Category Archives: direct cremation

The fashion of death…

Friday, 1 July 2016

Victorian mourning hats

Guest post by Howard Hodgson



‘In the midst of life we are but in death, of whom may we seek for succour but thee oh Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased’ are words that most of us would have associated with an Anglican funeral service a decade ago. But this is no longer the case today. Why?

It is because the post war baby boomers are starting to die. Therefore, the children of the social revolution of the early 1960s, who ripped down the lasting vestures of Victorian society and values and replaced such discipline and order with the Beatles and Bob Dylan, are now attacking conventional death ritual as it looms towards them.

This is hardly surprising. Why would a generation who grabbed power and kept it do anything else? Paul McCartney, aged 74, still fills stadia all over the world with people of all ages to listen to his music, most of which was written over 40 years ago.

We are talking of a pampered generation from birth that believes in ‘oh how to die’ as much as it did in ‘oh how to be a teenager’ all those years ago. Therefore, it is not surprising that it questions the need to have a traditional funeral – and all the costs associated with it.

This is because these folk are less religious and more allergic to formality than their parents. Therefore, they don’t like the cost associated with a distressed purchase and, in the case of some, would prefer not to be forced to attend a morbid occasion but a more colourful celebration of life or even have a party instead. After all, we are talking about the original sex, drugs and rock and roll generation.

So, while there is no escaping the pain of bereavement, it is everyone’s right to choose how to deal with it – and this is their way and it follows 100% their way of living.

As a result, today some families are shocked and concerned that a traditional funeral will cost around £4,500 while they are quite content to spend more on a family holiday and four times that sum on a wedding. This is pure baby boomer thinking.

At Memoria, we have developed three options of direct cremation to meet this new demand. Interest has been very considerable, as it has been in the same options available in the form of three pre-arranged direct cremation plans. Such options allow a family to have a one hour service of their choice while reducing the costs by between 55 – 80% dependent upon the option selected.

Last year we conducted just a mere handful of direct cremations. This year the total equals about 7% of our turnover. While I don’t expect direct cremation to grow to become 100% of the market, I do expect it to grow to over 40% in the next decade.

Furthermore, I can report that such growth is being driven by social groups A, B and C, while D and E still prefer to arrange traditional funerals. Therefore, it is safe to say that so-called ‘funeral poverty’ has little or nothing to do with this new trend.

Nevertheless, the introduction of direct cremation services has widened the choice available to all and this is a very good thing too for people of limited financial means, while not having any affect on those who still wish to choose a traditional funeral complete with hearses and limousines etc.

So there is absolutely no reason why ‘Abide with me’ should not be sung in one service and ‘Hey Jude’ played in the next.


Howard Hodgson

Is your funeral really necessary?

Tuesday, 22 March 2016



All of a sudden the media has started to take an interest in direct cremation. It’s the death of Anita Brookner wot done it. Here at the GFG we got calls after Bowie was whisked into the flames but little was written. I guess Bowie wasn’t reckoned sufficiently representative of mainstream people to be regarded as a sign of the times.

Will the upcoming Government consultation – here – take account of the needs of direct cremationists, we wonder, and consider abolishing the charge for the ceremony hall (chapel), and institute a dropoff service (also useful for home funeralists)?

What’s interesting about direct cremation is that it has come about without the benefit of advocacy by funeral reformers, who have been mostly (ironically) chattering about the desirability of more corpse-centric sendoffs. No one in the death biz saw direct cremation coming. How brilliant is that? The GFG has been, as in everything, way off the pace. In 2008 we wrote: In the UK we are culturally conditioned to believe that a funeral for a body is indispensable. Could that change?” In 2009 we wrote “We never thought [direct cremation] would jump the Atlantic, but it has. In 2010 we had second thoughts:  “It seems unthinkable that the practice of direct cremation … could land on our shores.”

Land on our shores? From where? Why, America, of course. But is direct cremation a transplanted practice – or did it arise here spontaneously? I’ve come to favour the latter theory. Increasingly, death announcements tell us, people are separating the disposal of the corpse from the memorial event, as in “Private cremation followed by a celebration of life to be held at…” The corpseless funeral and direct cremation are brother and sister.  

