The Good Funeral Guide Blog

The future’s bright, the future’s…..

Monday, 6 February 2017

Inside the ecoLegacy Dublin HQ

Towards the end of last year, we listened to Tony Ennis of ecoLegacy speaking at the ICCM conference about his soon-to-be released new alternative to cremation. What he had to say to the packed conference room was so fascinating that the GFG decided we needed to know more. So on a chilly January morning, Fran hopped on a flight to Dublin to spend the day at the ecoLegacy HQ.

‘I have to say, I went to Dublin not really knowing what to expect. Everything I had heard from Tony made sense, I’d done lots of background reading about him and his project, and it all appears to be 100% genuine. But I also thought that this was too good to be true, and that there had to be a catch.

I have to report, dear reader, that if there is one, I haven’t found it. It is quite possible that I was privileged enough to be among the earliest people to be shown something that is groundbreaking – and game changing – for the ways that we deal with our dead.

Everything that I saw and was told makes sense. The people involved are passionate and genuine. Huge amounts of research have been done. Various processes have been trialled and found wanting, so the engineers started over and tried a different way until they found the solution. The potential issues with current law in the UK have been addressed. There are very eminent bodies overseeing and interested in what Tony is doing (his work is being overseen by Imperial College), and the main players in the funeral industry have all already been to Dublin to be shown the unit and given the tour as I was.

It seems to me that it’s simply a matter of time before the first ecoLegacy unit is available to UK clients – and probably not much time at that. Then we will see how the public respond to something completely new. My instinctive feeling is that it will be phenomenally successful.’

Read the information from ecoLegacy for yourself below.

And if you have any questions, write them in the comments. We’ll get Tony to respond.

“Basically, ecoLegacy has developed “cremation 2.0”, a next-generation, environmental and ethical alternative to burial and cremation called ecoLation. It will ensure a greener planet and cleaner air. The company has its headquarters in Ireland and is currently operating in the UK and the US.

The idea was inspired by Philip Backman, a US scientist and teacher, who came up with the original idea around 1971, the same year Tony Ennis was born. ecoLegacy’s goal is to make Phil’s vision a reality and scale it globally and this is currently happening with initial orders coming in from all across Europe and the US. (more info here http://www.ecolegacy.com/philip-backman-a-moment-of-clarity/)

ecoLation is a flameless form of cremation. It has developed a thermal process that uses cold and heat and pressure. It reduces emissions and poisons from reentering the earth’s precious and delicate eco systems.It is respectful to the body, it is respectful to the family and it is respectful to the planet.

So what happens when a loved one dies and has chosen ecoLation?

First they cool the body to just the right temperature. The body is placed inside a pod, the temperature is lowered and the body is chilled.  Water is released back and forth over the body reducing the remains down into ice particles. These particles are filtered through to a unit that recreates the earth’s natural process that normally takes thousands of years.

All toxins and chemicals we build up while living are neutralised and the result is completely organic nutrient rich remains. A tiny seed – of a plant, a tree or a flower can be placed into this powder and, coupled with soil, water and love, you or your loved one can grow into a beautiful strong tree or your favorite flower.

In terms of efficiency, the unit uses electric energy to get up to temperature and to create the right conditions. However, as the remains are ecoLated, they break down on a molecular level and release a very clean bio gas. This gas is turned into heat energy which is then used to power the system.  Whilst there will always be an energy requirement, it is brought back as close to zero as possible through our technology.

In the next 70 years, the Earth’s population will reach and probably soar past 10 billion people.

ecoLegacy offers an ecological choice to funeral directors and families that will ensure a greener planet and cleaner air and thus a healthier ecosystem.

Unlike burial and cremation, ecoLation offers a pure, more sustainable choice and breathes new life into the earth in plant form.

In the next 100 years, at current rates, we will need to bury or cremate more than 10 billion people. A staggering 54% of the world’s population lives on just 3% of the land, in cities, where the urban landscape cannot accept further burial or afford the pollution side effects of burning our dead. Typically funeral home clients have the two standard alternatives presented to them, but from an environmental, ecological, ethical or indeed practical standpoint, neither of these two methods are sustainable for the long term.

