The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Last week’s news

Sunday, 20 March 2016

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We’ve scoured the known universe for the latest from Funeralworld and do you know, we found nothing worth drawing your attention to. Nothing.

Have a great week (nonetheless).

 

Do you know?

Friday, 18 March 2016

Crems

Wednesday’s Budget contained the above intriguing announcement. What’s going on here?

There may be a clue in the small print of the 2015 Budget (which we clean missed) when the Chancellor announced:

The Government will conduct a review into the size and provision of crematoria facilities to make sure they are fit for purpose and sensitive to the needs of all users and faiths. The Government will also review cremation legislation and coroner services.

“All users and faiths.” Is this something to do with provision for Hindus and Sikhs?

Or with the rising cost of funerals, much commented on by the media in the summer?

Who is being consulted?

What outcome is the Government seeking?

All info + suggestions gratefully received.

Yesterday…

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Did you know that the term coffin lid applies to a type of surfboard? http://bit.ly/1p2stFW

A much needed new funeral home was opened in Sutton Coldfield by local MP Andrew ‘The Pleb’ Mitchell and NFFD MD William ‘Safe Hands’ Eccleston. The new business has adopted the strapline “here to care for you and your loved ones now and forever”, a reflection, presumably, on the size of its mortuary facility – http://bit.ly/1U1h0nb

In Folkestone a Co-op lim was ticketed by a traffic warden – http://bit.ly/1RBwuZ3

The Guardian wrote about death apps like Everest (above): “Everest is just one of a wave of apps and digital services that are emerging to help millennials plan their own #authentic mortal passings, right down to Instagram-worthy funerals. Last fall, rival apps Cake and SafeBeyond were released within one month of each other, and both hope to streamline end-of-life planning into one simple app.” – http://bit.ly/21W1duC

If you were sealed alive in a coffin you’d last about an hour, new research shows – http://bit.ly/1R9qLiJ

A Hampshire woman died aged 104 in the house she was born in and which she had lived in for her whole life – http://dailym.ai/1Xff6NP

Staff at Taunton Deane crematorium took a tough line with memorialised grave: “The memorial was placed without the necessary permit or permit fee being paid, and without the grave owners’ permission. Therefore the crematorium staff removed the memorial.” – http://bit.ly/21l3idS

Times columnist Janice Turner had a chat with her florist: ‘She told me of a woman who every day had to take a loaf of bread to her difficult mother. It was always wrong: burnt, stale, too soft, too hard. And when she died, the daughter had a floral tribute made of a loaf. The florist calls it up on her iPhone, garnished with Babybels. Its implicit, passive-aggressive message was: “So is this bread OK for you, Mum?”

‘Then the florist beckons me into the back room: “You have to see this.” Her colleague is busy making a wreath featuring a silver ashtray. “Apparently this lady really loved a smoke.” Did she, um, die of cancer? “Dunno. But we’re doing the fag so it lights up at the end. It’s all in the details.”’

Is it good PR for an undertaker to give Easter eggs to a children’s hospice? http://bit.ly/1pzLRux

A US evangelical Christian blog carried this observation about funerals:  “Our anti-sacramental impulse isn’t well-suited to an occasion that calls for sacrament. This is an occasion that calls for liturgy and ritual, and those just aren’t things evangelicals are inclined or equipped to supply.” http://bit.ly/1LWgq7u

A man in Utah shot himself dead on the lawn of a funeral home – http://bit.ly/1SFeYYJ

An insurance company that sells over-50s life insurance funded a survey that, among other things, discovered that family and friends in the UK have spent collectively £4.8 billion on funerals for their loved ones over the last 5 years. And the research shows that to fund these funerals 2.7 million people have taken out some form of finance (credit cards, personal loans and payday loans) spending £1.6 billion.” There are other funeral cost findings in the report – Creative campaign FINAL (1)

The Times warned its readers against over-50s plans: “The problem is if you live an average lifespan you will lose out, paying in significantly more than you get out. Heather Morrice wrote to say that her parents always said that their funeral expenses would be met. When her mother became ill a year ago she was given the plan for safekeeping and was ‘aghast to discover that they would only get a fraction of what they paid in.'” (Article paywalled)

In Puerto Rica a dead man attended his funeral sitting in a chair with his eyes open (pic below) – http://bit.ly/1RginIc

Six in ten people ‘see’ their dead partner – http://dailym.ai/1RfipWT

An Australian woman was charged with burying her mum in the garden – http://bit.ly/21pSmf8

How contagious is a corpse? “Contrary to commonly held beliefs, corpses are very poor sources of contagion. It doesn’t matter whether they are fresh or stinking, bloated, green and covered with mould – http://bit.ly/24YwpZa

A grief app was launched in Canada – http://bit.ly/1nHaUKK

Have a great week.

