The Good Funeral Guide Blog

The soft bigotry of low expectations

Friday, 6 May 2016

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Posted by May Andrews

“If we can just get through this, then we can get on with our lives.”

I’ve heard it so many times, in so many different ways, but it all boils down to this: many families perceive a funeral to be something they must endure, an unpleasant trial, which they must ‘get out of the way’ before the real process of healing can begin.

And we can’t really blame them. There remains a taboo around death, such that, when called upon to confront it, people still feel a sense of existential discomfort, as if they have stepped onto forbidden soil. As a celebrant, I see it almost every day: the apprehension in the faces of the guests who have just entered the chapel. What is going to happen? To whom has our loved one been entrusted? How should I behave?

If I can break through that dreadful self-awareness and allow each guest to experience a personal journey of memories and acceptance, both of the death and of their grief, then I have done my job.

Yet there are days when I feel I struggle against another great barrier – one that has developed out of this sense that, in a secular world, funerals are no more than trial and tribulation. And that barrier is low expectation.

I meet often with families who shrug and say, “oh, he’d have been happiest if we’d just wrapped him up and chucked him in the ground.” “He always said, once you’re dead, you’re dead.” And other such comments in this vein, usually suggesting that the family are enduring the funeral out of a sense of appropriate etiquette. The ritual has ceased to have meaning and, as such, I am often asked to ‘get it over with as quickly as possible.’

If that is what people want then that is what I shall give them, but more often than not, I find that, once we begin, families find solace, not only in the ceremony itself but in its creation and planning. Seeing them discover this very often gives me a renewed faith in what I do.

On the other hand, I am aware that, if the public continue to have a broad belief that the content of the ceremony is of less importance than getting it done, then our industry has a problem. If the public expect empty ritual, then on the occasions that they ARE confronted with empty ritual, they are far less likely to complain. As such, unlike any other industry, the funeral industry has less motivation to change, evolve and improve. One only has to look at the sharp increase in direct cremations to see where this might lead.

There are celebrants out there who use cut and paste services and only change the name of the deceased. There are celebrants who don’t even take the time to visit the family. There are also excellent celebrants who go above and beyond. But while public expectations from a funeral are low, there will remain little incentive to weed out those of a poorer quality. By way of example, I can paraphrase from a private online group (luckily this celebrant was in the US, so I can but hope they are not representative of the UK): “I always write weddings from scratch, but funerals? I don’t have time for those. I just change the name.”

I use this example because it points to a vast divide in public attitude to tradition and ritual. People rarely just want to get weddings over and done with! They are an important rite of passage, and a time of celebration.

…Which brings me back to my very first quote, “If we can just get through this, then we can get on with our lives.”

The key is in these words, which upon first glance, seem so negative, so lacking in expectations. Yet they are key to understanding, not only what people need from a funeral, but the standards to which the industry needs to aspire, in order to rid itself of the idea that what we do is merely proper etiquette.

As celebrants, we have a responsibility to show people that they need not be passive observers of an empty ritual, but if a funeral is done right, they will be active participants in the very process that allows them to ‘get on with [their] lives,’ by helping them to manage and accept the changes that the death of a loved one can bring.

Don’t miss this!

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Thinking Outside the Box

Brighton looks like the place to be for anyone with half an interest in funeralworld this May – GFG favourite Liz Rothschild is performing her one-woman show Outside The Box at the Brighton Fringe Festival from May 14th – 17th.

Billed as ‘A live show about death’, Outside The Box is a spoken word performance of stories collected from life’s finish-line by Liz, a performer, celebrant and manager of Cemetery of the Year 2015, Westmill Woodland Burial Ground.

The promotional flyer reads ‘This groundbreaking show combines mercurial tales and miraculous truths with a hint of history and some pithy commentary on the funeral industry (from one who knows). And there is a chance to share the conversation and add your stories to the show’s repertoire as Liz takes it round the country this year and next.’

At GFG Towers we have seen the script – and booked our tickets! If you can make it along to Village in Islingword Road to see Liz, come and join us – tickets are £8 each and available from the Fringe Box Office here 

If you can’t get to Brighton but would be interested in working with Liz to put on a performance of Outside the Box in your area contact here here

If we can sparkle he may land tonight

Monday, 2 May 2016

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What is the role of ritual in a secular funeral service? What does a contemporary ritual look like? These and related questions have been debated many times on this blog.

