The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Dead loss

Thursday, 17 April 2014


The Co-op’s stated aims

  • To be a commercially successful business
  • To meet the needs of our customers and the communities we serve*
  • To respond to our members and share our profits
  • To be an ethical leader
  • To be an exemplary employer
  • To inspire others through co-operation

Co-operative Group results 2013

Overall loss: £2.3 billion

Funeralcare sales for 2013 £370m – 3.4% up on 2012.

Underlying F’care operating profit increased 3.3% to £62.1m.

In 2013, F’care opened 16 new funeral homes, invested £3.1 million in crematoria development and £9.5 million in its fleet of vehicles.

In December, a new website was launched to allow customers to purchase, as well as manage, a pre-paid funeral plan online.

More whitewash here

“Those directors are now locked in a defensive mindset which makes intervention by the Bank of England and the Treasury all the more likely in the end. The walk-on part of Lord Myners is, I fear, no more than a sideshow in the slow procession towards the crematorium of this once great institution.”
Martin Vander Weyer in the Spectator

*One in five people struggle to pay for a funeral

The gravestones are laughing

Thursday, 17 April 2014



In Winwick Churchyard by Josh Ekroy

 The gravestones are laughing. They tilt
at each other’s shoulders, droll tears of lichen
blotching their honourable faces. Seated in uneven
rows in their auditorium they note church-goers
squinch the gravel path to the embossed door.
Some lean backwards in mock amazement,
others forward, study the half-mown grass
or slap their thighs, whisper behind their hands —
only one stares in vertical — at man that is born
of woman, a joke they refuse to explain.
But the upright rectangle between the medlar
and the lych-gate, marbled in its twenty-first
century is excluded from the pleasantries,
is bullied after lights-out by the listing seniors,
its jar of wilting pansies the butt of scorn.
A much missed mum and nan? Don’t
make them lurch. Get real: become obscure.
An ancient resident is so amused he’s face down
on the turf and you can hear the subterranean
echo of guffaws, no sleep allowed in this dormitory.
Better have a witty answer when they taunt:
got any pubic moss yet? Wm. Blott, born
Oct 3rd,1756, died it’s not clear when, affects
a desire to know. So does his wife Mary
or is it Maura. Sissy Sally Evans, d. 2006,
has years to go before she stoops to see the joke.

Making the best

Wednesday, 16 April 2014



From Being Dead Is No Excuse:

Southern women always want to look their best — even if they happen to be dead. Our local undertaker, Bubba Boone, understands this. We brag that Bubba can make you look better than a plastic surgeon can, though, unfortunately, you do have to be dead to avail yourself of his ministrations. He did an outstanding job on Sue Dell Potter, a retired waitress. Sue Dell expressed a strange desire to go into the ground looking exactly as she had in her long-past waitress days. We went to call on Sue Dell at the funeral home and — lo and behold — she sported a big, teased bouffant and, unless you’d known her back when she was waiting tables and flirting up a storm, you’d never have believed it was Sue Dell. But we feel certain that Sue Dell was smiling down from heaven (with her now fire-engine-red lips) and thanking Bubba for his excellent work. 

In the [Mississippi] Delta, we are blessed to have before us a fine example of helping the dead put their best foot forward without actually lying. We have been doing this for a long time. In 1905, Joshua Ridgeway was shot and killed in a bar-room brawl in front of the old Hotel Greenville. For his tombstone, the family selected “Blessed are the peacemakers”. It was an inspired choice. While it doesn’t actually deny that Mr Ridgeway died in a vicious gunfight, it does imply that he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and might even have been engaged, unsuccessfully, into trying to talk the others into laying down their arms. Of course, they would have known better to have fallen for that. 

Is the Co-op arranging its own funeral?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

co op 590 x 296 copy


Co-op woes have filled the business pages of all our newspapers in recent weeks. The accelerating degenerative disorder afflicting this once-great business has caught them all on the hop, running to catch up. For years its sacred-cow status seems to have protected it from rigorous scrutiny. In the minds of pretty much everybody the Co-op was other, different, ‘ethical’ — intrinsically ‘better’. No one, from right or left, saw it coming. Euan Sutherland, from right up close, couldn’t see that it was ungovernable when he took it on. Nor did Lord Myners anticipate the rejection of his rescue plan. No one is now saying I told you so. It’s a mess.