Current burial rates are unsustainable in our modern world.  More and more we can detect the effects of burial from fluids leaching into our soil and water courses. This hazardous waste also contains embalming fluids and, in recent times, a huge degree of chemicals from end of life drugs administered. Not to be overlooked either are the harmful pathogens that live on after we die, or the veneer on the coffins etc. We are running out of space too.

Cremation, a method becoming more popular, has relatively high pollution levels,  releasing on average 400kg of CO2 per body into the atmosphere. Cremation is also responsible for a number of other pollutants and dioxins and of course it consumes fossil fuel in the form of either oil or gas.

ecoLation is clean. There are no emissions of harmful chemicals. The body is ethically treated and all metals and foreign compounds removed. There are no chemicals active, no diseases still alive, no issues in relation to leaching and no carbon / heavy metals or dioxins. The remains are totally sterile, totally natural and totally clean. It’s a new way to be remembered.”

Tony Ennis with one of the ecoLation pods

 

Infant Loss Conference London 2017

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The tireless and indefatigable Dr. Chantal Lockey has been in touch with us at GFG Towers about the upcoming National Conference in Pregnancy and Infant Loss that she is organising, which is taking place in London in early March.

If you are a professional who works with bereaved parents in any capacity, or a parent who has been bereaved, this full day event looks hugely worthwhile attending. Tickets are still available if you are interested – all details here.

Chantal is particularly keen to receive nominations for funeral arrangers or funeral directors who have been exceptional in their work with an infant’s funeral. If you have a colleague or a staff member who you think has been outstanding when helping bereaved parents, there are just a few days left to nominate them.

Nominations close on Monday 6th February – e-mail Chantal directly if you think you know someone who deserves recognition for this incredibly difficult and sensitive aspect of the undertaker’s work – her contact details are info@chantallockey.co.uk

Fran will be attending the conference and presenting this award, so in the spirit of fairness and impartiality we aren’t able to nominate any of our fabulous recommended funeral directors ourselves, otherwise we would be busy doing so.

It’s over to you to send in the names of anyone you think should be considered for it.

Hope to see at least some of you there on the day.

 

 

No one ever dies in Seattle

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

A very Happy New Year to all our readers from the GFG Team. Here’s to all things funereal being fabulous in 2017.

We’ll begin the first blog post of this year with a small treat for you courtesy of our friends at West Seattle Death Café. They’ve been collecting many interesting euphemisms for death in the obituaries of local newspapers in Seattle for the last 13 years.

There’s the man who didn’t die but ‘decided it was time to reunite with his wife’; the man who didn’t die but ‘left his worries behind’; the lady who didn’t die but ‘passed away after enduring one flippin’ thing after another’ and George who also didn’t die but was ‘swept to heaven by the Lord’.

The collection is both fascinating and funny but we won’t spoil the surprise. Check it out for yourself on Instagram.

I recently found an exclusive section in Camberwell Old Cemetery for those who also didn’t die but were ‘called to higher service’.  Personally I’ve decided not to die but to earn my angel wings and relocate to heaven although I’m also tempted by the idea of being promoted to glory. 

What’s your favourite?  Where are you headed?

 

Undertakers at war

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

 

Ivor Leverton, 1961 – Image from Leverton and Sons website

The necessity to collect and decently dispose of those who fell in battle never led to  the conscription or recruitment of specialist undertakers. Undertakers wishing to serve their country in both world wars had to sign on as soldiers or sailors or airmen. There was no scope for serving as undertakers — with one exception.

Operation Mincemeat in 1943 was the exotic brainchild of British Intelligence. It was deployed to deceive the Germans into believing that a British invasion of Europe would be attempted in Greece and Sardinia, and that the force assembled in Casablanca apparently preparing to invade Sicily, the actual target, was merely a diversion. The purpose was to persuade the Axis forces not to send troops to reinforce the Sicily beaches. 