What bothers the media is what may also bother you. Isn’t it emotionally injurious to deny people the opportunity to pay their respects and say a ritual farewell to the person who’s died? No point in debating that question, it has already been answered. For certain people, certain deaths are best marked by a direct cremation or a corpseless funeral. End of.

Which doesn’t mean to say that the consideration of the needs and feelings of others has evaporated. David Holmes reminded us of this a couple of weeks ago when he was involved in a death not as an undertaker but as a family friend. He wrote:

The driver for them all is DOING THE RIGHT THING. This is to be a cremation, with traditional coffin and hearse, we will wear less formal clothes …They want to do it this way because they all think this IS the way it should be done. There has been time for me to gently suggest alternatives, and frankly, their emotional state made me hesitant to suggest much at all as an alternative. When I have, they have usually closed me down.

This chimes with a recent correspondence we had with a person of extremely limited means. She was inclined to do it all from home affordably and decorate a cardboard coffin bought on the internet. Then, all of a sudden, she wanted a formal funeral with a horse-drawn hearse. She was wrenched one way and the other by what she felt to be a need to show the world she cared.

This was in contrast to the man, a few days later, who wanted to be put in touch with a direct cremationist. At 94 he was a bright as you like and wanted to talk about the issues. He is affluent, educated and freethinking, so he is socially fearless. More than that, he feels that even in death he has a duty to set an example to less confident people. He wants to give them ‘permission’ to make the same choice as him and do what they are inclined to do, not as they feel expected to do.

Here’s the point. Increasingly, people go to a funeral these days with no idea what to expect now that liturgy, even in religious ceremonies, has been replaced by a mash-up. When you don’t know what to expect, you’re open to… anything.

Bring on the empty corpses

Monday, 17 November 2014



Book review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Caitlin Doughty, graduate in medieval history and author of a sunny thesis entitled The Suppression of Demonic Births in Late Medieval Witchcraft Theory, rejects a promising career in academia in favour of one as a corpse handler and incinerator of the dead.

Anticipating bewilderment she asks, rhetorically, “So, really, what was a nice girl like me working at a ghastly ol’ crematory like Westwind?” And she goes on to tell us what drew her to it. She describes a traumatic childhood trigger event. I won’t reveal what it was, of course; you need to read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes for yourself. Her theory is that she dispelled the consequent denial that insulated her from the traumatic event by confronting her fears and getting on down with corpses. As a result of this self-prescribed and gruelling CBT she is now at peace with the “stillness and perfection of death”.

More than that, Doughty is now the world’s leading cheerleader for death: “Death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives,” she says, “but in fact it is the very source of our creativity.” This is just one of many debatable assertions she makes in this book. Death may inspire urgency and thereby rouse latent creativity, but it is doubtful whether it can put in what God left out.

Doughty is the leader of a clever, charismatic and acclaimed corpse cult, the Order of the Good Death, “a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.” You’ve seen the Ask A Mortician video series — you have, haven’t you? She’s sassy, funny, outrageous and very likeable. She’s a brilliant performer. She spills and splashes behind-the-scenes secrets with a mischievous glee that appals and infuriates industry insiders, who firmly believe that there are Things It’s Best We Don’t Know. To this day, despite a great and growing following, she remains shunned by the National Funeral Directors Association. Her preparedness to bring down, in Biblical abundance, the murderous fear and loathing of old school funeral people takes guts. She’s outrageous because she’s also passionately seriousness.

Like so many progressives, Doughty is essentially retrogressive — in a positive way. Her prescription for the way things are is to get back to doing them the way we did. Nowadays, when someone dies, we call the undertaker and have them disappeared. This, reckons Doughty, is a symptom of a “vast mortality cover-up … society’s structural denial of death … There has never been a time in the history of the world when a culture has broken so completely with traditional methods of body disposition and beliefs surrounding mortality.”

The way to restore society to emotional and psychological health, Doughty believes, is to engage with the event and get hands-on with the corpse. She believes that “more families would choose to take responsibility for their own dead if they knew that it was a possibility.”

