The Good Funeral Guide Blog

What to wear for a funeral

Monday, 23 March 2015

 

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Guest post by Wendy Coulton

Choosing what to wear when conducting a funeral is an important aspect as a professional and for the bereaved I am serving.

Advice which stuck with me when I was trained as a funeral celebrant was that I am not mourning and therefore it is not a requirement for me to wear black.

The bereaved decide the dress code

First and foremost I find out from the bereaved client what the dress code is for the funeral when we are planning it together. Some prefer the traditional black mourning attire so that will influence my wardrobe choice for that funeral – a dark purple, charcoal grey or dark blue. But if the family make it clear everyone is to wear black then I will respect their wishes.

Sometimes a specific colour is chosen as an accent colour for its personal relevance to the person who has died or to reflect the tone of the funeral focussing with love and thanks on the life that was lived and how that person enriched the lives of those who knew them. Increasingly funeral directors wear different colour ties to acknowledge the colour preference of the bereaved. I have a growing collection of scarves as a more cost effective way of introducing a chosen colour to the dress code.

I generally tend to wear bright jackets but for the more conservative clients I may tone it down. For example for the funeral of an elderly traditional lady I favour a pastel pink with grey.

Personal touches

My clients always appreciate the simple extra touches which reflect the careful thought given to the individuality of their funeral ceremony.  For example I wore an understated blue thistle button hole on my jacket at the funeral for a man who was very proud of his Scottish heritage. His family were really appreciative of my nod to his patriotism.

The city football club colour is green so I invested in a dress in the same shade which I wear when the deceased was a Plymouth Argyle supporter.

Standing out from the crowd

From a practical point of view it can help the next of kin find me before we go into the chapel, particularly if there is a high attendance and everyone is wearing similar clothes. 

As a ‘neutral’ person without a uniform or universally recognised dress code like the clergy it is important that I am recognised easily as the person who is responsible for conducting the funeral ceremony.

My brand

I want to come across as warm, approachable, professional and kind. What I wear reflects this. I do not want to come across as efficient, formal and detached. Often I wear a Dragonfly brooch or necklace by way of a discreet image which may stay in the sub conscious of people attending the funeral so they relate that to my business name Dragonfly Funerals.

Classic Commercials Enthusiasts’ Day

Monday, 2 March 2015

 

Posted by David Hall

Every March, David Hall of Vintage Lorry Funerals attends the Classic Commercial Enthusiasts’ Day, which is held at the Three Counties Showground at Malvern. Jason Lunn, of Independent Event Management, who manages the Enthusiast’s Day is always happy to help David by giving the Leyland Beaver a prime position where the lorry and its display will receive many visitors. David uses the show as an opportunity to test the roadworthiness of Themes that will feature in the future for people planning their own final journey.

It is also an opportunity to test the reaction of the general public and provides the facility for David to demonstrate his creativity. To date the Themes displayed at Malvern have included a ‘Doll’s House’, a ‘1950’s TV Set’ with the Lone Ranger and Tonto on the screen, and in 2014 an ‘Only Fools & Horses’ Theme with Del Boy falling through the bar. This working model created a lot of interest with David impersonating Del Boy, ‘We are on a winner here Trigg, stay cool, stay cool.’ David then lifted the hatch, pulled Del Boy through the bar and then allowed Del Boy to spring back into position. Trigger then asked, ‘Are we going to speak to these birds? And Del responded, ‘You’re cramping my style, I just want to go home.’

Over 30 presentations took place with between 1 and 10 recipients and David thought that he should have sign saying, ‘Next Show in 15 minutes,’ like the Punch & Judy shows at the seaside in the 1950’s.

At the rear of the deck David displays 24 pictures of previous funerals highlighting how a funeral can be personalised. This provides people who were unaware of Vintage Lorry Funerals to have a more detailed understanding of the service. It also enables Families whose Loved One’s funeral is featured on one of the 8 ft x 4ft boards to see their Loved One’s memory preserved. Touchingly some people come to Malvern each year from locations as far afield as Kent and Lancashire primarily to see a picture of their Loved One’s funeral exhibited within the display.

Going to Malvern involves a big day getting up at 0330 hours and not getting back until 1900 hours. The early start ensures that the Leyland Beaver is one of the first vehicles into the site at 0700 hours and prior agreement with the Managing Agents allows Vintage Lorry Funerals to have a prime position adjacent to the main walkway, next to the Restaurant and Toilets, which ensures a steady and high footfall to look at the display. There is always a small delay as the Marshalls check the credentials of the entrants. Last year as the 1950 Leyland Beaver rolled towards the gates an attractive young lady came up to David and asked him for his number. David jokingly said, ‘It’s a long time since such a stunningly attractive lady has asked me for my number!’ The lady smiled and said ‘It is the entry number I’m interested in at the moment, I’ll come and see you later about your telephone number.’