So we were intrigued to learn of a brand new ritual created by the Church of England to celebrate Godparents’ Day. Quoting from today’s Times:

“The Godparents’ Sunday liturgy suggests that the service should begin with an informal welcome, the minister telling the congregation that they can behave like a football crowd, clapping, raising arms and shouting Alleluia “really loudly”. A “cantor or group of voices” should shout “God is great!” with the worshippers responding “Let the people praise you!” The guidelines state: “Repeat as often as feels right.”” … The clergy should “invite people to hold up hands, palms forward, fingers spread and move them like twinkling stars”. The minister then states: “As we think of the stars that shine, so we remember those who shine brightly in our lives and in our church.” … [The order of service] suggested that vicars should bring felt pens and Post-it Notes to church so that their congregations can contribute to a “memory wall”.

We were all the more intrigued to learn that this ritual has been created by the Rev Sandra Millar, head of projects and developments at the Archbishop’s Council and i/c restoring the popularity of C of E funerals. We’ve spent quite a bit of energy, in our ecumenical way, trying to maintain a dialogue with Sandra — without a great deal of success, it has to be admitted.

Dr Nazir-Ali, former Archbishop of Rochester, harrumphed when he heard about Sandra’s new ritual. He said “lapsed churchgoers expected reverence and awe rather than “touchy-feely group dynamics and the atmosphere of a class in primary school. When they come into a church, worshippers should sense the presence of a holy God, not the bonhomie they may experience at bingo.””

Worshippers, however, seem to have liked it. So is there anything here for secular funeral celebrants to plagiarise?

What about the star-twinkle finger thing as the curtains close?

 

 

 

Brighton calling

Saturday, 30 April 2016

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Guest post from Cara Mair and Tora Colwill

Hello there! As long time fans of all things Good Funeral Guide we are excited to be featured here in the blog!

We are Brighton funeral directors Cara from Arka and Tora from The Modern Funeral, collaborating as The Brighton Death Festival to bring death interest events and to contribute to making the conversations around death and dying a little louder.

This year for Dying Matters Awareness Week, our event is being held on the afternoon of Saturday 14th May at The Extra Mural Chapel in the middle of the tomb trail on land managed by Brighton council. Since we’re in Brighton, and we are all seeking to find our own language for the conversation, we want to make it as open, fearless and interesting as we can. In a safe, beautiful setting, there will be tranquil spaces set aside for reflection and conversation and we’ve contacted a broad range of people with various talents to contribute to the day.

There will be information about funeral options, including demonstrations of how to make and decorate coffins. There will be musicians and poets to be discovered around the graveyard. A performance about death ritual within the chapel space has been designed to spark off thoughts about what happens to our bodies between the point of death and the funeral whatever shape that may take.

We want the afternoon to be a chance for likeminded people to come and share thoughts and plans that relate death and funerals  – and we’d love your contribution!

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more:

Tora 01273569 052 tora@themodernfuneral.com

Cara 01273 621444 info@arkafunerals.co.uk

You can follow us on facebook:

www.facebook.com/brightondeathfestival

www.facebook.com/modernfunerals

www.facebook.com/arkaoriginalfunerals

Or find more information at www.brightondeathfestival.com

A not so quiet revolution

Friday, 22 April 2016

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Guest post by Lucy Coulbert, owner of Coulbert Family Funerals and The Individual Funeral Company.

Lucy’s been invited back to Westminster next week. And she’d like your thoughts about what she’s planning to say.

In the aftermath of the Support for the bereaved enquiry, I was not only contacted by a lot of media agencies, but I have also been invited to a meeting with Baroness Altmann next week along with a further meeting with the DWP.

It is my understanding that they will be talking about the issues that have arisen as part of this enquiry and are looking for recommendations on how to make claiming easier.

We have to be very clear that we are talking about funerals for people who are applying to the DWP for financial help. Our recommendations are outlined below.

The enquiry suggested there should be an online checker for people applying to the DWP for financial help paying for a funeral to see if they are eligible. I happen to think this is a good idea.

