It was always going to be risky, this business of recommending funeral directors. We set out purposefully, hoping for the best with the best possible intentions, knowing that if you’re going to make anything in this world, you’re going to make mistakes. We’re optimists. It seemed, and still seems, to be a good thing to do, to show funeral shoppers the way to the people who’ll look after them best. Win-win.
Yes, it’s an important service. Because of their reluctance to say to their funeral director, “Now take me to your mortuary, I want to see that everything is in order,” funeral shoppers must, instead, blindly trust him/her to discharge what is, to them, a funeral director’s most important role: to be nice to their dead person. As we know, there can be many a slip twixt back and front. As independent consumer advocates, we are in the best possible position to offer the reassurance that consumers most desire.
But Funeralworld is another country; they do things differently there. Who (the hell) are we to sit behind our keyboards and opinionate? What do we know, dammit?! Well, by sheer hard work we have learned. When we’ve boobed — and we have — we have put our hands up quick as a flash. We’ve done it the hard way. It’s been a slog at our own expense. And, yes, we’ve won precious credibility.
So it came as a blow last week to undergo a credibility-threatening event which, coincidentally, came at a time when, having suspended our listing in order to radically remodel it in sustainable form, we are about to relaunch it. We know that our listing is 98% good. We need to aim for 100% minimum and roll it out nationwide. We can do it. Stand by for an announcement.
The credibility-threatening event was the arrival of a letter here at GFG HQ. Here’s what it said:
Dear Mr Cowling
I see you recommend __________ of __________! (Name and place deleted.)
Have you visited his premises? I have, and was appalled. Only one room divided by a curtain to make a reception and a chapel … I also asked where he kept his bodies and was told in his mortuary. I could not see where his mortuary was so have asked around and been told he does not have one. Also he has no cold storage and in hot weather advises people that a relative is not suitable for visiting when really he has not collected the body from the hospital because he has nowhere to keep it! After leaving I also noticed he has only one door into the premises and no parking. I did not like the idea of my dad being hurried across the road on a stretcher and left in the front room so I went somewhere else. I may have paid more but at least I know my dad was cared for in proper surroundings.
I follow your blog and you seem to be a very nice man, perhaps you are too nice and have had the wool pulled over your eyes by someone who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk.
I wonder how you follow up your recommendations, do you make spot checks, do you phone around pretending to be a customer.
The letter is signed, but there is no address, postcode or any other contact details.
The subject of the letter is a funeral director in whom we placed an absolute trust. He was trained to the highest standards by the doyenne of tutors and seemed to us to be born to be an undertaker. He recently moved to new premises which are, by his own admission, small. We trusted that they were big enough. Above all, we trusted that he would have made adequate provision for the care of his dead and, of course, installed a fridge. We hadn’t yet got around to re-visiting him.
What could have happened? He’d gone mad? He was never anything but a charming blagger? He had money problems? We all know well enough how the most unlikely people can go off the rails.
It was time for a spot check.
Having no address for my correspondent and, therefore, no assurance that she is who she says she is, but knowing that she follows the blog, I publish my reply here.
Thank you for your letter (undated) drawing our attention to what you allege are grave shortcomings in the premises and mortuary equipment of the funeral director you named.
I paid him a visit on Friday and asked to be shown his mortuary/embalming suite. There I found a perfectly adequate fridge. Every tray had on it a duvet which is used to cover each occupant. Every tray had its own pillow, and on each pillow lay an artificial rose (of rather good quality). The mortuary was entirely clean and odour-free.
The premises are, as you say, small. While I was there I spoke to a person who had come to visit her dead relative — not for the first time. She was perfectly happy with both the premises and the service she was receiving. Indeed, she could not have expressed higher satisfaction with both.
I am pleased to be able to tell you that your principal misgiving is unfounded. I cannot verify your allegation concerning the coffin. As to the premises having no rear entrance, we must bear in mind that many funeral directors do not have rear access, yet manage to transfer their dead in a perfectly respectful manner. We must bear in mind also that it is the tradition in this country ostentatiously to display a coffin in a hearse on the public highway.
The funeral director has been offered the lease on the much bigger premises next door and intends to move as soon as he can.
We remain happy to recommend him. Our opinion of him rides as high as ever.
Please feel free to post a response to this in a comment box, but please do not publish the name of the funeral director concerned because this may involve us in litigation. This is a censor-free blog except in cases of libellous comments. Please be aware that any comment you post will reveal your IP address.
With all best wishes,