You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

Charles Cowling


Some advice today for aspirant funeral directors from the award-winning marketing team here at the GFG-Batesville Tower. If you want to set up as a funeral director, don’t go down the cul de sac of trad undertaking. 1) There are already too many undertakers competing for too few dead people. 2) The future’s not that way in any case.

The future is ashes. Blue-skies send-offs with ashes. No hush-and-awe, no big black cars, no men in black macs manhandling a bulky box. Families will increasingly arrange their own send-offs. They’ll do it their way. 

Shortly, we shall introduce you to a brand new business which is going to do exactly that. 

There is no simple explanation for the death of the funeral, but an important factor has been the failure of funeral directors, acting together, to improve the experiential value of funerals. Emblematic of this has been their complete failure to campaign against production-line crem funerals complete with fines for families who go a bit over. 

For a glimpse of the not-too-distant funeral, let’s have a look at the obits in the Times Colonist in British Columbia, Canada. Not a selection, all of them. Date: 4 May 2012.

DOBELL, Richard Ravenscroft Richard Ravenscroft … A memorial will be held on Salt Spring Island at a later date. 

TURPEL, Harry Gilbert … No service by Harry’s request.

BISHOP, Paul A … At Paul’s request there will be no memorial or celebration and flowers are respectfully declined.

BROWN, William Anderson … A memorial service celebrating Bill’s life will be held on Saturday, May 5th, 2012, at 1:00 pm, at St. John the Baptist Heritage Church.

CHALMERS, Jesse … A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 2:00pm at First Memorial Funeral Chapel.

DALZIEL, Bill … A memorial service for Bill will be held at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, 1701 Elgin Rd, Victoria, B.C. on Saturday June 16 at 2pm, with a reception to follow.

DIXON, Cinamon Anne … There will a blessing of ashes on Saturday May 5, 2012 at 2pm at St Barnabas Anglican Church.

DUNCAN, Thora Arline … Thora’s remains will be interred at the family plot at Royal Oak Burial Park. At Thora’s request, there will be no service.

FLATMAN, Gertrude Emily… A Funeral Service will be held on Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. at St. Mary’s the Virgin Anglican Church.

WAINWRIGHT, Michael Raymond John … Michael’s requiem will be held at St. Peter and St. Paul (1379 Esquimalt Rd.) on Friday, May 4th at 1:30 pm.

FRASER, Jeanne Anne … A service honouring Jeanne was held at Scarboro United Church (134 Scarboro Avenue S.W., Calgary, AB) on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 11:00 a.m. with a reception to follow. Jeanne will also be honoured at an afternoon tea at the Pipestone Community Hall in Manitoba on Thursday, May 10th at 2:00 p.m.

WILSON, Sylvia Louise … Condolences may be offered to the family at Dad and all the Angels in Heaven are rejoicing your arrival Mom!

MACDOWELL, Joan Mary … Please join the family in Joan’s Garden for tea on Saturday, May 12 at 1 pm to celebrate and share memories of her wonderful life.

MARUCA, Joseph Antonio … An informal celebration of his life will occur on Saturday, May 19th at the home of his son Frank

OAKMAN, Margaret … Friends and family are invited to attend a celebration of life May 12th, 2012

RAUDSEPP, Veronica … Veronica was a private person who took great pleasure in plants and gardens, and in her later years created beautiful pressed flower cards that were shared with friends on various occasions. Veronica and Walter are together again.

RICHARDS, Susan Iris Neva … A gathering to remember Susan will be announced in the near future.

RICHARDSON, Jon Reginald … Family and friends are invited to attend a Celebration of Life to be held at the Canadian Forces Sailing Association located at 1001 Maple Bank Road on June 2nd, 2012

WINTEMUTE, John (Jack) Roberts … There will be a private family service at a later date.


11 thoughts on “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

  1. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    A unified service – bereavement support, caring for bodies, funeral planning and delivery. Needn’t be, do you think, the same person? but needs to be properly joined up.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Jenny Uzzell

    And the absolute gold standard ideal, of course, is one company that does both. There are a few out there and its certainly what we’re working towards. Bereavement care as well. I think the way forward may be in fds having a less polarised view of their role…and of course spend less time worrying about coffins and cars. Totally agree with you on that one, GM!

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    GFG commentators often have strong views eloquently expressed, which is educational for me. But sometimes I think we may give the impression (unjustified, I’m sure) that we feel there is one way of doing things. Ashes/no ashes. Funeral/no funeral. Trad funeral/new sort of funeral. Of course we are free to advance strong views about all this, and I would do so as an individual. But in role as a celebrant, I do what a family wants.

    I like Rupert’s phrase a while back about working sensitively with a family to find out what it is they really need to do, rather than just doing what is in front of them. But it’s not for me, I feel, to get or not get a way of doing things, unless I don’t get it so much I feel I can’t do it at all!

    However – I wonder how Rupert knows that people who turn against a funeral of any sort are doing so because they think the current way(s) of doing things is(are) crap – it may simply fit in with their beliefs. Personally, I hate the idea of no funeral of any sort, and if someone close to me said they didn’t want a funeral, I’d honour their wishes, but have an event (call it what you will) a little later on to bring together people who want to remember with grief, love and joy someone who mattered a lot to them.