This is what working in a crematory teaches her: “Westwind Cremation & Burial changed my understanding of death. Less than a year after donning my corpse-colored glasses, I went from thinking it was strange that we don’t see dead bodies any more to believing their absence was a root cause of problems in the modern world. Corpses keep the living tethered to reality.”

I’m not so sure. I have in mind David Clark’s 1982 paper, Death in Staithes. The older inhabitants of Staithes, a fishing village on the east coast of Yorkshire, could easily recall the way things used to be: “When a person passed away the first thing they did was go for the board – the lying-out board,” which was kept by the village joiner. The lying-out itself was supervised by women qualified by skill and experience. These same villagers had lived through the commodification of death and the arrival of the Co-operative. To them the hands-on past is no paradise lost and they display no desire to return to it.

I question Doughty’s assertion that we suffer from “structural denial of death.” If we were to think about death some more, would it really do us any good? Yes, she says: “I don’t just pretend to love death. I really do love death. I bet you would too if you got to know him.” Elsewhere, she writes: “Accepting death doesn’t mean that you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by the bigger existential questions like ‘Why do people die?'”

Philip Larkin felt sort of the same until he hit 50. In Julian Barnes’ words, “our national connoisseur of mortal terror … died in a hospital in Hull. A friend, visiting him the day before, said, ‘If Philip hadn’t been drugged, he would have been raving. He was that frightened.’” Pretty much the same can be said about the death of another connoisseur, Sherwin Nuland, the man who wrote with spooky prescience “I have not seen much dignity in the process by which we die.” He was that frightened, too.

“Let us … reclaim our mortality,” exhorts Doughty headily. But does the dearth of corpses in our lives really distance us from death? Death was big in the lives of everyone in the past because people died at any age. They don’t do that so much now, they mostly die old, and that’s less tragic, less sensational. But death is arguably bigger in our lives than ever before because the dying spend so bloody long about it. There can be very few children who are not acquainted with a tottering, muttering relative, and very few adults who do not spend years despairingly caring for dementing, degenerating parents. They are in no doubt about what their parents are doing: they are dying a modern death, a slow and beastly death. That’s why there’s such an intense national conversation in so many countries about assisted suicide — come on, how mortality aware is that? Far from being a time of death denial, the present age has focussed our attention on mortality at least as urgently as any other because the distressing dilapidation of legions of almost-corpses starkly and terrifyingly prefigures our own end times, leaving us in no doubt that the home straight is going to be unutterably horrible. If we don’t feel we have much to learn from corpses, we learn as much as we feel we need from the living dead (ever seen a stroke ward?) and from self-deliverers like Brittany Maynard. They teach us the allure of Nembutal. We talk about this. A lot.

What people believe also plays its part in modern attitudes. Religious and spiritual-but-not-religious people are, pretty much all of them, dualists. There’s a soul and there’s a body. It’s a belief reinforced by the appearance of any corpse they have ever seen. Gape-jawed and evacuated of all vitality, a corpse speaks of the absence of self. Whoever it once embodied has gone. The corpse is not the person, so what value is there to be gained from cosseting it? This isn’t a new thing. Radical Protestantism has always taught it. Calvinist settlers in America became very careless of the ‘dignity’ of their soul-less dead and drifted into just hauling them into the forest or pushing them into rivers. In some places it got so bad that neighbours were appointed to oversee next door’s disposal arrangements and held responsible for making sure things were done properly. For these settlers, direct cremation would have been a godsend.

If I take issue with Doughty’s thesis, it is because someone’s got to. For Doughty, the contemplation of the corpse is “the beginning of wisdom.” If you are inclined to believe that, she says, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you you are ‘sick’ or ‘morbid’ or ‘deviant.’”

