Category Archives: Attitudes to death

Should women be allowed to go to funerals?

Thursday, 17 October 2013



I don’t suppose there can be many ‘indigenous’ funerals held these days which prohibit the presence of women. There may be one or two redoubts in Presbyterian Scotland. Bucking the trend in the wider community, though, many Muslims prohibit their presence. 

Why ban women from funerals? To spare their feelings, mostly. Or put it another way, because they can’t be relied on to hold themselves in check. Women, as is well known, are easily subverted by the slightest emotion. They are prone to making a scene and creating disorder. 

This, at least, is the consideration which informs a thumbs-up for female funeral attendance at Muslim funerals in America, where Shaykh Luqman Ahmad has delivered this ruling

based upon the fact that Muslims in America, as a rule do not engage in the practices of wailing, tearing clothing, beating the cheeks, and hollering out bad statements at funerals, and the evidence from the sunna of the Prophet (SAWS) and the view of the scholars we have mentioned, it is not haram for Muslim women to accompany the funeral procession to the grave sites as long as they are able to control themselves … If there is a probability that attendance at the burial will stir emotions to a degree where unlawful behavior will likely occur … then it is prohibitively disliked.

Women: know your limits

Funerals for peace?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


Posted by Vale

Why don’t we want to fight any more? After centuries of sending out the gunboats, the bombers or the troopships, with a wave, a cheery heart and perhaps a chorus of ‘Goodbyee’ suddenly we are not so keen. Britain’s reputation is at stake. Has the British bulldog turned into a lapdog?

The Ministry of Defence is so worried that they have commissioned a study. What can they do to make the idea of going to war more appealing?

One of the answers, as ever, is by making sure we are ignorant of the consequences and for the first time it puts fds in the firing line.

The Guardian reports that the MoD had considered a number of steps, including reducing:

“the profile of the repatriation ceremonies” – an apparent reference to the processions of hearses carrying coffins draped in the union flag that were driven through towns near RAF bases where bodies were brought back.

For four years up to 2011, 345 servicemen killed in action were brought back to RAF Lyneham and driven through Royal Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire, in front of crowds of mourners. Since then, bodies have been repatriated via RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, with hearses driven through nearby Carterton.

The MoD’s suggestion received a scathing reaction from some families of dead military personnel. Deborah Allbutt, whose husband Stephen was killed in a friendly fire incident in Iraq in 2003, described the proposals for repatriation ceremonies as “brushing the deaths under the carpet”.

What do you think? Should these ceremonies go – for the greater good of course?

You can read the full article here.

As a reminder, here’s a memory of the good old days:

What’s next?

Friday, 27 September 2013



Don’t underestimate the insistence of the human ego on a negotiated immortality and the dread of losing even this. If all the people on earth die, and there are no more to come, it also means that my traces, my genes and the children who carry them, my influence on others, words I have written and spoken, music and art I may have created, all the shouts and whispers of who I am, are also erased. I die twice. SANDRA SHAPIRO

While I do care about the future of my friends and family, I do the things I enjoy doing regardless of what happens after my death because, according to my existentialist perspective, there is no purpose to life besides taking advantage of what it gives us. NATALIE BARMAN

Source in response to this

The Protestant death ethic

Thursday, 26 September 2013



From the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, the foundational doctrine of the Scottish reformation church. 

WHEN any person departeth this life, let the dead body, upon the day of burial, be decently attended from the house to the place appointed for publick burial, and there immediately interred, without any ceremony.

And because the custom of kneeling down, and praying by or towards the dead corpse, and other such usages, in the place where it lies before it be carried to burial, are superstitious; and for that praying, reading, and singing, both in going to and at the grave, have been grossly abused, are no way beneficial to the dead, and have proved many ways hurtful to the living; therefore let all such things be laid aside.

Howbeit, we judge it very convenient, that the Christian friends, which accompany the dead body to the place appointed for publick burial, do apply themselves to meditations and conferences suitable to the occasion; and that the minister, as upon other occasions, so at this time, if he be present, may put them in remembrance of their duty.

Monday, 23 September 2013


Posted by Richard Rawlinson

If you watch this 1912 film of the funeral of the Salvation Army founder William Booth, you’ll notice that many of the mourners in the streets of London are wearing white armbands. Salvationists see the death of the faithful as a ‘Promotion to Glory’, hence the white armbands on uniformed ‘soldiers’ of the church, along with the uplifting sound of a brass band. 


ED’S NOTE: The hymn you hear is Shall We Gather at the River, an old spiritual. Below is a version by Willie Nelson. 


Death Over Dinner

Wednesday, 11 September 2013


It seems that Death Cafe has spawned a little brother, birthplace Portland Oregon, dob sometime earlier this summer. It’s name is Death Over Dinner. 