Once you begin to unpick the byzantine governance structures of the Group, you discover that it hasn’t been democratically led for years. So, what to do for the best? Well, you can look at John Lewis and Nationwide and reckon that, yup, if a plc-type executive is good enough for them, that’s probably the way to go. But it’s a point of view disputed by many who have devoted their lives to the cause of co-operation. Even among true believers there is no consensus, even about what a co-operative business is for. 

Do you know? Test yourself, if you want. Tick the correct statement:

*  A co-operative is a business nominally owned by its customers and run on their behalf by worthy people who do good works with the profits.
*  A co-operative is a collectively owned business that gives some of its profits to good causes and supports political change.
*  A co-operative is a business where people work together to achieve a better deal, a better organisation and a better future.

So the muddle goes on, bringing the Group closer to the time when its banks step in and — it’s a real prospect — begin to break up the business. In the latest development, the workforce, through the Unite union, has begged the Group to lay off the “petty politicking and putting livelihoods at risk.”

Where to go from here? In an astonishing statement, Ben Reid, ceo of Midcounties, now says: “I often say if the Rochdale Pioneers came back today, they wouldn’t be in food, because food is already well served.” This is the same Ben Reid who backed the disastrous acquisitions of Somerfield and Britannia. ‘The Co-operative. Crap At Food.’ Whatever next? Funerals?

You may think so. We don’t. We think that the funerals business is ideally suited to a social enterprise model. Dignity plc shows us what happens when a business regards funerals as nothing more than a market to be exploited for the enrichment of its shareholders. A better deal for bereaved people is about more than affordability, it is about welfare. It is about needs and values. It is about sensitivity to social change. It’s about the way we treat each other. And the good news is that some independent co-operative societies are quietly addressing this agenda.

Co-operative Funeralcare is full of great people. This could be a great business, one that does well by doing good. But given the bickering chaos in Manchester and the institutional incompetence of the Group, ground zero is now beginning to look like the best place to start again.


A question of timing

Monday, 14 April 2014



It can’t be easy writing episodes for soaps. You have to take over a plot designed by a committee and steer your characters through the storyline as plausibly as you can. Sometimes you have to get rid of them, a procedure known as ‘killing off’. You mostly don’t have to actually do them in, you can just send them miles away. But rather more often than in real life, in order to rule out the prospect of the character’s reappearance under any circs, you have to murder them, often foully.

EastEnders is the soap responsible for killing off more characters than any other – so much so that the cast will soon be joined, appropriately enough, by a full-time undertaker, Les Coker.

A fortnight ago, Holby City killed off a young nurse, Bonnie Wallis. The scriptwriters knocked her down with a lorry. Outrageously implausible, but essential to tell viewers: she ain’t coming back.

The following week the cast was given the invidious task of going through the motions of grieving. Who’d be an actor? Who’d be a scriptwriter?

In the event, they made a good fist of it, especially the scriptwriters. In the non-denom chapel at the hospital a memorial event was led by (who else?) lovely, cuddly Eliot Hope, senior CT surgeon. He began in the appropriate, formal, biographical style:

“Our colleague, our friend, Bonnie Wallis, ermm, was a truly great spirit. She was loved by her family, who tell me she overcame great obstacles—”

He broke off and said this:

“Sorry, um, these are someone else’s words. I suppose I was so afraid of insulting her memory. But, the truth is, it’s too soon – it’s too soon for her to go. Give me a year and I will write her a cracking speech. But right now, how can I possibly talk about her life in the past tense? I keep expecting her to come through that door.”

A little later, sitting on the ‘altar table’, Eliot is seen regaling the mourners with anecdotes about Bonnie:

“I remember one day Bonnie had to give an elderly patient a bath. She’d just removed his gown and he looked down and said, ‘Have you ever seen anything so big?’ So, slightly embarrassed and red-faced, she said, ‘Very impressive.’ And he said, ‘I was talking about my boil.’”

