but the meaning is as illusory as a yew peacock.”

Or, in the words of the poet John Fuller in his poem My Future:

I am your memories. They are not me.
So it feels strange to be remembered by
These relics of my personality.

Although you mourn me, is it really me
You mourn, or thoughts of me that make you cry?
I am your memories. They are not me.

brain

Gone splashing

Friday, 18 July 2014

4576565798

 

The GFG is on holiday. Posts will be intermittent for the next fortnight.

So it goes

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Lucius-Annaeus-Seneca

 

Posted by Vale

Have you ever thought what it is to be a King or a Queen?

You are, usually, born to it: it is your life and your duty. Our own Queen clearly feels this keenly. As far as a commoner can tell, for her, the coronation oath confirmed what birth had bestowed: she became Queen for life, a vow as absolute as a nun’s.

Others, apparently, see it differently: Queen Beatrice and King Carlos have just unthroned themselves and nobody seemed to mind.

Who’s has the right of it? Our queen or the continentals?  Who cares? It’s strange now to remember that, once upon a time people fought and died over just this question. Did kings rule by divine right? Could you dispose of a bad one without sin or was it really the worst of crimes – worse than murder or treason, an affront to the very order of the universe?

Suicide used to carry a similar stigma. It was both self-murder – a broken commandment - and a direct affront to god. Our lives aren’t our own. Choosing to end them is to fling the gift of life back in god’s face.

In this week of debate about assisted dying, I do wonder how much its opponents arguments are rooted in these old beliefs. The feeling in our bones that suicide, however rational the argument, is still taboo.

Of course assisted dying is more complicated. It raises different, difficult questions. At its simplest, it’s about the way that others become implicated in a personal choice, blurring the line between suicide and murder.

But we need to work these issues through because attitudes are already changing – starting with suicide itself.

I need to be careful here. I am not praising or promoting suicide. If you are a celebrant or funeral director you know only too well what suicide means – the agony of families ruptured by the loss; the disbelief; the unanswerable questions; the terrible feelings of failure regret; the anger.

But there are occasions when it is not like that.

I took a service recently for someone who had lived a very full life. She was clever, accomplished and active.

She had known hardships and grief – her husband was dead and, many years before, her daughter had died. She had faced both losses with courage and great resource.

Without family now, she was connected to a wide network of good, loving, friends. She was involved, loved to to learn new things, enjoyed writing and painting.

Then Parkinsons was diagnosed and, as it progressed, she realised that her life was dwindling. It was becoming more about staying alive than about living so, well before she needed to, she made her arrangements and killed herself.

The service we planned was full of the thoughts and poems she had left us. The crematorium was filled to overflowing with all her friends. There was sadness and a deep sense of loss but there was respect too for her decision and her determination. We sympathised with her. I suspect that many of us were thinking about our own old age, wondering if we would be as brave as she had been.

Is helplessness and incapacity a universal fear these days? Is it feared now more than death itself?

There was no horror, though, or despair; just reflection and a determination to honour and celebrate our friend’s life. We wanted to do justice to her courage.

Too many things have changed now for lawmakers to avoid the hard questions. As we age we know what awaits us. We know that medicine now has powers to both save and destroy us.

People are already making their own choices, beginning to join that old stoic Seneca saying:

The ship that I sail in, I choose; the house that I live in, I choose; so will I choose the death by which I leave life.

We need to support people in their choice. We will need support ourselves when the choice comes to us.

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