The order is rapidly fadin’

Charles 4 Comments



Blog reader Kathryn Edwards has drawn our attention to an interesting article in the Guardian. Thanks, Kathryn. 

In it, Rosanna Greenstreet tells how her aunt Molly donated her body for medical education or research, thereby denying everyone the benefit of a funeral. Greenstreet tells us what family and friends did instead:

Molly didn’t believe in God and hated funerals, but she loved a party. So on Saturday 12 May, on what would have been her 94th birthday weekend, Stephen and Prudence held one for her. The celebration lunch was in a private room at the Michelin-starred restaurant, Chez Bruce, in south London. All Molly’s nearest and dearest came. There were photos of her through the ages and letters of condolence from her friends. It was a lovely occasion: we drank champagne as we shared our memories of Molly, and there were no tears.

Greenstreet’s father also wants to donate his bodyto Cambridge university, both for the benefit that will confer and also because it will enable him to evade a funeral. He’s written down seven reasons: 

1. Hopefully, to make some contribution to medical training

2. To spare relatives the trouble of organising a funeral.

3. To spare my estate the cost of a funeral (a “cheap” one might cost £3,000).

4. To spare possible “mourners” the trouble of attending a funeral. 

5. To avoid the hypocrisy of troubling the Anglican church to participate in a service when I have attended so few other services since I left school.

6. There is nothing that could be said or sung at a church funeral service that would reflect my views (such as they are) on life, death and fate. Anyone curious about my life can be sufficiently informed by my detailed and intimate diaries (currently 76 volumes).

7. To avoid anyone having to trouble to say anything interesting or pleasant about a life distinguished only by its lack of significant distinction – or disgrace.

Typically self-deprecating and, perhaps, peculiarly British. Anthony Greenstreet may be 83 but he’s in tune with the zeitgeist. Like an ever-increasing number of people, he can’t see the point of a conventional funeral, and his daughter is catching on to the attractions of a funeral without a body. 

Greenstreet concludes:

It’s hard to think about what we will do to remember my father when he has gone up to Cambridge for the last time. Fancy restaurants have never been his thing – he has always preferred home-cooking. Nor does he drink much – his preferred tipple is tea, taken without milk, harking back to the days when he started his career as a “humble clerk” in India. So, perhaps, when the time comes, we will sit around the kitchen table with a cuppa, make a start on those 76 diaries, and really find out what made the old man tick!

The comments under the article are worth reading. Here are some:

Mrs PunkAs

When my father in law passed away recently we respected his wishes not to have a funeral – he was non religious and wanted no public gathering so instead we hired a room at the crematorium and gave the four grandchildren an assortment of multi coloured vivid markers each. They spent a lovely half an hour drawing all sorts of stuff all over his coffin, pictures, words, memories etc. It was really good for them. It was the best send-off I’ve been to.


I’d like to be stripped of all useable parts and then squashed into an old cardboard receptacle and ploughed under at a random beauty spot.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Sandyr9 (whose father donated his body)

For my father, we reserved a chapel, placed an obituary with time and location of service, called distant friends and relatives, and had a lovely service: A minister friend presided, biblical passages were preached and discussed, and traditional hymns were played. After the service, there was a reception wherein attendees met and conversed with family. To my thinking, we had a funeral for my father.

 These sentiments are as common among Guardian readers as they are among the readers of any other paper. Each inspires the others to do something minimal or creative or alternative or all of the above. And of course, the more people exchange these sorts of views, the more they empower themselves, so that when the time comes, the more likely they are to have the clarity of mind to reject a funeral director’s conventional  offer. 

The message to funeral directors is one that Bob Dylan set to music all those years ago: better start swimming. 

Full Guardian article here



  1. Charles

    I have conducted two ceremonies where the body had been donated to medical science. In one we gathered at a nature reserve where we planted a tree – we had tea and cakes afterwards and a slide show. In the other we had a funeral service in a crematorium chapel because it was important to the widower to have a traditional send-off with hymns and an organist. All it cost was the price of hiring the chapel. I was told that there are more people wanting to donate than are accepted. You could have a great party/meal with the £3000 you save by not having a funeral.

  2. Charles

    They are welcome to mine! And to blow the cash on a party. I feel cremation is wasteful and burial a bit primitive. I think medical research a much better idea – but you’re right. They don’t seem to want many. We recently had some cornea’s removed. That was at least partially useful.

  3. Charles

    A great idea, but not always possible in reality. And I do know of several cases where the delay in releasing the body for cremation after donation has taken long enough for the family to start to feel regretful.

  4. Charles

    Just by the by – it is exactly the primitive nature of burial that I respect, David, it connects to essentials, as it were. And I think that’s why our resident pyromaniac feels so strongly in favour of outdoor, paganesque cremation as opposed to what I seem to remember he refers to as an industrial process.

    But thanks for all this, it’s been most helpful, and Ru’s comment might help any of us to think through the issue carefully. I’m going off the idea of donation, myself.

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