To achieve this bluff, the corpse of a Welsh pauper, Glyndwr Michael, was clad in the uniform of a fictitious Royal Marines officer. Forged top secret letters were placed in his briefcase bearing the necessary misinformation. The corpse was released from a submarine off the coast of Spain and picked up by a fisherman. The documents were read by the Germans, who believed them. The Allies invaded Sicily in the face of muted opposition. You can read all about it on Wikipedia.

The complicated process of giving the corpse its identity-makeover and getting it good to go called for the services of undertaker. That undertaker was Ivor Leverton.

Ivor Leverton had been turned down for military service – medically unfit – but he was itching to do his bit. When the intelligence officers in charge of Mincemeat needed the body of poor Glyndwr Michael moved from St Pancras to Hackney, they turned to Ivor. The episode is described by Ben Macintyre:

“Soon after midnight, Leverton tiptoed downstairs from the flat above the funeral parlour in Eversholt Street, taking care not to wake his wife, and retrieved a hearse from the company garage in Crawley Mews … The dead man was wearing khaki military uniform but no shoes. Leverton was struck by his height. Leverton and Sons’ standard [removal] coffins measured six foot two inside, but [Leverton recorded in his diary] ‘the dead man must have stood six feet four inches tall’ and could not be made to lie flat. ‘By an adjustment to the knees and setting the very large feet at an angle, we were just able to manage’.”

Macintyre describes Ivor Leverton as “a man of unflappable temperament and a bone dry sense of humour”. His brother, Derrick, was cut from the same cloth.

Major Derrick Leverton, 12th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery, was, by coincidence, among the first ashore on Sicily. An irrepressible optimist, he described the hellish sea crossing in a letter home as “a most excellent cruise”. His job was to set up a gun emplacement and engage enemy planes. As his men worked he brewed himself a cuppa. Then he was dive-bombed. One bomb fell in the sea “and splashed us with nice cool water”. In Macintyre’s narrative, “In case of further attacks the undertaker instructed his men to dig ‘little graves about three feet deep, which were very comfortable’ … And so, as the bombs fell around him, this heroic British undertaker sat in his own grave, wearing swimming trunks and a helmet, drinking a nice cup of tea. He looked ridiculous and, at the same time, bloody magnificent.”

Does anyone know of any other undertaker who had a good war?

Derrick Leverton, 1963 – Image Leverton and Sons website

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? 

 

Caring for the Dead

Friday, 2 December 2016

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Guest post by Hasina Zaman of Compassionate Funerals

There are many facets to being a funeral director.  Much of our work seems to stay behind closed doors. Are we actively shielding the public from the dead or is society choosing not to embrace death as a part of life? Death has perhaps become removed from the everyday lifecycle experience. Our aim is to bring it out into the open by explaining some of the processes we go through. 

The aim of this article is to best describe how we care for the dead.  At Compassionate Funerals we are dedicated to caring for both the bereaved and deceased. It’s very important that we work together with the bereaved so that they are at the heart of the funeral process. We believe it’s important that funerals are personalised, meaningful and empowering.

Before we collect the deceased there are a few processes that will take place. Initially, the bereaved or pre-bereaved family or friend will call us. This person may be the next of kin and in most cases will liaise with us at Compassionate Funerals.  A person can die in hospital, a hospice, at home or in a care/nursing home. If death happens accidently or suddenly in any location, the deceased is under the care of the Coroner.  They will take time to establish the cause of death. Therefore, when it comes to us collecting the deceased, we must ask where death occurred and decide what equipment is required for us to bring the deceased into our care.

We are particularly mindful when we are collecting the dead from their home. There may be bereaved family members present or children who may be experiencing death for the first time. We make sure that there is clear communication and permission from the bereaved family. This can be a very emotional and traumatic time. We do this quietly, slowly and gently as possible.

We got a call from Tina, who told us that her mum Joy had a few days to live. Joy was in a palliative care unit in a local hospital. Tina had also ordered her own bespoke coffin and wanted her mum to be buried in a natural burial ground in Essex.

