An entertaining way of assessing trends in the UK funeral industry is to have a look at what’s going on in the US. The best way I’ve found of doing that is by following Tim Totten’s blog, Final Embrace. It lends perspective to the view. And Tim is sharp, with an engaging quality of bright-eyed energy and optimism.
DIY and green funerals are becoming the rage over there, but rarely, intriguingly, do we see any reference or homage to the ground-breaking work done in the UK. I find it hard to believe that there are not some very well-thumbed and indispensable samizdat copies of the Natural Death Handbook in circulation. A pioneer DIY group is Final Passages. I think you’ll agree that Jasmine looks terrific. And while we Brits may, in our smug, post-Mitford way, suppose that American death rites are suffused with euphemism, you may find yourself reflecting that we don’t often see prurience-free pics of corpses on our own websites.
Tim’s blog is currently enjoying a tiff with the Funeral Consumer’s Alliance, a nonprofit watchdog org whose boss, Joshua Slocum (yes, really) was recently quoted savaging undertakers in an article in Newsweek. It’s pretty bog standard fare — undertakers rip you off; the only way is the DIY way — but the comments are worth reading. There are lots of them, not a few from funeral directors. You wouldn’t get that in the UK; funeral directors here don’t do online. Pity.
Undertaker-bashing is a sport for dullards. What interests me is the pervasive belief that the only good funeral is a cheap one. A similar attitude to husbandry does not apply to birthdays, weddings, baby-namings or coming-of-age celebrations.
Actually, birthdays provide an apt analogy.
Ahead of the event, you protest that you don’t want anyone putting themselves out on your account — you don’t want any fuss. After your arm has been twisted, you helpfully hint at what presents you’d like and what sort of celebration. Then you sit back, wait for the day and, hopefully, enjoy the ride.
There are two sides to your birthday celebration:
o the joy of receiving (yours)
o the joy of giving (theirs)
The part you play is mostly passive. You smilingly, gratefully, undergo what has been planned for you.
The part played by others is active. The more they do, the more fun it all is. Your birthday may cost them a great deal of money or very little. This is of little or no account compared with the amount of thought and hard work they put into it.
If they’d listened to you, it would have been crap.
Moral? Disregard the self-deprecatory utterances of dead people (when alive, of course) and give them the funeral you think they deserve.
We don’t, most of us, work hard at arranging funerals; we just trail along, endure, undergo. The undertaker and his or her staff do all the work, and not very much of that — oh, and the celebrant, of course.
I have a theory that, channelled properly, grief can be much more empowering. If we work harder and leave less to others, a funeral can be a great occasion enhanced by the one element missing from all of life’s other great ceremonies: finality.
How much it all costs is a matter of little or no account.