The aims of Death Over Dinner are pretty much the same as those of Death Cafe, namely, to get folk together to talk about you-know-what. It’s the initiative of Michael Hebb, who works at the University of Washington. The rationale for dinnertime deathchat? In Hebb’s words: “The dinner table is the most forgiving place for difficult conversation. The ritual of breaking bread creates warmth and connection, and puts us in touch with our humanity. It offers an environment that is more suitable than the usual places we discuss end of life.”

It’s a good formula. Death Cafe has already taught us that the model works. I must own up here to my own blindness to Death Cafe — I didn’t think it would. How wrong, sometimes, can we be.

The Death Over Dinner website is excellent. It is simple, instantly understandable and, above all, empowering. You can rapidly plan your own dinner party online. It is suggested that you give your guests, and yourself, a bit of homework in advance. You choose that from a bunch of truly excellent resources. The system generates an invitation to your guests together with tips about how you might facilitate the discussion. When it’s over, you can share your experience with the website which, usefully, pools them with others. 

The website is highly functional. It’s a lovely piece of work. Top marks go to the collection of resources, written, audio and visual. 

There are downsides. It is very US-centric. I very much didn’t like: “We have gathered dozens of esteemed medical and wellness leaders to create an uplifting interactive adventure” because like most Brits I don’t like being told what’s good for me by leaders of any sort. These initiatives work best if they’re bottom- up — like Death Cafe.  

Given Death Cafe’s viral spread around the world, there’s probably a lot to be said for the two initiatives working together. 

You can have a dummy run on the website — fill out the form and see what you think of the contents of the email you get back moments later. 

There is much to commend this enterprise. Find the website here





Tea with Daisy

Thursday, 4 July 2013



In which our guest blogger Richard Rawlinson is compelled to account for a socially questionable hobby

I googled your name recently and found you on some funeral blog site. What’s that all about?

Ha ha, oh yeah, I know the guy who runs it. Just help him out every once in a while.

I think you’re blushing, Dickie!

Am I? Well, I don’t want you thinking I’ve developed some morbid fascination with death.

No, no. It’s okay. In fact, I think it’s good to confront our mortality. And I was quite interested in a piece there about natural burial. Cremations seems quite unnatural. Positively Indian.

Do you mean natural burial grounds or just burial in a cemetery or churchyard?

The ones in a field of wild flowers. Way out in the sticks. No gravestones. Shrouds instead of coffins and all that. Are they kosher?

Depends what you mean by kosher.

Well… Christian. Mummy would turn in her consecrated grave if she thought I’d gone pagan. Except she was cremated like an Indian.

More like 70 per cent of the British population nowadays, Dais. I think the growth of these natural burial grounds is reviving traditional burial. It’s good that landowners are giving over fields as established cemeteries are running out of space. Not sure if they’re Christian per se, though. I’m sure some nature-loving religious folk choose ‘em as well as some new age types.

I should check them out. I’m not exactly religious myself these days, and yet they seem more spiritual than the few crematoriums I’ve been to. Mummy must have just been going with the flow. Are crematoriums largely for atheists?

Crematoria, not crematoriums. They’re for anyone, secular venues for a ceremony and a factory for the incineration. Your ashes can then be buried in a cemetery or natural burial ground, kept on the mantelpiece or thrown to the wind. Sometimes people have a church funeral before the crem and sometimes they don’t. If you wanted, you could have a church funeral before a committal in a field of wild flowers.

Blimey. How much time do you spend on that site? I thought you were always working, travelling or partying.

I have plenty of down time staying in of an evening. Death is just one of my hobbies!

Now you do sound macabre! I might join you on the site though.

Ok, but don’t say things like Hindu pyres are unnatural. It might make some people cross.


Does death really matter so little?

Thursday, 13 June 2013



Citizens of the UK have no statutory right to bereavement leave. Momentous as the event of a death may be, it is not reckoned to be of sufficient magnitude to enjoy equal rights with birth. Says a lot about our cultural attitudes to mortality, doesn’t it? 

There’s currently an e-petition calling for a legal right to take time off work in the aftermath of a death. It’s passed the 10,000 mark, triggering a response from the government. This is what they say: 

The death of a family member is deeply upsetting for those involved and the Government would expect any employer to respond to such situations with sensitivity and flexibility. However, the Government believes that all requests for leave related to bereavement are best left for employers and their employees to decide between themselves. The Government has not legislated for bereavement leave in any situation and there are no plans to introduce a specific right to support bereaved parents/relatives. In doing so we would be obliged to put in place limits, standards and definitions. The amount of leave needed can vary from one individual to another, and defining what family relationship would qualify for such leave, would be difficult, as it would be impossible to legislate for every circumstance. Whilst there is no specific right to “bereavement leave”, all employees do have a day-one right to “time off for dependants” which allows them to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with unexpected or sudden emergencies, including when a close family member dies. Time off will cover arranging and attending the funeral. Employees who exercise this right are protected against dismissal or victimisation. The right does not include an entitlement to pay. The decision as to whether the employee will be paid is left to the employer’s discretion or to the contract of employment between them. The Government hopes that employers are as sympathetic and flexible as possible in responding to employee requests for time off, particularly when bereavement is involved. This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.