What does morbid mean, exactly? It is Doughty herself who has pointed out that it has no antonym. Yes, what is the word for a healthy interest in death and dying? How does it express itself? Doughty and her fellow members of the Order of the Good Death express their wisdom exotically, sharing delight in much that others would regard as macabre — transi tombs, taxidermy, mortabilia and of all sorts. All a bit goth for my taste; I think there’s more than a dash of innate morbidity here. It would be idiotic to question the charisma of the cause, because it has attracted a huge worldwide following. How does it play to Mr and Mrs Everyday-Person? It remains to be seen. All I can say is that, speaking as a detached and jaded dullwit, after 6 years of hanging out with funeral people and their charges I remain unconvinced of the value of the corpse in death rituals, and while I acknowledge matter-of-factly the inevitability of death, I hate it as much as I ever did.

If by now you need some remission from my grinding and joyless pessimism, you need to buy this book. It it touches all the right bases — funny, shocking, sad, wise. Above all, it is full of hope and purpose. It is also highly readable. It was only when I re-read it that I became aware just how beautifully constructed it is. This is the work of a highly intelligent person who has got the inspiration-perspiration balance right (1:99). What she has to say is the product of experience, a lot of it penitential. She has captured the zeitgeist. This is a manifesto for today.

ECSTASY OF DECAY №1: Your Mortician from Angeline Gragasin on Vimeo.

Say hello to the new normal

Tuesday, 29 April 2014



Bastards. That’s what we used to call them. Next, illegitimate. We don’t call children born out of wedlock anything any more because we don’t feel we need to make a distinction.

Britain would be awash with bastards today if we still used the word because 4 out of 10 children are raised by unmarried parents. Happily the stigma of bastardy has entirely vanished. Some people get married, some don’t – whatever works for them. Some opt for a public, ceremonial plighting of troths, others for private, personal undertakings to each other. Neither the marrieds nor the cohabiters are judgemental of each other, and no one talks about living in sin any more – or shotgun weddings, remember them?

A feature of social change is that, no matter what birth pangs attend its arrival, it immediately becomes a non-event. The lead up to the gay marriage law was marked by much hullabaloo. As soon as the law passed, gay marriage become yawnsville – unremarkable. We absorb and carry on.

Direct cremation and direct burial were once reckoned astonishing and, more to the point, injurious to the emotional health of those who opted for it. It would deny them closure, leave them with all manner of unresolved grief issues. But they just keep on coming, and there is no evidence that bereavement support groups are swollen by their number.

Here at the GFG we get more and more people emailing to say thank you to us for giving them ‘permission’ not to have a ceremonial funeral after reading this: Do you really have to have a funeral?

And we meet and talk to more and more undertakers who get it  — who respect direct disposal as a positive choice.

There’s been no discernible rearguard defence of the public ceremonial funeral from the conservative, traditionalist wing of the industry in Britain, and this is puzzling. You have to go to America to hear the case made:

“A good funeral involves facing the fact of death and not dispatching someone like [an undertaker] to get rid of the bad news—by removing the body from sight—but embracing the fact we have a corpse in our midst. It attends to the task of consigning this person somewhere, not in some perfunctory way but doing it with attention, ceremony, and some quest for meaning.” [Source]

Mark Higgins, the man who said that, is exactly the sort of funeral conservative you might expect him to be. What drew him to undertaking?

“I loved the pomp and circumstance, the drama, the dignity, if you will, the “black” of the event affected me. The vestments of the clergy, the black cars … We put ourselves in a posture of reverence and respect.”

It’s Thomas Lynch, together with Thomas Long, both of whom have written the best books out there on funerals, who are leading the die-hard traditionalists. Here’s Lynch:

“…. the presence of the dead so ups the existential ante that people generally feel the increased gravitas, the broadening of the emotional register, the increased sense of purpose and duty, the sense that we are somehow at swim in deeper water where the range of possible conversations and outcomes is broadened. The presence of the dead embodies, in utter stillness, the raison d’etre for the gathering, for the nervous laughter and the tears, for the wailing and belly laughs, for the entire spectrum of of responses and conversations — some holy, some hilarious, all of them focussed on the dead and the ones to whom the dead matter most.”

And he quotes Alan Ball, creator of Six Feet Under: “once you put a dead guy in the room you can talk about anything.”