Before setting off to the hospital, we made intentions to be compassionate and composed in receiving Tina’s mum. We checked that we had all the correct paper work, which is required for identification.  We also made sure that we had the collapsible stretcher and covering for Joy. As a company practice, we always refer to the deceased by their name as opposed to the ‘body’ or the deceased. We feel this is respectful and is in keeping with basic human rights.

From the start, Tina was very clear that she wanted us to support her choice of involvement from her family. Once we brought Joy into our care she was laid to rest in a banana leaf coffin, as the family was averse to their “mum being in a cold fridge”.  We suggested that Tina and her elder sister may want to help wash their mother before she was laid to rest. We facilitated the wash and fully supported them through the process. They were initially nervous, but their confidence grew. They used rose oil to wash their mum, and styled her hair.  It was beautiful to witness and an honor to work alongside the two sisters. Their hands were tender, soft and delicate.  They talked to her and re-told stories of their mum and her life.

Joy was a feminist and loved pink. Tina said that her mum would love to be shrouded in rose pink organic cotton. Joy was wrapped in five layers of cotton, similar to the Muslim funeral tradition. Both sisters expressed how they enjoyed spending time with their mum. They were able to perform Joy’s last offices and give her an honorable and loving send off.

On the day of Joy’s funeral, her children and grandchildren spent time with her. Her grandchildren had brought her gifts, letters and her favorite sweets that they placed in her coffin. We kept her room calm, cool and peaceful with subtle artifacts of all things pink.

Funeral poverty anyone?

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

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‘High level return on investment within 2 to 5 years’
  • 2,500 plots available to investors
  • Plot price to investors £2,400
  • High level return within two to five years
  • Plots are valued at over £3,750
  • Clearly defined exit strategy
  • Minimum investment is 4 plots

‘A very rare opportunity has arisen to purchase burial plots in London’s Rainham cemetery, which is being extended to accommodate the high demand for burial plots within Greater London…..’

‘….As a unique investment brokerage we specialise in sourcing and delivering the best alternative investment projects worldwide. 

We are proud to present the Rainham Cemetery Phase 2 within the Greater London area. 

We are the EXCLUSIVE master agent for this project. After major planning and preparation we are finally able to offer new burial plots for sale to the general public. 

Due to the desirable location and the critical state of the market, plots are being offered purely on a first-come first-served basis.’

There’s good money to be made in this burial business apparently, according to the team of ‘highly skilled and very successful individuals’ aka the EXCLUSIVE master agents at Harley Investments Ltd.
 
We have a copy of the brochure at GFG Towers for anyone looking to make a quick buck out of bereaved families needing to find somewhere to bury a relative. 
 

Dignity Caring Funeral Services prices 2016

Friday, 18 November 2016

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For some reason, the UK’s largest provider of funeral related services prefers not to list their prices online.

Happily, we have no such reservations about letting the public know the current cost of a funeral from a Dignity PLC owned business.

(There are currently in the region of 780 funeral director businesses in the UK that belong to Dignity PLC, all of which trade under the name of their former owners.

Have a look here to see which undertakers near you are owned by Dignity. Put your postcode in and see which names come up. You may well be surprised.)

Anyway, back to the prices. To save you squinting at the small print in the pics below, as a quick reckoner, if you pick a Dignity funeral director to be your undertaker, agree to their recommendation of embalming for ‘peace of mind’, select a cardboard coffin and require just a hearse to go direct to the crematorium or cemetery, your bill will be £4,375.00.

Just for clarity, this figure does not include the cremation or burial fees, you’ll need to add another £999.00 just for the cremation fee at many of the Dignity owned crematoria.

Nor does this figure cover the cost for an officiant at the ceremony.  Nor the doctors’ fees required for a cremation in England and Wales. Nor flowers, orders of service, a funeral tea, or an urn for the ashes. 

