The Good Funeral Guide Blog

What the hell?

Monday, 19 January 2015



“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




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



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?

An Irish Funeral in Birmingham

Wednesday, 31 December 2014




Posted by David Hall

With Vintage Lorry Funerals website displaying David Hall’s contact details, some Families seek to book the 1950 Leyland Beaver directly to avoid the margin that some Funeral Directors seek to impose.

David’s mobile is always switched on, apart from when he is involved with a funeral, when the silent mode is set up. However, some Families ring David in the evening knowing that he will take a call in contrast to most Funeral Directors who transfer their calls to a night service after 1630 hours. On Boxing Day 2011 David was at home with his family when his mobile rang. Initially he thought that it was his Sister wishing him Greetings of the Season, but it was a Birmingham Family whose Dad had just passed away.

When the funeral details were confirmed by the Funeral Arranger, she was surprised that David had asked for the contact details for the Florists and refused to provide this information. David spoke with the Family, got the contact details and quickly had an idea for a layout once he knew the description of the Floral Tributes. Cognisant that the Family were originally from Ireland, David saw a way of including a Tricolour Flag within the display and the Contact Person in the Family thought this concept was amazing and asked David to keep this development secret from the rest of the Family.

On the morning of the funeral David arrived early at the Funeral Directors affording him plenty of time to load the flowers which included three ‘Name Tributes’. When David was in the middle of assembling the display the Funeral Arranger apologised for not being on the same wavelength regarding information on the flowers. She obviously had expected that the flowers would be of low priority and positioned on the deck around the coffin as if they were in a hearse. She explained that she never had anticipated a multilevel display and couldn’t have imagined the amount of work involved building the support structure. Normally David sketches out his ideas on a layout and emails this drawing to all interested parties, however, the secret regarding the use of the Tricolour meant that this procedure could not be followed on this occasion.

In addition to the ‘Name Tributes’ there was a ‘Gates of Heaven’ which David placed near the Head of the coffin to create the image as if the Deceased had passed through the Gates of Heaven and this meant a lot to the Family.


There were a number of  smaller wreaths and a posy which included two Meerkat statues to depict the TV advert featuring these animals which was a favourite of the Deceased.   


The off-loading and re-loading at the Church went according to plan. However, as the vintage lorry approached the graveside at the far end of the cemetery it was evident that something was badly wrong. As David was starting to remove the ratchet straps, he was advised to stop as apparently the wrong grave had been dug. Tragically the Mourners had to wait until a new grave was prepared in a distant location near the entrance. As David had driven into the cemetery a host of cars had followed the lorry and the drivers had deposited the cars hurriedly either side of the cemetery road near to graves. Consequently the way back to the entrance would very difficult with obstacles on either side to be avoided. The Contact Person in the Family accompanied David as he surveyed the route and got some of the cars removed. There was plenty of time to do this as the delay was over 90 minutes.

Having started at 0400 hours and never eaten since leave home, David’s blood sugar levels were getting low at 1400 hours. David needed to eat his sandwiches. However, he felt that it would be inappropriate to eat in front of the mourners, who would also be hungry. David called the Head Mourner across to his lorry and quietly explained his predicament. David offered him his Toffee Crisp but the Head Mourner politely declined David’s kindness, telling him he could eat what he wanted.

Although it wasn’t appropriate to share his thoughts with the Family he couldn’t help relating the events happening before his eyes in the cemetery, with the 1971 Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show, which featured the Andre Previn sketch. In front of David one man was working frantically and a number of people were wondering how this could have happened, telling him that he had dug the wrong grave. David felt the Grave Digger should have responded with, ‘I’ve dug the right grave, but not necessarily in the right part of the cemetery.’


It’s a wrap

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


pic source


The private ambulance is on its way, porters are bringing up the mortuary trolley and the nurses in the ICU are disconnecting tracheostomy tubes, dialysis lines, catheter and ventilator. Soon the Old Year will be flatlining. Farewell 2014 ur a legend RIP. 

Here in the GFG-Batesville Tower, where our annual Christmas party is presently in full wrecking-ball swing, the entire, massed team wishes you a very happy Christmas and an immense New Year. 

Thank you for reading. Thank you for blogging — if you did. If you didn’t, well, there’s a new year resolution for you. We’d love to hear from you. The GFG is for everybody.

Our tongue is stilled. But we’ll be back on 1 Jan 2015* with… David Hall’s latest lorry hearse adventure, of course. 

* Terms and conditions apply


TERMS AND CONDITIONS – In accordance with the terms of the Mortality (Sudden and Arbitrary) Act the Directors of the Good Funeral Guide CIC offer no assurance or guarantee conditional or otherwise, implicit or explicit, that either they or you will be extant in 2015 wherefore the statement “We’ll be back” may be construed as amounting to no more than an expression of conventional seasonal courtesy signifying no other than an aspiration or desideratum and not a binding undertaking. 