There may be flaws in the government’s argument. The statement “defining what family relationship would qualify for such leave, would be difficult” applies equally to birth, doesn’t it? It isn’t difficult at all. 

You can sign the petition here. I hope you will. It won’t make the slightest bit of difference in the short term. We have to play the long game with this one. 

Here’s a reminder of the present status quo: 

Maternity leave

As an employee you have the right to 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave making one year in total. The combined 52 weeks is known as Statutory Maternity Leave. 

Paternity leave

As long as you meet certain conditions you can take either one or two weeks’ Ordinary Paternity Leave. You can’t take odd days off and if you take two weeks they must be taken together. 

Compassionate leave

If you are an ‘employee’, you have the right to unpaid time off work to deal with emergencies involving a ‘dependant’ – this could be your husband, wife, partner, child, parent, or anyone living in your household as a member of the family.  

When a dependant dies, you can take time off to make funeral arrangements, as well as to attend a funeral.  

Beyond wordless

Monday, 3 June 2013



David Aaronovitch tells a tale in today’s Times which seems to speak volumes about, uh, attitudes to death, or families, or Britishness or… something, such that I thought I must share it with you. The background is that the Aaronovich family dog, a Kerry Blue, has been diagnosed with cancer and will die soon. 

When the vet told us, my wife Sarah and I were upset enough on our own account. But Sarah was particularly worried about how the children would take it. Exams were coming; there were other problems to be dealt with. Perhaps we should put off telling them until the moment was more propitious.

Then, as we dithered, a friend who lives in Lincolnshire phoned and told us about her experience. She has four young children, and they had grown together, played together, yapped together with their dog, a schnauzer called Dennis. Dennis was afflicted by illness rather more suddenly than Ruby and a schoolday visit to the vet established that it was probably best for the poor animal to be ushered in the next world within the week.

Our friend could not bring herself to tell the children who she knew would be badly affected by the news. So she didn’t let on, which meant that on the day of execution she had done nothing to prepare her little ones. They came home from school to the dogless house and, amazingly, didn’t seem to notice. So our friend put off the dreaded moment again.

Tuesday came and went, then Wednesday and she began to wonder. After a week in which not one of the children had so much as mentioned the dog once, it occurred to their mother that she might have overestimated the trauma of Dennis’s demise. To this day she hasn’t said anything and neither have her children.


When death is no longer the worst thing that can happen to you

Monday, 27 May 2013



Phonobarbital — what they do you in with


It’s not the worthy efforts of the members of the Dying Matters coalition that have raised awareness of the need to talk about death and dying. What’s actually got more and more of us talking is our personal experiences of the difficult and protracted end-of-life suffering of members of our families. Alongside twenty-first century death agony, extinction is the least we have to fear. Bring it on, goes up the cry, as, just this week, the Falconer Assisted Dying Bill passed its first reading in the House of Lords, Vermont became the fourth state in the USA to legislate for assisted suicide (let’s call it what it is, shall we, Charlie?) and in liberal (if that’s the right word) Switzerland an 80 year old woman in perfectly good health appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to be allowed to go now rather than get any older. She’s had enough, thanks. 

Live issues in this debate are: 1) what constitutes suffering; 2) the right of the state to limit personal autonomy and an individual’s right to self-determination; 3) the duty of doctors to write a prescription for those who ask for a chemical exit; and 4) the protection of those going through a depressive patch or who are susceptible to duress from predatory relatives, etc.

Over time, of course, this is going to reconfigure attitudes to funerals. 

In the context of all this, I was struck by the following letter in last Sunday’s Sunday Times:  

It isn’t just dementia that thwarts our plans. I also dread the disease that robbed me of my mother, and the thought of my daughter changing my nappies and enduring tyrannical rages  and repeated conversations fills me with dismay.

So strong are my feelings that five years ago I wrote a detailed advance directive,  had it witnessed, shared it with my family and lodged a copy with my GP. I take little comfort from this as it  appears that some people — who do not know me but  have some religious or ethical opinion — are insisting they have more rights over my  body than me.

Why should the limited resources of this tiny planet be used on my dribbling, deranged shell when I’ve requested otherwise?

Sue Parkes, Halesowen, West Midlands

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