An at a glance breakdown of the main constituents of that £4,375.00 (all capitals letters not our own) is below. We haven’t bothered to type up all the details, but if you zoom in on the images below, you will see just what you get for your money under each category. (We quite liked the sound of ‘...full access to our own 24 hour Client Service Centre’ which sounds like a description of a VIP lounge at an airport, although in fact it’s a fancy name for the after hours call centre where phone calls get answered when the staff have all gone home.)

Our Service to You:                                         £1,405.00

Our Service to the Person who has Died:       £  950.00

Our Embalming Service:                                 £    75.00

‘We will ensure every available care is taken to delay the natural processes that occur after death. However, as members of the National Association of Funeral Directors, we recommend the peace of mind that embalming brings. You will be advised on this and we will require your consent.’

Your Appointed Funeral Director:               £  665.00

Our Hearses:                                              £  620.00 (each)

Our Limousines                                          £  175.00 (each)

Our Range of Coffins and Caskets – examples:

Veneer MDF coffin:                                      £  440.00

Cardboard coffin:                                         £  660.00

Willow coffin:                                                £1015.00

Source: Dignity Funerals Ltd Price List 3rd October 2016.

You could of course opt for the Dignity Simple Funeral, which offers limited access to their full range of services, no choice of coffin and limited choice on the date and time of the funeral. The Dignity Simple Funeral costs £2,520 and must be paid in full (along with all cremation or burial costs) 48 hours in advance of the funeral date.

Chief Executive of Dignity PLC, Mike McCollum, was among the delegates attending the national conference on funeral poverty held in Edinburgh this week.

We weren’t on the same table as him, so are not able to relay what contribution or comment he had on the subject.

 

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‘Here’s Looking At You’ – The Good Grief Project

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

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“It’s a photo taken by someone who would die in 3 months, of her loved ones looking at her, with that knowledge. It’s quite a concept isn’t it? I see the tense smiles as well as the relaxed merry faces. I printed the three photos and joined them together and I put it in her coffin so that she had us all there with her on her journey.” Jo Bousfield

Good friends of the GFG, Jane and Jimmy Edmonds run the Good Grief Project. Set up after they experienced the sudden death of their son Josh, the purpose of the Good Grief Project is not only to share their experience of grief, but also to help others to find ‘an active and creative response to the expression of their grief.’

Yesterday, Jimmy posted these photographs on their website. They were taken by Harry Banks.

Harry’s mother, Jo Bousfield, is a trustee of the Good Grief Project, and Harry was terminally ill when she captured this moment, of the people she loved, looking at her, with the knowledge that she was dying.

Three months after taking the photographs, Harry died, aged 31. 

Read the post here.

International Work Group on Death, Dying & Bereavement Open Conference

Friday, 11 November 2016

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Today, somewhere in Scotland, leaders in the field of death, dying and bereavement will end a five-day meeting, and bid each other farewell until 2018, when the 30th gathering of the International Work Group on Death, Dying and Bereavement will convene.

Membership of the IWG is an honour bestowed by invitation only; founded in 1974 by, among others, Cicely Saunders and Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, the IWG is a non-profit organisation whose members must demonstrate leadership within thanatology within their country, and typically on an international level as well. While the majority of members are either in academia or the medical care professions, the organisation includes others who share a common bond of passionate intellectual and personal interest in the field of thanatology.

For the last week, around 140 people from around the world have been engaged in in-depth discussions on various death related topics – it is a kind of think tank on thanatology, with no agenda other than to explore the agreed upon topics. And last Saturday, the group hosted an open meeting in Glasgow where the public were able to glimpse the calibre and quality of some of the thought leaders and practitioners involved. The GFG was privileged to be invited to co-host a workshop at this conference on social aspects of death, dying and bereavement, and to attend the plenary presentations from some of the finest thinkers on the subject of our time. We also got to have dinner with the presenters the evening beforehand, which was quite an experience!

The one-day conference was hosted by Dame Barbara Monroe DBE, former Chief Executive of St. Christopher’s Hospice, a trustee of Marie Curie and Special Commissioner of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Barbara’s opening address was challenging and bracing; “…some of our efforts to engage the public in talking about death, dying and bereavement have looked like us talking to ourselves” she said, “we need to find a wider variety of words.”