Lynch and Long’s belief in the vital importance of having a dead guy in the room is unquestionably sincere. They have the best interests of the bereaved at heart. But it looks as if they are beginning to lose the argument.

This is a state of affairs for which the traditionalists cannot blame the ‘progressives’. Both camps, ironically, believe strongly in the importance of spending time in the presence of the dead. It goes without saying that this belief is in no way the product of commercial considerations.

No, direct disposal is something that has happened to undertakers and celebrants. Already it is already becoming unremarkable. It’s not for everybody, of course. But it’s the new normal. From now on, some people are going to want the dead guy in the room, others aren’t. Whatever works for them.

The impact of this on the professional status of funeral directors is likely to be profound. We’ll deal with all that in a follow-up post.


Thinking the unsinkable

Monday, 3 June 2013



In October 2008, in a piece about direct cremation, I wrote this: In the UK we are culturally conditioned to believe that a funeral for a body is indispensable. Could that change? In July 2009 I wrote: I never thought [direct cremation] would jump the Atlantic, but it has. We now have our first direct cremation service over here and it’s busy. Simplicity Cremations*, it’s called.

I seem not to have been wholly persuaded, however, for in March 2010 I wrote: It seems unthinkable that the practice of direct cremation … could land on our shores. In May 2010, in response to a very valuable analysis by Nick Gandon, Jonathan, a sagacious and valued commenter on this blog, wrote: Funeral directors aren’t set up to cater for direct cremation because the demand is almost nil. 

Seems like ancient history now.

The growth of direct cremation marks a cultural shift that, so far as I know, has gone unremarked by the British media. So far as the media is concerned, direct cremation doesn’t mark a cultural shift at all, it’s simply a branch of the cheaper funerals market, and we all want cheaper funerals, don’t we? The Dismal Trade seems mostly to share this analysis. Direct cremation is for poor people who can’t afford a full fig funeral, for a few well-off middle class people who want a ‘fuss-free’ funeral, and for the I’m-not-worth-it brigade who don’t reckon they’re worth funeralling anyway. It’s a niche market. 

So far as we can tell from their responses, funeral directors experience the impact of direct cremation as a commercial, not a cultural phenomenon, and certainly not as an existential threat. Most people still want a trad funeral, but direct cremation has affected the trad funerals market by making stripped-down respectable.  It has empowered funeral shoppers to say no to stuff they don’t actually really want. The days of one limo or two have been succeeded by one limo or none — oh, and no flowers, either, thanks. We are witnessing a watering down of the Big Black Funeral. How much more dilution can it take? 

Culturally, until the last five years or so, we supposed there to be a crucial, indispensable emotional and spiritual value in holding a funeral in the presence of a dead body.  Now, we’re not so sure. A combination of all manner of factors may be responsible, longevity in particular — when death is merely the postscript to a long and beastly illness, there doesn’t seem to be much more grief work to do. On the other hand, the deaths of young people remain not just as momentous as ever, but more so. 

There is, arguably, a perfectly good rationale for direct cremation. Reducing a body to ‘ash’ and rendering it, thereby, portable, durable and divisible, is a very effective way of preparing it for a funeral. There is remarkably little understanding of this among funeral directors; most of them simply do not get it, probably because they scent no commercial opportunity. 

So here are the big questions:

Is it preferable, in the interest of emotional and spiritual health, to hold a funeral in the presence of a dead body? Or do ashes actually serve perfectly well?

Biggest question of all: 

  • Is it perilous to your emotional health not to hold a funeral at all? After all, we get to carry on without the benefit of a formal ceremony or other ritual observance after near-bereavement experiences like the breakdown of a relationship, or redundancy, or a child leaving home. We resolve those privately. 

It seems extraordinary that the funeral industry has mounted no concerted defence of the funeral. Nor, so far as I know, have any academics responded to what’s going on and debated the question: Is your funeral really necessary? 

Because if pragmatic Brits cotton on to the idea that a funeral serves no purpose, does them absolutely no good at at all, is all just a lot of hollow show and hot air, they’ll be only too pleased to say goodbye to a tradition they never had much time for anyway. 