It was well and sensitively done because it identified a problem with funerals and memorial events. Timing. When’s the right time to have a funeral or a memorial service? Most funerals, especially for people who have killed themselves, happen too soon – too soon for anyone to be able to make any sense of what happened, too soon for people still just beginning to get their heads around what happened. The same with tragic, sudden deaths, especially those of young people.

“Give me a year … right now, how can I possibly talk about her life in the past tense?”

Die-alogue Cafe

Friday, 11 April 2014



First there was Death Café. Then Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death. Then Death Salon.

Now there’s Die-alogue Cafe

Die-alogue Café has been developed by an Australian academic, Stuart Carter. We’ve been talking to Stuart for some time. We like and respect him very much. His purpose is not to upstage other formats, but to offer an alternative.

His starting point is pretty much the same as the others:

Living in a death denying time in human history is not delivering the good deaths we say we would like to have … in the company of like-minded people: we don’t feel so alone, we can create a good death road-map.

Self-empowerment is the thing:

We choose to not sit around and wait for someone else to do what we can do, ourselves — when we have the know-how (knowledge), the where-with-all (tools) and the friends who are willing to lend a hand (help).

So the format is purposeful, the discussion focussed so as:

* to be of practical assistance to each other;
* to build a body of knowledge and expertise that will, by extension, strengthen our families and communities;
* to build bridges across cultural divides;
* to empower people to act wisely and face the future with a positive outlook;
* to raise awareness about injustices and
* to provide a gentle nudge of encouragement as we face our fears.

Die-alogue Café is not for children, people seeking grief therapy; or people who are not prepared to use the plain English words that describe our end-of-life realities. It is not everyone’s idea of a good way to spend a couple of hours.

Meetings are themed. They comprise ‘ordinary’ people and professionals – care home staff, nurses, doctors, undertakers, estate planners, etc. Outcomes may be various: Do research, take on projects, write letters, practice meditation, play games, create art, visit, invent; in other words practice the principles and report back.

The overriding purpose is to enable people to have better ends and better funerals:

While the location, the time, the group may be different the underlying sentiments remain… open, honest dialogue as a backdrop to creating a dance with death that when played out in daily life, will reveal treasures untold and enrich all who stumble across its stage.

You can find out more about Die-alogue Café here. You can find Stuart’s dedicated website and blog here.

Poppy is hiring

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Poppy 2_medium


Poppy Mardall is looking for her young company’s third full-time employee.

Her fresh approach to the business of funerals makes this a job more suitable, perhaps, for someone outside the industry. But she is very open to applications from those within it who feel that her philosophy is also their philosophy.

She says:

This is an exciting opportunity to become a major part of growing a small company with big ambitions. As our third full time employee, you will be in an excellent position to progress as the company grows. You will be based at Poppy’s office in Tooting, but will
frequently be: meeting families at home, running funerals, at the mortuary and out and about getting things done. Like Isabel and Poppy, you will do whatever needs doing. Standard hours: 8am-5pm but expectation to work flexibly, and beyond these hours if
necessary. Full training will be given, and support and guidance whenever needed.

If you’d like to know more, you can download the full job description here: POPPY’S Co-ordinator Job Description



Tuesday, 8 April 2014




When Pomponius Atticus [a friend of Cicero] fell ill, and medical attempts to prolong his existence merely prolonged his pain, he decided that the best solution was to starve himself to death. No need to petition a court in those days, citing the terminal deterioration in your ‘quality of life’: Atticus, being a Free Ancient. merely informed his friends and family of his intention, then refused food and waited for the end. In this, he was much confounded. Miraculously, abstinence turned out to be the best cure for his (unnamed) condition; and soon the sick man was undeniably on the mend.

There was much rejoicing and feasting; perhaps the doctors even withdrew their bills. But Atticus interrupted the merriment. Since we must all die one day, he announced, and since I have already made such fine strides in that direction, I have no desire to turn around now, only to start again another time. And so, to the admiring dismay of those around him, Atticus continued to refuse food and went to his exemplary death.

Julian Barnes – Nothing To Be Frightened Of

Clarissa Tan

Friday, 4 April 2014



If you came to last year’s Good Funeral Awards weekend, you will remember Clarissa Tan. She was the journalist from the Spectator magazine. She had breast cancer. The piece she wrote afterwards inspired the name of this year’s get-together in Bournville: the Ideal Death Show.