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funerals 2.7 million people have taken out some form of finance (credit cards, personal loans and payday loans) spending £1.6 billion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proudly flying the flag of the NFFD

Yesterday’s news

Sunday, 6 March 2016

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Padre Pio

 

Iraqi gravediggers are counting their blessings as civil war rages. One said: “To be honest about it, it makes us happy to do this job. We make a lot of money.” Suicide bombers are especially good for business. Another undertaker said “Many are incomplete. It depends what the family find. Sometimes we get just a leg or hand to bury. A couple of days ago I buried just two feet from one guy. “Saddam helped us a lot,” said another. “If he wasn’t at war he was always hanging people. Sundays and Wednesdays he’d hang men, Tuesdays he hanged women. So if other business was slow, at least we knew which days of the week to wait for the bodies of the hanged.” http://thetim.es/1prmsD7

In the Sunday Times Beatles biographer Hunter Davies wrote about his wife’s funeral. He wanted the minimum of fuss and was pleased with the Direct Cremation package offered by Leverton’s at £1900. The family designed and printed the service sheets and led the funeral ceremony – “I’ve always hated it at funerals when the person in charge has clearly never met the deceased”. The music was recorded on CD by Leverton’s and the final song was a cover version, not the real thing. Leverton’s rang and apologised and made a donation to Marie Curie. Leverton’s publish their prices online, setting an example all undertakers should follow.

Nice piece here on funeral food in the US deep south – http://bit.ly/1QvjtCB

Dead people in the Isle of Man can now travel to their funeral in a Morris Minor – http://bit.ly/1Ssfpp7

Bristolians enjoy a proper fighting funeral – http://bit.ly/1RO91Xl In Lincolnshire a man was murdered during a funeral wake – http://bbc.in/1L9nDkD

What’s a funeral stylist? Find out here  http://bit.ly/1QXAHWf

The Undertaker is fighting in select venues in April. Book now – http://bit.ly/1R1u8Za

Scots are invited to be writer-in-residence at a funeral parlour to mixed reactions – http://bit.ly/1TjMWTJ

A funeral service was held on the A303 – http://bit.ly/21Q8wE5

The corpse of Padre Pio is going on tour – http://bit.ly/1QDAkRI

A man died hours after watching a video of his wife’s funeral in his hospital bed – http://dailym.ai/1ROaz3z

Golden Charter is booming – http://bit.ly/1pt0uQb

Cilla’s grave isn’t looking good – http://dailym.ai/21TsRVM

King’s College hospital cremated a man without telling his family he was dead – http://dailym.ai/1U4ZPjp

Two Swedes are proposing a vertical cemetery – http://slate.me/1TKTeuf

A funeral show in New Zealand attracted 2000 – http://bit.ly/1p0sBpB

An Australian man was found guilty of the attempted murder of a corpse – http://bit.ly/1U51BAT

That’s your lot. Have a great week.

 

Who cares what you think?

Friday, 4 March 2016

focus-groups

 

I was rung up last year by a newbie undertaker who wanted the GFG to endorse his business. He had opened up in a small market town which already has a respected and established undertaker. Was he aiming to do anything different? No. Had he worked out the size of the market? No. It wouldn’t have taken him more than the few moments it took me. His town has a population of 13,000. The death rate is presently 9.34 per 1,000. So that’s 121.42 funerals a year. Throw in some local villages and you might get that up to 150. Divided between 2 undertakers, one with a big competitive advantage. I asked him why he had set up on his own. Usual story: he’d worked for an undertaker and always dreamed of being his own boss. He hoped it would work out. Why should it?

A little bit of market research goes a long way. We see very little of it in the funerals business, which is why there is such an oversupply of undertakers. The undertaker above is no one-off.

You can possibly help me here because I’ve been AWOL for months and I’m playing catch-up. Has there been any survey by, say, the NAFD or Saif in response to the social trends which account for the ongoing slow death of the traditional funeral as consumers increasingly opt for private funerals or direct cremation followed by a corpseless commemorative event – a celebration of life, a FD-less memorial service? Has anyone conducted a survey to find out what consumers are thinking and why? Considering that the business model of a full-service funeral home depends on people buying the complete suite of services, you’d think a little bit of existential angst might have prompted some market research.