 

They also suggested a list of funeral directors should then appear based on postcode with their prices. While in practice this is a good idea, you will never get a like for like quote as funeral directors bundle their charges in very different ways. So one funeral director may charge for the removal fee and hearse fee in one lump sum and others itemise each cost. Therefore, if you don’t want a traditional hearse, you are still paying the same charge.

I think to appear on this website, a few things should happen. The funeral industry has got to agree on what a “simple” funeral should be and that every funeral director should give a price for those services only.

The second thing that should happen should be that funeral directors have the option of opting in or opting out at least twice a year. Therefore, if a national chain are particularly busy in December for example, there should be an easy way to take themselves off the DWP website so the family don’t have to wait weeks longer than they have to for a funeral.

The third point I will be making is that the payment system has simply got to be improved. My recommendation is that there has to be a facility for the funeral director to email their invoice and it should be paid within 14 days of receiving it. That way, we can book the day and the time of the funeral and the family doesn’t have to find the deposit.

The fourth is that there absolutely must be accountability. The report heard of families who after telling arrangers in national chains that they were applying to the DWP for help, were still presented with bills between £5,000 – £6,000.

If you have said you will undertake a “simple” funeral for £1800 for example and then present a bill of £5,000 I think it is fair that the company would be barred from advertising their services on a government website.

I have spoken to funeral directors up and down the country who agree that the following encompasses a “simple funeral” and doesn’t marginalise small funeral directors or home funeral directors.

Professional services

A coffin

Removal of the person who has died

Taking care of the person who has died

An estate car to take the person to the crematorium or cemetery on the day of the funeral

A service in the crematorium or a graveside service at the cemetery

The appropriate number of bearers on the day of the funeral

We also think that the minister’s fee (vicar/celebrant/humanist) should be a disbursement as not all families want someone to take the service and the family want to do this themselves.

We have said an estate car because not every funeral director owns their own, more traditional hearse and it seems to be a trend that traditional hearses aren’t in favour at the moment.

This is our definition of a “simple” funeral and is what we would be proposing to both the Baroness and DWP.

However, I would personally like to take things a step further in light of the growing problem with funeral poverty. I would like to propose a national minimum funeral cost for a simple funeral as outlined above.

While I am all for a free market, the general public haven’t any idea of what a funeral costs. If you are on a low income and not necessarily in receipt of benefits, then what do they do? Still get into debt because they have been presented with a £5,000 invoice?

By having a national minimum, again, funeral directors can opt in or opt out of undertaking funerals for xxx price but at least families would know who they can do to for a funeral that is affordable to them.

Again, there has to be accountability if a funeral director was on some sort database and still gives someone an over inflated bill.

By recommending a national minimum, I genuinely think the funeral industry has done all it possibly can to help the public. From then on, the onus is on them to do their research.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t charge a fair price for our bespoke services. I know I certainly do because of the level of work involved for a bespoke funeral. If funeral directors don’t make a profit, we won’t survive to help more families. However, we simply must offer the funeral we know is affordable to the family that is sat in front of us worrying about a bill for thousands.

There are amazing funeral directors around the country already doing this, but not all.

The Government are looking very closely at funeral directors pricing costs and we need to be proactive. If we aren’t, legislation will soon follow. In fact, I think it is inevitable that it will and it is closer than we think. If we don’t do something significant now, perhaps it will be taken out of our hands.

If Government are looking at legislation, pricing and regulation you can be assured that your future and your business is going to be in the hands of the NAFD and SAIF. It is my personal belief that if we don’t band together now, that these trade associations will possibly try to marginalise home funeral directors, those without their own hearses, funeral directors who don’t hold a Dip.Fd  for example, but are amazing funeral directors.

So a few points then before I go into these meetings.

Am I on the right track with the DWP proposals?

How do you feel about a national minimum price?

Does my interpretation of a “simple funeral” marry with yours?

I will fight as hard as I possibly can to make sure the DWP system is easier for the people it was designed to help and we are paid a fair price for the work we do. I will also fight like a tiger against any legislation or regulation that marginalises the smaller funeral director or home funeral director but I am just one voice.

