You may have seen the story in the papers. Briefly, a Salisbury undertaker (1 hearse, 1 other vehicle, a Rover estate) arrives at his funeral venue in Tamworth, 150 miles away, and looks about for somewhere for his staff and himself to take a break. He tries the church. Locked. He tries the cemetery. No luck. By this time they are all probably crossing their legs and whimpering. They are in a strange town. So they drive to a supermarket. The staff go in and pee and buy tea. The undertaker sits in the second vehicle, two cars away from the hearse, and makes a call on his phone. He feels it would be disrespectful to make a call from within the hearse.
As he does so, inside the supermarket cafe, two women storm over to the table where the staff are sitting. They have seen the hearse in the car park. They are outraged by the apparent abandonment of its occupant. Their outrage is exacerbated by the fact that the staff are drinking tea and eating cake. They feel this makes the abandonment even more disrespectful.
I don’t know about you, but I feel for the undertaker. This sorry tale has gone round the world.
There’s almost enough in this one story alone to enable a clever academic to write a doctoral thesis about British attitudes to death. The dead, the bereaved and those who care for the dead are firmly expected to inhabit peripheries. We don’t want them in the community, do we?
But to go to the heart of this: what’s respectful and what isn’t? Dammit, it’s an elaborate etiquette that takes in phone calls and cake. What about the jaw suture?
I’d love to know what you think.