Can any funeral director point to any market research, ever, which shows that bereaved people will beat a path to your door if you buy a new fleet of cars? That they think the marque and newness of your cars is a signifier of excellent personal service? That they give a toss about your cars?

We have regular surveys that tell us what consumers are doing – for example, what music they are choosing to play at a funerals. But precious few asking what they want. None that I can think of.

Progressive funeral people are no better. They think they know what’s best for bereaved people.  They work from preconceptions. They like to say things like “Those trad FDs are the reason why funerals are so bad.” Where’s the evidence that these businesses are not giving people exactly what they ask for? “Funerals have been stolen from the people.” Is this what’s happened or did the people willingly hand over the whole shooting match to the undertakers? “I want to help families reclaim the care of their dead from the undertakers.” Is this what families actually want to do?  How any of them? “People should be able to arrange a funeral that works for them.” Oh nice, what does that look like? “I want to open a funeral home that does things completely differently.” What’s the market need for that? How big is that market? “I want to help disadvantaged people arrange funerals they can afford.” Is there a living in that?

An element of hit-and-hope is always going to characterise any enterprise that seeks to break new ground. But you can only calculate risk if you have taken the trouble to get to know your market first and estimated the likelihood of being able to bring round waverers to the merits of what you’re offering. You leave as little to chance as possible, so you do the hard yards first.

More surveys, that’s what we need. More focus groups. A lot more marketing savvy. Above all, a lot more humility. Funerals are not the preserve of those who know best (and have nothing to learn) whether they’re old-school types with nothing to learn or middle-class so-called progressives.

A lot of people have set the world to rights on this blog, very cogently and persuasively. But it’s amounted to no more than preaching to the choir. The people we need to reach are the people who don’t take a continuous interest in death and funerals — the ones who check in to this website when someone dies and they need to act faster than they can think. Normal people. We need to ask them what they think.  

Death with Dignity plc

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

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Dignity has just published its results for the 52 week period ending 25 December 2015. You can study them here.

Headline figures for readers of this blog are:

Profit per funeral: £1045 – a margin of almost 42%.   This was in spite of the fact that: “Approximately 24 per cent of the funerals performed in the year (2014: 23 per cent) had previously been prearranged. This proportion is anticipated to continue to increase over time. Whilst these funerals represent substantially lower average revenue per funeral, their incremental nature means they are a positive contributor to the Group’s performance.”

Profit per cremation: £600 – a margin of nearly 63%

Our thanks to our number-cruncher for doing the math. The figures above are calculated by dividing underlying operating profit by the number of funerals/cremations carried out. The GFG team congratulates Dignity plc on what appears to be another robust performance.

 

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Over to you!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

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We recently wrote to BBC R4’s Last Word programme suggesting they include more ordinary people – local heroes, we called them – here.

We said: “The stories of those of our fellow-citizens who have lived and struggled and won some and lost some are moving and inspiring. All priests and funeral celebrants know this, as do many undertakers. Every day their life-stories are recounted in crematoria and churches and at gravesides up and down the land, and what stories they are. They celebrate the extraordinariness of ordinary people.”

The producer of Last Word agrees and would like the GFG community to help him out. Here’s what he said: 

Dear Mr Cowling,

In answer to your comment I agree, we should do more ordinary people, (whatever that may constitute) and we do try to; take the case of Mick Murphy the cycling brick layer for example.

I believe that for an obituary to be featured on Last Word there must be a story, and the story must be either entertaining or moving in some way, and that is not easy with both the famous and lesser known people.

You may imagine that we have vast resources at the BBC but sadly we do not – in fact it is just me – and often we are dependent on listeners for suggesting people, ordinary or not, to appear on the programme.

I do hope that you will suggest people to me in the future,  I cannot promise anything but I will always do my best to oblige.

Spread the word!

Kindest regards

Neil George
Producer BBC Last Word.
Broadcasting House,
Portland Place,
London, W1A 1AA

Something old, something news

Monday, 29 February 2016

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Tear of sadness from the Imaginarium of Tears

 

In Wales a car crashed into a funeral procession killing the horse that was pulling the hearse – http://bit.ly/1QHl2Av

The CDAS newsletter is out, full of good things. If you’re not already a subscriber, sign up – http://bit.ly/1LO2aZf

Dead women are being dug up in China to be corpse brides for dead bachelors – http://bit.ly/1oHItNv  This inspired London fashionista to include a corpse bride installation in her recent show – http://dailym.ai/1OHGoq0

Cremation is now legal in Greece. Our brothers and sisters in crematoria are intrigued by this cremator – http://bit.ly/1T3AmYt