Clarissa has died of breast cancer aged 42. 

‘I am a reporter,’ I say. ‘I’ve come to cover this event. But don’t worry, I won’t report what you share in this yurt. Also, I have cancer. I have been in treatment for one year, but now the treatment is over. I take one day at a time.’

There is silence, then hugs. I thought I would cry, but I don’t. Instead, I feel acceptance and a strange kernel of satisfaction.

I arrived expecting a weekend of black comedy. This is what I find, but there’s something else — a sincerity and straightforwardness that takes me by surprise.

It is not at all a fashionable point of view, but I believe in God — and a good one, at that. The belief fills me with healing, wonderful hope. It is the hope not that I will live. It is the hope that I am loved.

I realise that although I am frightened of dying, there’s a also a tiny part of me that’s always been scared of living. The finality of death is hard. The uncertainties of life can be harder.

Many Flowers in Carshalton (part 1)

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

unnamed (1)


David Hall, of Vintage Lorry Funerals, always speaks to the Florist who is creating the Family’s Floral Tributes at the earliest opportunity after his lorry has been booked for a funeral. David designs a layout that will feature the Family’s Tributes prominently, he makes a sketch of his ideas and emails it to the Family for approval. A salient feature in every layout is the facility to accommodate extra flowers which turn up at the Family home. Up to three Flower Trays can be pulled out from beneath the front display, filled with flowers and then positioned around the coffin, and this additional ‘pop up’ facility is ideal for funerals in the current economic downturn, however, a requirement beyond the three trays unexpectedly hit David during a funeral in Carshalton on November 19th 2007.

When David had the layout for the Late Bobby Dudley signed off by his Family, his Daughter-in-Law, Sharon, warned that there would be stacks of flowers. However, having heard this many times before, David assumed that the 8 Family Floral Tributes would become 12 or 14 based on the pattern of funerals at the time. When David parked the Leyland Beaver outside Gillman Funerals he was oblivious to what he was about to encounter.

On going through the door all that David could see was flowers. There were flowers on desks, on chairs, and on the floor with large scale Tributes so tightly packed the carpet could not be seen. It was as if a tsunami had swamped Carshalton and washed up flowers into Gillman’s shop. George Hards, Funeral Arranger, was diligently attempting to document each Tribute, identifying who had sent it, trying to segregate those he had documented whilst more and more were being delivered. When confronted with such a situation where many flowers must be loaded, the one element that can’t be changed is the time available. The only way forward is to adopt a strategy of loading the Family Floral Tributes first and using a tactic of acting like a machine, to be totally focused on the current and next tasks and not to be distracted by anything or anybody.

However, building such a large display of flowers always attracts the attention of members of the public who often ask questions. Although David is always civil and speaks to people despite the pressure, he often wishes he could hold up cards, like Bob Dylan did in the Subterranean Homesick Blues video, displaying information such as, ‘1950’, ‘No Powered Steering’, ‘No Heater’. Some people on seeing such a large volume of flowers think back to Princess Diana’s funeral. As David was climbing up his ladder with another two tributes in his hands, he felt two sharp prods in his back and he turned around to see a small elderly lady in a fur coat and hat, accompanied by a well attired gentleman. The lady with a cut glass accent enquired, ‘I say, for which famous person is this wonderful display being created?’ David replied, ‘Bobby Dudley’. The lady looked inquisitively at her husband and said, ’I’m afraid we don’t know Bobby Dudley.’ David said, ‘Bobby Dudley the Carshalton Coalman.’ The lady began to twist her face, as if she had tasted lemon juice thinking it was going to be orange juice and exclaimed, ‘Surely not for a Coalman.’ David put his arm around her and whispered in her ear, ‘You don’t need to be famous to be treated like royalty.’

David went back into Gillmans to get another two Tributes and just as he was about to

climb the ladder he felt two prods in his back. He turned around and the lady in the fur coat asked, ‘Does one have such a thing as a business card with one’s contact details?’

The interest people showed in the rear display will be detailed next month.


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