    I agree that there is an important role for FDs to fulfil, given present conventions and structures, and it isn’t to make assumptions about what a family will want, nor to sell them the most convenient funeral. And I know I keep saying this, but in any case, most of them they aren’t selling a funeral, as in a ceremony, they’re selling everything around the ceremony. I think we have to keep banging this point home: they don’t direct the funeral. At most, they direct a procession, and they do other important things, but funerals?

    Let’s say it again: It’s back to front. A family “should” (ideally) approach a celebrant/organiser first, to establish the sort of funeral ceremony that is wanted. No more of this “cremation or burial, then?” “Vicar, or celebrant?”

    The person who is, or should be, excellent at empathising with a grieving family to explore and develop the role of this particular event, needs to make some progress on the funeral; then the undertaker can be contacted to complete all the stuff he/she does before and after – the funeral.

    OK, there are big practical problems with this way of doing things – but that’s because the current model is all too often unfit for purpose. It makes a celebrant’s role sometimes all but impossible. We’re at the mercy, not of a family’s choices, but of an undertaker’s choices.

    And another thing…no no, that’s quite enough rant for one evening!

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Jenny Uzzell

    Totally agree. I can see a place for very different ceremonies around both.

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    Rich Martin

    Ashes an anticlimax…this can’t be true surely! Speaking from an utterly objective stance point – I see the ash ceremony occupying entirely different ground to the funeral, both are needed. I think this prediction is wrong (I am about to pop out of my comfort zone here) death has become far to sanitised as it is like the meat counter of a supermarket – utterly detached. People need more chances to say goodbye and reflect not less. It is bad enough having the person whisked off into a box, if that is removed and we go straight to ashes that won’t help at all. Will the new Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall please say ‘I’m Spartacus!’

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling

    I don’t get what is supposed to be ‘liberating about the ashes alterative’. The ashes have always seemed to me to be the anticlimax of the cremation funeral; the bit where you’ve waved goodbye to Uncle George on the platform with tears and hugs, and he reappears later saying ‘I forgot to take my hat – er, well, I suppose it’s goodbye… again… er.’

    I do get the idea of standing together in the presence of the body, though. You heave the arthritic old bugger onto the train, get him settled into his seat so he can’t get up until the ticket collector helps him out at the terminus a thousand miles away, and that’s that.

    But I certainly don’t get the one where he slopes off to the station and no-one takes any notice of him leaving.

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Ru Callender

    Here here Jenny. We’ve been roused by your end of the world schtick before Charles. Having said that, it is a tragedy in my opinion, that people’s response to crap funerals is to ditch the whole concept of funerals, rather than binning the old way, and by that I don’t mean binning the idea of standing together in the presence of the body. So clearly not going to work.

    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    Jenny Uzzell

    I suspect, Charles, that we have failed to be suitably terrified precisely because the fds here are, almost by definition, of the type who change with the flow; who are, in fact, actively changing the flow, and who are not overly concerned about where their next fleet is coming from 🙂
    Preaching to the converted!
    An article in FST or FSJ, now, that might get a response.

    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling

    Thank you, QG and Vale for redressing my argument and mitigating the terror I sought to inspire. I (perhaps mistakenly) think that the best way to elicit responses is to argue from one side only – and look, it worked!

    I agree that incremental change, mostly driven by celebrants, is moving things on – but is it moving things on fast enough?

    I think it’s also worth noting that it’s secularists who are increasingly abandoning funerals with bodies. There is something liberating about the ashes alternative. And there are more and more empowered secularists about.

    Ceremonial has to amount to more than going through the motions. If a funeral fails to be cathartic it is worth very little. Funeral directors need to focus on the things that matter – and that is not where the next fleet is coming from.

    I agree that there are many encouraging things happening. If you are not a funeral director, Vale, but a celebrant, as I suspect you are, then I wish at least one funeral director had felt narked enough to take my bait.

    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling

    Well I’m not holding my breath for the end of the world.

    Remember how TV was supposed to kill off film (and radio) or CDs the old LP? It hasn’t happened, and isn’t likely to any time soon.

    I suspect that all we are seeing is the effect of people who feel less constrained by belief, convention or family broadening their choices. Of course the industry has to respond (just as the wedding industry has) and competition is fierce, but here’s a thought. Up to now the chains have had the whip hand but isnt it their unfeeling hand me down ceremony that is most at risk?

    in an era of choice people who want funerals will be looking for something special, different, personal – exactly the sort of service, in fact, that a good independent FD seeks to offer.

    If anything this is a cue for innovation, imagination and good marketing rather than despair.

    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling

    It’s coming……soon. Yes, many funeral directors are caught in a time warp but I always feel a gentle hand holding, then a bit of a friendly nudge and finally a kick up the bum is the route to go with them. They are traditioanlists by nature and need leading into the the new way.

    I would like to see more input from those of us who are ‘dispursements’ at their regular official body meetings as – if nothing else – light refreshment. It would also be good if new information and new ways of doing things were cascaded down to the ground staff.

    And don’t forget, for every modern funeral there is an average of 50 people experiencing it. They will vote with their feet ultimately.

    Let’s not knock the old fds too hard eh? Let’s work with them on a slack lead……….from the front.

    Charles Cowling

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