Over the last 5 years 1.2 million people have taken out payday loans to cover the cost of a funeral, a total of £576 million – http://bit.ly/1TLnF4x

A discussion about funeral sex here – http://bit.ly/1QlRx5a

Sharp-eyed viewers of Happy Valley saw strangled Amelia Bullmore blink on the mortuary table – http://bit.ly/215TnZO

The C of E can repulse civil celebrants, says the Church Times – http://bit.ly/1VMGvGx  Letter from civil celebrant here – http://bit.ly/21DcOv6

Old people who lose a partner are being fed antidepressants – http://bit.ly/1KPD8Ov

Kenya has a problem with necrophiliac mortuary workers – http://bit.ly/1oITP3Q

Good article by Rosie Inman-Cook of the NDC here – http://bit.ly/1RhL5eu

Disruptive startups are bringing the French funerals business up to date – http://bit.ly/20PFuyC

Finally, in the US people are tending to go to visitations and skip the funeral. Has the British memorial service something to learn from this sort of less structured, drop-in event? http://bit.ly/1VMFmih

That’s it. Have a great week.

No place like home? Really?

Saturday, 27 February 2016

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Seventy per cent of us want to die at home. This rounded figure was obtained using a methodology which funeral industry practitioners may find strikingly odd: namely, by asking people what they want.

It is therefore an informative statistic. If you’re one of the thirty per cent who are happy to die in a hospital, you’re swimming against the tide. Wouldn’t you like to join the majority? Come on over.

If you do, you’ll save the NHS a small fortune.

And there’s the rub. The agencies that broadcast this stat are the ones which stand to benefit from persuading people who want to die in hospital to switch. It’s a self-serving stat. So you begin to wonder how the question was worded. Were people, for example, asked about their preferred place of death or their preferred place of care? To whom was the question put – were they well or ill?

And then you begin to wonder if that 70 per cent headline figure might have been attained by leaving out ‘inconvenient’ data. In November 2015 a scholarly  article titled Do Patients Want to Die at Home? examined the effect of missing data from PPOD (preferred place of death) surveys and concluded that:

Our review shows that when missing data were excluded the majority of participants preferred to die at home. However, when the large amount of missing data were included in the analysis, it could not be stated that home was known to be where most participants with cancer or other conditions wanted to die … We do not know what locations, if any, these ‘missing’ preferences are for and we should therefore be careful about asserting that the majority of patients wish to die at home.

Years ago I discovered what % of people who had cared for a dying person at home wished to die at home themselves. I can’t find it now (I wonder why). From memory, it’s a lot less than 70%. Not really surprising, is it?

Goings on in the death zone

Sunday, 21 February 2016

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Some of the stories in the news last week.

The Daily Telegraph took consumer journalism to an all-time low here

A peek inside Melbourne’s oldest funeral home here

Find out about the excellent Free Funeral Services Society in Burma here. Moving video here.

Residents of Lagos were inconvenienced by a corpse at their bus stop – here

Love a gangster funeral (pic above)? Here’s the big one, from Dublin + more pics – here

A corpseless head with red rubber balls for eyes turned up in a field in Pennsylvania – here

In Kenya a drunken mourner was beaten up for making a nuisance of himself. In Yorkshire a drunken mourner dragged his partner along the street by her hair – here

In India a mortuary technician spoke out about his profession: ““Cutting open a dead body or decomposed body or an accident body, is a tough task. It needs courage and mental stability. And we do it under influence of alcohol.” Here

There was an important ruling in Dorset concerning the inheritance rights of common law spouses – here

In Italy a coffee tycoon had his ashes put into one of his iconic coffee-makers – here

There was a nasty funeral-plan scam in Bournemouth – here

At the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge there’s a fascinating exhibition about the evolution of ancient Egyptian coffee design. Here

In Kenya, coffin sellers were urged to move away from a hospital because they were alarming the patients – here

In India a row between neighbours ended up with a 5 year-old boy being lobbed into a funeral pyre – here

The Linder calendar receives a salacious review in the Mail here. I am accustomed to being berated for drawing attention to the Lindner calendar. It’s a mystifying curiosity. Here

There’s a visual history of corpse paint here

Good blog post from Dignity in Dying reviewing the way things are panning out in Oregon – here

Another undertaker has written a book about his adventures – here

The Telegraph asks what happens to people who die in aeroplanes – here

Lastly, Carla Valentine has a book coming in out in, be patient, 2017 – here. If you don’t know of Carla, check out her website and get dating here.

Have a great week!

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