And that’ll be curtains for an industry thought to be unsinkable. 

*Simplicity Cremations is now Simplicita Cremations. I’ll leave it to Nick to explain why.



Good question, Poppy

Tuesday, 22 January 2013



In 2010/11, 40,000 women attended NCT antenatal classes. This is on top of regular meetings with midwives and GPs. Mumsnet gets 50 million page views per month. We clearly want information badly.

So why do we prepare ourselves for birth and death so differently?

Read the whole of Poppy Mardall’s article in the Huffington Post here

Well done, Poppy, for getting the message out!


Is ceremony dying?

Thursday, 9 August 2012


Posted by Richard Rawlinson


This seems a strange question just after economically-challenged Britain has hosted the Olympics, a no-expenses-spared ceremonial games that unites nations in celebration of sporting prowess.

But as the cult of individuality nibbles away at established social conventions, more and more people seem to be caring less for ceremony on a more intimate level. It didn’t seem particularly surprising when a woman of my acquaintance announced on facebook she’d just had a quickie marriage in a register office, adding friends would be invited to a bash some months after the honeymoon. I’ve also attended a memorial drinks party several weeks after a no-frills committal to which only family were invited to the crematorium. As we tucked into canapes, the only significance of the occasion was that we all knew the reason for being there, and our conversation reflected this fact.

Even those who opt for ceremony can sometimes offer reasons other than a deep emotional or spiritual need to mark a profound rite of passage. Some admit to getting little satisfaction out of the ceremony itself, saying it’s just the bourgeois thing to do—and a means to the end of gathering people together for that social jolly afterwards.

It goes without saying there are many ceremony options available, though more for marriages than funerals. If a register office is deemed too sterile to get married in and you don’t want a church ceremony, you can choose any number of venues from a beach on a paradise island to an aristocratic stately pile. If a crematorium is deemed too soulless for your funeral plans, the alternatives are more limited.

Some non-religious folk opt for a church funeral followed by a brief committal at the crematorium, seeing this as the best way to do justice to the dead through words and music before the final farewell. However, while some liberal churches allow risqué eulogies and secular music, traditional churches remind us we’re in a house of God. When in Rome…

Some again opt for graveside ceremonies in woodland cemeteries, seeing this as solving the time problem of the crematorium, but with natural surroundings which might appeal more than incense-scented churches, with their icons making visible religious purpose.

Meanwhile, others are opting to get the cremation over with swiftly so they can plan a ceremony with the ashes rather than the body. This can, of course, be anything from the aforesaid memorial party, with urn of cremains in attendance, to something more ritualistic such as the scattering of ashes in a favoured, natural beauty spot.

Time and money are important considerations in life, and both can be found more readily with pre-planning. But there’s more to meaningful ceremony than advance scheduling and financial planning. Whether it’s a hit-the-spot celebration-of-life speech or a requiem mass, providers must provide, and receivers must be open to their cathartic potential. It’s a two-way process. Or is apathy as relevant a consumer choice as any other?

Free yourself and take your time

Monday, 23 July 2012


Poppy’s Funerals was launched by Poppy Mardall because she wanted to help people take creative control of their funerals. She’s a newcomer to Funeralworld. She is neither steeped in it, neither has she been moulded by its immemorial customs, and this is either a very bad thing or a very good thing. She has strong feelings about the importance of real funerals and worthy sendoffs, which is why she launched her direct cremation service in June. She’s already up and running.

Here, she describes her rationale, a full version of which you can find here. Old school undertakers may like to look away now. 

Funeral directors should not be dictating to celebrants. It’s the equivalent of The Rolling Stones having their set list dictated by the Roadies. It’s the wrong way round.

So my first battle cry is ‘Get the ceremony out of the crematorium!’. Yes the coffin needs to go there if you want a cremation, but what has that got to do with a meaningful ceremony?

And my second is, ‘Give creative control to the people leading the ceremony!’ – the family and the celebrants, not the people organising the logistics of the body.

