Is the Natural Death Centre a national treasure? Undoubtedly.
What is it? It’s a charity which advocates a hands-on approach to preparing for death and arranging a funeral. It publishes The Natural Death Handbook, which is full of practical advice and personal stories. The philosophy of the NDC grew out of that of the natural childbirth movement. The NDC believes that taking control and keeping interventions by strangers to a minimum improves the quality of dying for the dying person and its impact on his or her carers. In the matter of caring for the dead, it believes that taking control is therapeutic.
It has inspired the home funeral and natural burial movement worldwide. That’s something to be proud of.
But because it always had an undertaker-basherly tendency, it was never on the Christmas card list of yer man in the faultless frock coat and glossy topper.
It’s evolved, and its rationale is detailed by Rupert Callender on behalf of the new board of trustees in the latest Funeral Service Journal. Since this is not a must-read, mass-market, celeb-sprinkled publication, I hope Rupert will not mind me reproducing some of his brilliant and, in places, barnstorming, text here. It is addressed to funeral directors.
The new board consists of a teacher, a psychotherapist, a palliative care nurse, four natural burial ground operators, three of whom are also funeral directors, which moves the NDC from largely theoretical to unashamedly practical.
This does not mean that we will be losing our radical edge or that out ideology has changed; we still believe that the modern funeral had lost its way and needed reinventing, but we are mindful that … the fault for the irrelevance of funerals for many lies with society at large, not just the industry.
When it was formed in 1991 it was seen by many in the industry as an irritant. The green aspects seemed faddish and the social side meddlesome and patronising. Many thought, and hoped, it was just a flash in the cremator. But the changes it has both initiated and reflected have been profoundly good for the industry not only in how it does things but also in how it is perceived.
It might be fair to say that before 1991 … the industry and the public spoke different languages … the public liked to view funeral directors as exploitative and ghoulish … To many funeral directors, the public were hostile and thankless … By occupying this no man’s land and by acting as a translator in some respects as well as helping to air and change some of the more genuine grievances, we at the NDC think we have moved things forward and brought some mutual understanding and respect to both sides.
The NDC, says Rupert, is not a green pressure group but a movement for social progress. He examines the impact of the decline of religion on funeral directing, acutely observing: No longer does responsibility change hands at the door of the church or crematorium.
He looks ahead to the future and declares that the NDC will drive innovation and act as the industry’s imagination and conscience.
And he finishes on a conciliatory note: For some of you we will always be the troublemaking lunatic fringe … We hope you will view us as colleagues, not the enemy within … together we can create something that works for everybody.
That the NDC can identify so much common ground with funeral directors shows just how much it has achieved. Does all this smack of cosiness? Nah. The radical, visionary edge is back alright.