Womb to tomb

Monday, 22 December 2014



Posted by John Porter

This is the most exploitative time of our year. Everyone gladly leaps onto the bandwagon and we cheer each other into debt. The orgy of gift opening on the day is extraordinary. Children rip open expensive toys that leave almost nothing to their imaginations. Within minutes they start to play with the boxes and wrapping paper – to really play. I smile. I think the problem is that our early winter festival is described as a religious festival – to celebrate the birth of Christ. Churches of all descriptions have got it wrong, thanks to Pope Gregory. It was he who sanctioned the inclusion of fertility cults and practices – if you can’t beat them, join us! Ever since we have been left with a Christmess. Jesus was probably born around late September/early October during the Feast of Tabernacles. The three “kings” were most likely Jewish princes of some kind. He was laid in a manger but was not born in a stable with ox and ass around. It is much more likely to have happened in a central courtyard of a large stone inn. Mary’s extended family would not give her any of their rooms as they were convinced she had had sex with Joseph. They were shocked by his denial yet amazed by his ongoing commitment to Mary.

The Twelve Days of Christmas song actually relates to a fertility cult tradition where a leader of a village, for twelve days, could have sex with any woman he wanted – thanks to Pope Gregory’s gracious welcome into the Roman Church! No, I’m not a Roman Catholic! Santa Claus is another twisted tale of a Turkish monk who helped the poor. The red suit and white beard may have been a Coca Cola invention?!

What has this to do with funerals? The clue is in the title of this piece. A public lowly birth. A most public mock-King death. A funeral that never really happened, despite the women being ready to follow the customary rituals after the Sabbath. If the conception of Christ was indeed parthenogenetic then a quick look into Mary’s womb is in order. Let’s imagine that the Biblical record is true. What we have is Mary’s human egg. It had to be otherwise tons of Old Testament prophesies would come a cropper. The bloodline had to be from King David. That’s why it is careless to skip over the genealogies in Matthew and Luke – non Jews just don’t seem to get them. Then the Holy Spirit creates a male sperm and it successfully fertilises Mary’s fully human egg. God and man. If this was the X Files we have an “alien”/human hybrid! Let’s say we accept the virgin birth as a fact – there have been at least six recorded human virgin births – all female. Apart from angels, visions and other amazing things Jesus’ birth was totally normal. The carol line “… no crying he makes” may bring a lump to a parent’s throat as they watch, wet-eyed, their four year-old croaking away under the church Christmas tree, but this is sentimental nonsense. Jesus cried, he produced wee and poo. He needed cleaning, feeding, clothing, cuddling and worrying about.

Anyway let’s go back to Mary’s womb, this time with an eye on the stone-sealed tomb. I doubt that the following verse will be read in churches across the world in the next few weeks: “When Herod realised he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethelhem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” This does not make for a good nativity script! I have been to Bethelhem and cried as I imagined the soldiers coming and wrenching babies and toddlers away from parents. The cries must have haunted families for years after. No funerals. Zoom forward to when Jesus was a boy, his parents having escaped Herod’s death edict and fled with him to Egypt are now back living in Nazareth on a trip to Jerusalem. They marvelled at the words spoken by Simeon, a holy man, about their special boy; and then this devastating line is said by Simeon: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too,” referring to the spear into the side of the dead Christ and Mary’s pain at seeing her boy murdered on the cross – sanctioned by a Roman procurator whose wife had told him “Have nothing to do with this innocent man.

The cross, not a star, hovers over the manger where a human/divine baby cries.

No wonder that families, who say to a funeral director, “We want a non-religious service” often say a little later “…but we want a bit of God in it!” The story of this baby’s start in life is compelling.

Have a great time during this late December festival.

PS – I have a New Year’s resolution in mind that I would like to do it with a friend. I’ll ask her about it next week – it involves reading an entire library of books!

Adopt a grave

Friday, 19 December 2014



Your average grave is visited for an average of around 15 years. After that, neglect can leave it looking unloved and anonymous, creating exactly the opposite effect to the one intended. There are those who see a cemetery as a monument to the vanity of human wishes. I’m one of them. Remembrance all too quickly passes into amnesia. Forever in our hearts? Who did you say you were exactly?

An exception to this rule is a military cemetery. Military folk maintain a hold on the hearts of the living longer than everyday heroes who die in civvies. Make what you want of that.

In Europe a number of American war cemeteries have an adopt-a-grave scheme. Local citizens, hundreds of them, adopt the grave of a dead soldier. They bring flowers and keep it looking tended. There are even waiting lists. More here.

Some 65 years ago Mrs Arpots (91) adopted the grave of British soldier Leonard Raymond Allison at the British War Cemetery in Brunssum. Still she is in good contact with the soldier’s family in the UK. “The mother of the soldier in particular was very grateful that we maintained the grave of her son. For us it was the least we could do after having been liberated.”