As David sits in his cab from 0730 hours waiting for the gates to open to the public at 1000 hours he often reviews how the year has gone. David often ponders why is it that he can count on one hand the number of his funerals which are within 10 miles of his base where his cost is the lowest and yet Families are often happy to pay almost three times the local price for locations such as Stockport or Maidstone. In the 30 minutes before he starts to listen to Sounds of the 60’s on his radio he often reflects back to the 1970s when he was working in Europe and Van Morrison had left Ireland and was trying to establish himself in America. At the time Van’s Astral Weeks Album sold less than 7,000 copies worldwide and his records never appeared on the radio in Britain or America. However, when David was travelling in Europe he noticed that wherever he was a Van Morrison song came on the radio, so it was ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ in Calais, ‘Gloria’ in Brussels and ‘Bright side of the Road’ in Dortmund. So, just as Van Morrison was ignored locally but very popular abroad, then Vintage Lorry Funerals business seems to have followed a similar pattern. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is now a Classic Album and Van now has worldwide acceptance, filling out concerts in the UK. Will Vintage Lorry Funerals business eventually follow that of the grumpy guru who snarls at the band, changing the order of songs with a wave of his hand?

Just as Brian Matthews, who hosts Sounds of the 60’s, says, ‘That’s your lot for this week, see you next week!’ David notices that a huge number of people are approaching all with their plastic bags which contain a programme and handouts provided by Jason’s staff at the gate. It is now time for David to take out his ear-plugs and meet the public.

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A lot of people ask David for a price for their Funeral, however, to date there is only one example of a funeral directly emanating from contact at Malvern. A young man rang David one evening asking if David could help him solve a mystery, as he had found pictures of the 1950 Leyland Beaver on his Dad’s computer. When the young man described the Theme at the front of the deck and the display of pictures on the rear of the deck David could deduce that he met his Father at Malvern two years previously. On the strength of these discussions David was awarded a funeral in Birmingham.

http://www.vintagelorryfunerals.co.uk

Dog eats dog. Move on, leave them to it

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

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Here’s the hot news:

“… we can today formally announce that we have initiated legal proceedings against the UK’s largest provider of pre-paid funeral plans, Golden Charter, seeking substantial damages for their actions against Safe Hands Funeral Plans.”

Yes, the Yorkshire terriers have gone for the throat of wee Big Dawgie, and they ain’t stopping there:

“Further claims against other companies are imminent and will be announced at a later date.”

Blimey, what’s this all about?

It seems that Safe Hands “recorded video and audio footage (presented, in January 2015, to the perpetrators via our solicitors) that shows representatives of most of the major plan providers launching vicious, unprovoked, verbal attacks – primarily against Safe Hands, but on each other as well…all in a desperate and shamefully unprofessional effort to get an edge over the competition.” Looks like a sting.

While the lawyers order trebles all round and get ready to enwrap both parties in litigation for as long as legally possible, the good citizens of Funeralworld tremble. A lot of heavily soiled linen looks like being washed in public. God forbid that the public learn just how much of the money they spend on a funeral plan gets divvied up among sundry predators in the form of commissions, sales and marketing costs, directors’ wages, you name it.

Golden Charter describes itself as “owned by and run entirely for the benefit of independent funeral directors”, a claim a great many independent funeral directors now reject. On its website, GC confesses “We work on behalf of more than 3,300 independent funeral directors throughout the UK.” Why on earth would anyone want to buy a funeral plan that works in the service of the very people who stand to make money out of them? Beats us.  

But GC has achieved a market share great enough to enable it effectively to act as funeral broker, and that’s seriously worrying. So: praise the Lord if the hullabaloo has the effect of concentrating minds and curing funeral directors of their dependency on this lousy financial product.

So far as we are concerned at the GFG, the present squabbles are between businesses with a failed business model.

Going forward, we recommend that funeral directors subject a funeral plan to the Lynch Test before endorsing it. The Lynch Test? Yes, the Lynch Test. It goes like this:

Does this plan facilitate face-to-face accountability between the buyer of the funeral– the personal representative of the person who has died — and the seller — the funeral director?

The only good funeral plan is one that restores the lost link between buyer and seller.

Again: The only good funeral plan is one that restores the lost link between buyer and seller.

Can this be achieved? Yes, it can. Shortly, we’ll show you how.

UPDATE 12-02-2015: I wrote to David Latham at NFFD HQ asking how Safe Hands had funded its prime-time ad slot on ITV on 09-02-2015. He replied as follows: 

“The advertising campaign is limited to the Yorkshire area only and was a special introductory package for a new advertiser. Consequently, the amount spent was minimal. More importantly, the cost was met by the NFFD, so I can state, categorically, that it most certainly WILL NOT affect the long term investments of Safe Hands’ plan holders. Whereas some other providers use their clients investments to advertise their services, you may be interested (and comforted) to know that Safe Hands most certainly does not.”

 

A journey to Great Yarmouth in a Winter Storm

Monday, 2 February 2015

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Posted by David Hall

In the second week of February 2009, a Winter Storm hit Southern England and this coincided with Vintage Lorry Funerals first funeral for Arthur Jary & Sons in Great Yarmouth.

Normally David Hall leaves Bradford-on-Avon very early and puts the first 2 hours of the journey behind him before most people wake up. However, on this morning David’s wife spent from 0630 hours to 0800 hours evaluating the best way for the Leyland Beaver to escape from Bradford-on-Avon, situated on the southern edge of the Cotswolds and experiencing two climatic extremes. The road north was closed due to snow drifts, whilst all roads to the south and east were closed due to flooding.