Poppy’s Funerals launched our ‘simple cremation’ service in June this year as one way of solving these problems. Our hope is that it will provide families with a simple way to make the funeral ceremony more personal, meaningful and generally better. We separate the cremation from the funeral ceremony. We do the work of a funeral director, taking responsibility for the simple, respectful and affordable cremation. All traditional funeral accessories are stripped away. We do not embalm. The coffins we use are unvarnished wooden coffins with calico lining. The family can of course accompany the coffin to the crematorium. We then deliver the ashes to the family so they can hold the funeral ceremony, celebration of life or memorial with the ashes wherever, whenever and however they want.

We are saying, liberate yourselves from holding the ceremony at the crematorium. You do not need professional funeral directors at your ceremony. You do not need to worry about time limits or paperwork. Take your time to find a celebrant (we’d love to help you) who is a perfect fit with your family. The body has been cremated so all time constraints are off. Take your time. Do it your way.

It would not suit a family who felt the presence of the body was essential to the funeral ceremony. But how many of us feel that?

A recent experience has shown me what is possible.

Mary approached us because she wanted a simple cremation for her husband Richard. Mary loved Richard dearly. But for Mary, when Richard died, his body became a shell.

She felt the crematorium was impersonal and alien, and not the best place to celebrate Richard’s life. She wanted his ashes, rather than his body, to be present at the celebration of life.

So Mary asked us to organise the simple and respectful cremation of Richard’s body, with no pomp or traditional funeral accessories, or their associated costs. And for us to return Richard’s ashes as soon as possible so she could get on with organising the celebration of his life.

With the ashes, Mary is now free to hold the celebration of Richard’s life wherever she wants. She might hold it in the pub, at home or in the garden. She is taking some time to make decisions and plan. And because the urgency of dealing with the body is over, she can. Everyone who loved Richard has some time to find the poem, write the eulogy, or learn the piece of music they want to play to honour their friend.

Mary contacted three celebrants to find the person who was just right. The celebrant she has chosen is helping her create a personal and meaningful ceremony to mark Richard’s life. There is no need for funeral directors to be present at the ceremony.

It will be a family, and celebrant-led affair.

Poppy Mardall


Kiwi death rites

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


From an article in

New Zealanders may be shy and reserved, but we hold long, personalised funerals for our loved ones, and show far more emotion than Norwegians, Swedes, English and Scots.

Our funerals lean towards the American style, where everything – down to the cup of tea and biscuits afterwards – is organised by a funeral home.

Auckland researcher Sally Raudon, with the assistance of a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust grant, researched death, dying and funerals in New Zealand, and the four other countries.

The results were surprising, given the perceived similarities between the countries, particularly when it came to the time between death and a funeral.

In New Zealand funerals generally happen about three to five days after someone has died.

In England one to three weeks is the norm, and in Stockholm, Sweden, the average interval between death and the funeral is five to six weeks.

And the Swedish do not embalm, she said.

“We embalm almost automatically. That’s because a lot of our funeral directors went to the US in the middle of last century and came back with these techniques to be more professional.”

In New Zealand many people speak, and most ceremonies last about an hour. “When we have a funeral it is not uncommon for someone from the family to talk, maybe a work colleague, someone from a sports club. Sometimes it is like an open mic session. And if it is a young person who has died, it’s common for up to 12 people to talk,” Raudon said.

“Our funerals are very unusual because we focus intimately on the person. New Zealand funerals often bring together all the parts of someone’s life to present a biography.

“We think things like using a celebrant, showing photos of the person and having several people speaking, are normal. But that isn’t what happens in other countries.”

“In Norway and Sweden using photos is frowned on as too personal, and in England they say they don’t have time for that kind of personalisation.

Raudon said there was now a trend in New Zealand at the other end of the emotional scale – direct disposal – where a person could request they be put in a plain casket and taken directly to be cremated, without a funeral service or viewing.

Tamara Linnhoff of the Good Funeral Guide NZ here tells me in an email that  “NZ is still way behind the UK in terms of talking openly about funeral wishes and so the vast majority of families make decisions guided by traditional funeral directors.” 

Find the article here.

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