Just like Mrs. Arpots people from Brunssum have adopted a grave immediately following the liberation. They not only looked after the graves but also continued staying in touch with the family of the deceased soldier. Mrs. Arpots: “The family found it consoling and assuring that we maintained those graves for them. Leonard was their beloved son or brother. We have seen them frequently, and then they stayed with us or we stayed with them. We also received baby clothes and toys from them. We always had a very special relationship. I really enjoyed looking after the grave and maintain our relationship with the family.”

In the UK, Darwen has an adopt-a-grave scheme for its war dead, each grave marked by its Portland stone headstone. At Sutton Veny Primary School near Warminster, Wiltshire, pupils tend the graves of New Zealand and Australian soldiers in the local churchyard.

In Buxton, Derbyshire, an adopt-a-grave initiative was launched in 2011:

Mrs Luton said: “We had an open day and had to approach people with this odd idea of tending the grave of a stranger. “Eighteen people said yes on the day and more have joined since. We let them walk through the churchyard and choose a grave which appealed to them. “I don’t know how they chose but nobody wanted the same grave, it was incredible. “Many have wonderful details on the stones and there are a lot of children, and a lot of people have chosen children’s graves.”

In the same civvy spirit, James Norris of DeadSocial has just launched an Adopt a Grave initiative at Brompton cemetery. The idea is to enable Londoners to commune with death and nature at the same time as tidying up a bit:

Many of us do not visit green spaces on a regular basis due to a not owning a property with a garden and the environmental conditions in which we live. Due to the nature of urban cities we rarely get to ‘work on the land’ or immerse ourselves in an area of natural beauty. By granting participants permission to tend a currently untended, historic grave we hope that the natural relationship between participants, nature and death is addressed and somewhat rekindled.  We encourage those who adopt a grave to find out the story about the person whose grave they are tending. 

Love it.

An offer they can’t refuse

Thursday, 18 December 2014



A number of independent funeral directors have sent us a copy of a letter they have received from Golden Charter:

Dear _________

The latest Funeral Planning Authority statistics confirmed that Golden Charter is now the leading seller of funeral plans. As a non-seller, your existing plans currently do not attract our seller’s additional premium, payable when the plan matures. To date, Golden Charter has held this seller’s premium in the Trust in the hope that your company would, one day, become a seller of Golden Charter plans. 

However you, along with other non-selling independents, have declined several invitations to become sellers, and it appears unlikely that you will join us in the future. This means we are now holding money in the Trust which is unlikely to be required and much of that contingency can be released for redistribution to our shareholders and exclusive sellers in the years ahead. 

In November the board unanimously agreed that those funeral directors who do not actively sell Golden Charter funeral plans after 31 December 2015 will no longer be eligible for this historic premium on existing plans, even if they should become an active seller at a later date. 

It is not too late … I would urge you to reconsider …

Of course, this is not the only attraction. Sellers of Golden Charter plans also receive allocations of future funerals. We allocate far more plans or legal charges than all the other companies combined and the volume is growing rapidly. Gaining your share of that future market must make becoming a seller worthy of consideration. 


In closing, it is my hope that you will take this opportunity to join with Golden Charter, and become part of the success story owned by and run entirely for the benefit of independent funeral directors.

The letter is signed by Michael Corish, Managing Director.

We rise again!

Monday, 15 December 2014



Sorry if you missed us. Something to do with hostile action by corporate enemies of the GFG the server. A huge thank you to Ian ‘Harry’ Harris at Carronmedia for his delicate touch with a big spanner and cold chisel. There was an uncomfortable period when we thought there might be no way back. 


What is an undertaker for, really?

Friday, 12 December 2014



“Most people in the funeral industry are servants by nature, but it’s time that we took that servant nature and put it to better use by aiding you in the process of caring for your dead. Instead of doing it ourselves, we now need to be teachers, and not just directors; we need to be mentors and not just morticians. We need to reintroduce you to the value of caring for your dead.”

US 6th generation undertaker Caleb Wilde in a TED talk here

“… caring for the dead is not neurosurgery requiring esoteric knowledge and the skills of experts. People have the social savvy and wisdom to do these things themselves, and centuries of our forebears managed to accomplish them without benefit of clergy or mortician.

When funeral directors and clergy realise that people can perform these actions quite adequately without us, ironically a window of understanding opens through which we can see what our proper roles might be and how it can be that people can do this better with us. And what is this proper role? To put it succinctly, the task of both funeral professionals and clergy is to help people do this very human thing more humanely.

That is why, when it comes to funeral professionals, the old title of “undertaker” is so apt. People do not need to have their funerals “directed,” any more than they need their lovemaking, birthing, bathing, eating, laboring and going about the trials and obligations of everyday living directed. Women in labor don’t need a birth director, they need a midwife. In the same way, people caring for and burying their dead don’t need a funeral “director”; they need people who will undertake to help them accomplish these tasks well.”

Thomas Long, theologian, in The Good Funeral

Wilde is reckoned to be on the progressive wing of the funerals business and Long is considered a reactionary. 

ED’S NOTE – Yes, the pic at the top is John Bates, the valet in Downton Abbey.

Page 8 of 298« First...678910...203040...Last »