David headed eastwards at 0800 hours but the traffic came to a halt just before Melksham, and David flagged down a van driver coming in the opposite direction for an appraisal of the hold up. This was a common way to find out information in the 1950’s before the advent of mobile phones and citizen band communication facilities. It was evident that the River Avon had burst its banks and water had over spilled onto the Holt Road and timid car drivers taking children to school were hesitant to go through the expanse of shallow water. Experienced drivers know that driving down the centre of the road, straddling the white line where the water is shallowest, is the best approach. However, White Van Drivers were ploughing through at speed forcing Mums, taking children to school, into the deeper water and creating a bow wave which threatened to push water into the engine compartments of small cars. Seeing women becoming very distressed and hearing children crying it was time for David to do a bit of assertive driving, like a 1950’s Lorry Driver, helping others in distress. David overtook all the cars in the queue and parked his Leyland Beaver in the deep water at the side of the road. He then climbed onto the deck of the lorry and acted as a Traffic Policeman, waving groups of three cars through the shallow water adjacent to the vintage lorry before instructing the 4th car to stop. He then invited a batch of three vehicles to now proceed in the opposite direction. Within 20 minutes David had cleared the backlog and proceeded towards Melksham, the first 5 miles of the journey taking almost an hour.

David’s wife continued to act as Mission Control, undertaking detailed research of the weather in various parts of the country and texting David updates. Reports of flooding in Essex had caused problems on the A12 at Chelmsford so David decided to take the A30 into London, follow the North Circular Road before taking the A10 to Norwich and then the A47 to Great Yarmouth. The selection of this route ensured that mainly a trouble free journey resulted, however, it was amazing that isolated hilly sections of the A10 were covered with 2 inches of snow and the localised effects of extreme weather is a modern phenomenon.

At 1930 hours David pulled up outside Arthur Jary & Sons Funeral Directors and Barry Gates, who had received a number of progress updates throughout the day, came out to meet the 1950 Leyland Beaver. Barry, relieved that the lorry had got through the Winter Storms, bowed down in front of the Leyland Beaver and thanked David for what he had done. David was dismissive of the praise saying, ‘It was nowt.  Men in the 1950’s did 240 miles in 11 hours every day of the week, sometimes 12 days on the trot.’

Barry relayed the good news to the Family, who were delighted. Their Dad had been part of a family Transport Business in the 1950’s so David created a Sheeted Load Theme to replicate the type of traffic their Dad used to pull. It was the third time that a Sheeted Load Theme had been used in a funeral with previous outings in Portsmouth and Newcastle. The Leyland Beaver created a lot of attention in Great Yarmouth and the local paper sent a photographer to take pictures during the funeral. David is very grateful to the Great Yarmouth Mercury for allowing him to use the pictures, two of which are included in this article.

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Given that the funeral was in the afternoon Barry kindly offered David the opportunity to park the lorry in his yard for two nights. The night after the funeral was very cold and temperatures got down as low as -10 degrees overnight and a number of pipes had burst in the street as David walked from his digs to the Vintage Lorry in Arthur Jary’s yard. The Leyland Beaver still started first time at 0630 hours, despite the freezing temperatures making the 5 gallons of oil in the sump of the 9.8 litre engine as viscous as treacle. The Leyland 600 engine continued to tick-over as David de-iced the windows, standing on his pop-up seat that he carries, folded flat, in the storage box at the nearside rear of the chassis. The stretch of the A47 between Great Yarmouth and Ackle is called the Ackle Strait and is as straight as a die for over 13 miles. As the Leyland Beaver trundled towards Norwich at 30 miles per hour, cars initially congregated behind the lorry. However, the car drivers were experienced and as soon as David put on his left indicator, making three flashes, they knew that the way ahead was clear and the cars came past in groups of 4 or 5 cars. Once oncoming vehicles had past and the road ahead was clear, David repeated the procedure probably over 20 times before the single lane road is transformed into a Dual Carriageway.

With the moonlight projecting shadows across the flat landscape David felt his actions were a bit like Officer Hilts (Steve McQueen) in the Great Escape making two pulls on the rope to signify that the coast was clear to escapees waiting patiently in the tunnel from Stalag Luft III, situated near Sagan, 100 miles to the South East of Berlin.

Coming back through Cirencester David refuelled the Leyland Beaver and as he was paying in the shop a loud voice shouted, ‘Which (expletive) idiot has got that beautiful (expletive) wagon out on a day like this?’ The man went on to explain that he had a vintage lorry and only took it out once per year on a Bank Holiday Monday in August. David gave the man a Vintage Lorry Funerals business card and told the gentleman, ‘No matter what time of year, no matter what weather conditions prevail, no matter what distance is involved, if a family wants my lorry and is prepared to pay then I’ll be there.’

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http://www.vintagelorryfunerals.co.uk

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?
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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.
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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

 

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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

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What the hell?

Monday, 19 January 2015

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“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

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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/

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