Professor Robert Neimeyer Ph.D from the University of Memphis, author of 30 books and almost 500 articles and book chapters and editor of the journal Death Studies was the first speaker, presenting psychological insights on ‘The Importance of Meaning’ alongside Dr. Neil Thompson, a highly experienced social work professional who offered sociological insights to the same subject.

Bob’s presentation was illustrated with a brief case study of an impoverished African-American mother contending with the murder of her young adult son. He explored the concept of adaptive grieving and the move towards integrated grief (the point where the finality of death is viscerally acknowledged). Neil reflected on a holistic approach to meaning, the personal, cultural and structural influences and the fluidity of an individual’s experience. He explored the sociological context within which grief is experienced, the cultural norms and expectations, the structural power relations of class, race, gender, age, disability and language group frameworks which inform the unique experience of each individual.

The second presentation was given by Darcy Harris Ph.D, an Associate Professor and Thanatology Co-ordinator at King’s University, London, Ontario with a background in oncology, palliative care nursing and bereavement counselling. Darcy’s presentation examined grief from the perspective of social justice (the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights).

Most clinicians in end of life care and bereavement care are trained with an emphasis on the experience of the individual, often in isolation of the various contexts in which their lives are socially situated. Darcy explored the social and political underpinnings that inform individual perceptions, experiences and expectations, and discussed the social rules for grief, which cover who can be grieved, whether the relationship is valid, how long grief can last, how it is expressed / manifest and whether the type of death is acceptable.

Frustratingly, all four workshops were held simultaneously, leading to ‘workshop envy’ from both participants and workshop hosts – the three other sessions being held while we co-hosted a workshop on ‘Whose funeral is it?’ with Scottish bereavement consultant John Birrell were entitled ‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Things, a community response to bereavement’, ‘Maximising child and family support after a bereavement – the role of networking’ and ‘Building community resilience and bringing remembrance into the open – Scotland’s answer to Dia de los Muertos’.

The afternoon continued with two further plenary sessions, the first from Professor David Clark, a sociologist at the University of Glasgow who leads the University of Glasgow End of Life Studies Group and who has a particular knowledge of the life and work of Dame Cicely Saunders, having edited her letters and selected publications. He is working on a biography to be published in 2018 on the centenary of her birth.

David’s presentation explored end of life issues around the world in the light of the anticipated significant increase in the global annual death toll from the current 56,000,000 people who currently die each year. He noted that the number of deaths in the entire 20th century is less than the number of people currently alive, and how the underlying assumption in palliative care is that the developing world should at some point catch up with the developed world – ‘the waiting room of history’ as conceptualised by historian Dipesh Chakrabarty.

David outlined his current work in a Wellcome Trust funded project investigating and conceptualising a comprehensive taxonomy of interventions at the end of life. His contribution was described by Dame Monroe as ‘a breath of academic fresh air’.

The final speaker of the day was Dr. Kenneth J. Doka, Professor of Gerontology and Senior Consultant to the Hospice Foundation in America. A prolific author (see here), Ken’s presentation highlighted the way that a sociological perspective has informed his work in thanatology, through a selective review of the work of pioneers in the field, including Durkheim, Talcott Parsons and Robert Fulton. He covered the dimensions of disenfranchised grief and the differences between intuitive and instrumental grief, issues arising from dissonant grief, grieving styles and post-mortem identity, and public and private grief in a gallop through the many aspects of his expertise.

It was an extraordinary experience to listen to such learned theorists and academics expound on their work in the area of death, dying and bereavement. The considered and thoughtful presentations were thought provoking and inspiring, and, like many of the other attendees, we came away feeling grateful to have been there to listen and absorb.

The International Work Group may not be well known outside academic circles, but the innovation and leadership that flows from the meeting of these minds influences both research and practice in the field of dying, death and bereavement, and ultimately affects us all.

We were privileged to meet some of the most influential thought leaders of our time in this field, and would like to thank John Birrell, Chair of the Planning Group for his kind invitation to take part in the conference.

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