Death in the community

Charles Cowling

Beyond the unappetising business of flogging pre-need plans to the tottering classes, undertakers do next to nothing to educate the public about funerals. They seek to be seen as public-spirited. They do good stunts, raise money for the hospice here, the air ambulance there. But how many stage events to raise awareness of the immense emotional and spiritual power of a funeral to transform grief?

Expectations of funerals are so low that most people are just relieved to get the whole horrible business behind them. They are so low that they bitterly resent the cost. So there have to be very sound commercial reasons for all undertakers to get out there and talk up their product.

Two recent events have brought death into the community in original and effective ways. Both were, for the apprehensive, welcoming in their informality; both set out to inform rather than sell.

The first was the Six Feet Under Convention held in Bournemouth on 12-14 August. It was a brave venture, which attracted 20 or so delegates to a series of talks by eminent funeralists and others. Alongside it was an open-air coffin display organised by the Natural Death Centre, complete with a coffin to paint and another to pose dead in. There were sporadic outbreaks of musical performance. It was reckoned to be the first-ever public display of coffins. So wary was Bournemouth Borough Council that it insisted on warning signs. It was notable that some foreign visitors were discombobulated. Brits loved it.

The second was ARKA’s Bringing Death to Life show in Lewes. An atmosphere of cheerful informality was inviting to the casual visitor, and a good number of people in the locality had made a very deliberate bee-line. They weren’t disappointed. There was an afternoon of excellent talks from Cara herself; from Julie Gill, who’ll be running the new ARKA branch in Lewes; from Hermione Elliott, a doula from Living Well Dying Well; and from Peter Murphy of Light on Life Ceremonies. Peter and his wife Belinda have a ceremony shop in Brighton, and work very closely with ARKA. How good to see a funeral director with an understanding of the vital importance of collaborating with ritualists. Cara certainly knows how to surround herself with brilliant people. A highlight of the day was hanging out with Jean Francis, author of the excellent Time to Go.

I didn’t get any good photos of the ARKA show because I was too busy talking to all manner of brilliant people. But here are some of the SFU convention.









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Jon Underwood
10 years ago

So happy that this amazingly important work is going on. I can’t express how much I think this is needed. Muchos respect to all involved.