I already have a few behind me but how many more troops can we rally? If the only way we continue to have a voice and a seat at the table of these meetings, I will happily start a new funeral directors association….in fact, this is already in the pipeline and hope to tell you more about it next week.

An army of voices is always better than a lone one and I can’t keep talking for and on behalf of funeral directors like me if we aren’t all in it together.

So in the words of Susan B. Anthony – “Organize, agitate, educate, must be our war cry.”

What do you think?

Why do funeral workers creep people out?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

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Everyone in the death business knows what normal people think of them. They are reminded of it every time they’re asked what they do for a living. I often lie. Perhaps you do, too, sometimes.

A freshly published academic study titled On The Nature Of Creepiness offers us, perhaps, some insights into this unflattering characteristic commonly ascribed to deathworkers – alongside avarice, weirdness, morbidity, shiftiness, cunning, lizard complexion, predation, formaldehyde breath, yellow fingernails, hollow chuckling, inability to meet your eye, etc.

If deathworkers absorb the lessons of this study they may be able in some way to mitigate the adverse esteem in which they are held. It’s called image management.

Here are the headline findings of the study:

1) The perception of creepiness is a response to the ambiguity of threat. Males are more physically threatening to people of both sexes than are females

2) We are placed on our guard by people who are drawn to occupations that reflect a fascination with death or unusual sexual behavior. People who have hobbies that involve collecting things that we are predisposed as a species to fear such as spiders and snakes or things that can only be acquired after something has died (e.g., skulls or bodies to be stuffed) seem creepy to us as well.

3) We do not necessarily assume ill intentions from people who are creepy, although we may still worry that they are dangerous.

I was going to conclude that I have met very few people in the death trade who I’d regard as being remotely  until I read this: Most of our subjects believed that creepy people cannot change, and only a small minority of our subjects (8.6%) believed that creepy people are aware that they are creepy.

 

Jolly nice cars for sale

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

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ED SAYS: The phone rang. It was Chris from Gowrings. Did we want to buy a big black limousine? No, we said, the new boss has just bought herself a Maserati and the rest of us still take the bus. But we felt for Chris, ringing FD after FD looking for a good home for his vehicles, so we said we’d help him out by posting them here. We’re not endorsing them, nor are we taking a cut of the sale price. We’re just nice.

Chris says:

We have 3 new vehicles for sale at discounted pricing for Funeral Directors.

Vehicle 1: FORD B-MAX B232, 5 DOOR MAV, TITANIUM, NON SIP, 1.6 105PS PETROL,6 SPEED, AUTOMATIC, PANTHER BLACK,NEW YORK/EBONY CLOTH.

List price £ 18365 NOW £ 15995 a saving of £ 2370 including deposit contribution and must be on FORD CREDIT AT 2.9% APR.

Vehicle 2: FORD FOCUS C346 MCA, ESTATE, TITANIUM X, NON LOCAL SVP, 1.5 TDCI 120PS, 6SPEED MANUAL, PANTHER BLACK,PARTIAL LEATHER.

List price £ 24,445 NOW £ 19995 a saving of £ 4450 including deposit contribution and must be on FORD CREDIT AT 2.9% APR.

Vehicle 3: Ford MONDEO CD391, ESTATE, TITANIUM, NONSVP, 2.0 TDCI 180 PS S6, 6 SPEED MANUAL, PANTHER BLACK, VECTOR EBONY CLOTH,

ACTIVE PARK ASSIST, List Price £ 26805 NOW £ 24155 a saving of £ 2650 including deposit contribution and must be on FORD CREDIT AT 2.9% APR.

For all enquiries please contact Chris on 01635 555300

 

NDC birthday party

Monday, 18 April 2016

Nicholas portrait 2000 by M.Edwards
Nicholas Albery, founder of the Natural Death Centre
 By Josefine Speyer
The Natural Death Centre was 25 years old on 14 April 2016!
Celebrating this event with two Natural Death Salons to benefit the NDC.
There are still places at the next Natural Death Salon on Sunday 8 May. We will be showing the documentary film Death Makes Life Possible with Marilyn Schlitz and Deepak Chopra, including Rupert Sheldrake and many others, followed by a celebratory Death Cafe, which means conversation about death and including issues raised by the film etc. accompanied by delicious teas, coffee and cakes. We ask for a donation of £30. If you cannot afford it, do get in touch as we do not want you to miss out on this wonderful event. For booking and more info contact me. Places are limited. See flier attached. There will be a second benefit Salon on Sunday 19 June, with Rosie Inman-Cook of the NDC and others, which will be more of a party, celebrating NDC’s story so far and looking to the future. More info on this later.
I am so proud of everyone who has become involved in the natural death movement to bring back power to the people and embrace death as part of life, the place it should have. I believe it is to the benefit of everyone, but perhaps not to the big funeral companies who wish to have their pockets lined by families in distress who are unaware of what choices there are and do not realise there is another way than the Victorian way.  Bring on the 21st century!!!
And thank you to Nicholas, social inventor, writer, editor, poet, activist and mentor for all his work in setting up and running the Natural Death Centre, the Association of Natural Burial Grounds and all his inspiration. Wish he were here to see how massive the movement has become and what impact the Natural Death Centre charity and the Natural Death Handbook have had, not just in the UK, but worldwide! A major toast to everyone who has been involved in the past and is involved now! and everyone who has benefitted!! xx I also love the work of the Home Funeral Network, The Good Funeral Guide, Death Cafe, Dying Matters etc. etc. I could go on, the list is long and growing! xx Thanks to everyone! It is a great legacy to be part of.
Please support the Natural Death Centre it help continue its work!

ED SAYS: You can download the flyer for these events here – NDSalon

 

Save the date!

Monday, 18 April 2016

Good Funeral Awards 2016

The poshest knees-up for the UK funeral industry is moving to central London. The Good Funeral Awards 2016 promises to be the biggest yet. We’ll be at the grand Porchester Hall in Bayswater for the lunch and ceremony on Thursday 8 September.

Booking a room overnight won’t be necessary. The idea is that most people can afford to get into London for the day. And, as in Hollywood, different groups will be able to organise after-parties in neighbouring venues. Or stay on at Porchester Hall where the bar will be open for the evening.

Click here to buy your early-bird tickets now.

Nominations are now open

We’ve responded to your requests and we’ve increased the number of categories in the funeral awards.

Conscious of the need to accommodate old school/ new school rivalries, we’ve done our best to shape things to respect all parties.

Last year we were swamped with nominations. It took a long time to work out the worthy winners.

This year we’re asking for a lot more information about your businesses because we want to be able to tell the stories of the winners and make the most of the media interest in the awards.

There is a £20 charge to enter for most categories and we’ll use this money to add some razzmatazz to the ceremony. You have until 14 July to submit a nomination – see here for details and entry forms.

Sponsors and exhibitors

Since this is our fifth year, we’re getting better at knowing how to promote those people who support our event. If you’d like to get your business talked about by associating with the Good Funeral Awards click here.

And if you’re interested in being one of our limited number of exhibitors in Porchester Hall for the day please contact info@goodfuneralawards.co.uk as soon as possible for more information.

 

Why am I still here?

Friday, 15 April 2016

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When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

First there was the cancer diary. Nigella Lawson’s husband John Diamond wrote one, you remember. Since the advent of the self-published blog countless people have died out loud.

Next, boomers started writing about the slow and distressing decline of their parents. You’ll find an example here.

Now those boomers are old enough to write about their own dissolution and are doing so to debunk the myth that too-long life is an unmitigated good thing. In last week’s Spectator magazine Stewart Dakers (77), reflecting that the reaper has changed from terminator to tormentor, dwelt on the horrors of longevity with both dread and splendid prose. Here are just a few extracts:

The existential reality of decline is aggravated by the prospect of total physical and cognitive disintegration, the details of which are well known to us, so we live in physical discomfort and mental terror. Old age has graduated into a form of pre-traumatic stress disorder.

We are a waste of space on a seriously overcrowded planet. We are in the way and those who are most impeded are the young. We can see this and are, of course, ashamed of ourselves.

My advice to young people is simple. Eat, drink, even smoke, and be generally merry, because that way you might be spared too many days of misery for yourself and your friends and family. Live short and prosper.

Old-age rational suicide will be with us any day now, just you see.

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