Hands on funeral for homeless man

Charles 20 Comments


Undertaker Rupert Callender in Totnes is appealing to his fellow townspeople to turn out to help carry the coffin of a homeless man, Michael Gething, through the streets to his funeral — and then on to the burying ground at Follaton, just outside the town. 

Rupert Callender said: “The act of carrying his coffin all the way up the hill to Follaton Cemetery is quite a physical commitment, so we’re going to need the help of the townspeople. This is a simple way for people to come together and show respect and solidarity.”

Mr Gething died of hypothermia. He is the fourth homeless person to die in Totnes this year. 

The BBC report states that the purpose of the procession is to highlight homelessness. Knowing Rupert a little, I suppose that his purpose is actually to give Mr Gething a decent, respectful funeral, and to hold it where he lived. Inviting the people of Totnes to bear some of the burden would seem to be wholly appropriate. 





  1. Charles

    What a giant of an undertaker is this RUPERT. Incredibly brave and moving request of the good folks of Totnes, who – no doubt – will turn out in their hundreds in regret at this man’s passing ……….. and to assuage their guilt at the manner of his life. Thank you Rupert.

  2. Charles

    Wonderful, just wonderful. I hardly need to light a fire this chilly evening, that’s such a warming story – but I wish we could have warmed Mr Gethin more, during his life.

    Radio 4’s Christmas appeal for St Martins in the Fields doesn’t just apply to London, it helps homeless people all over the country.

    Ru, you are a man of enlightenment, a centre of profound yet simple awareness. Also a dodgy fire-raiser who needs to be watched….

  3. Charles

    Please tell us what happens! Even if the awareness of the plight of homeless people is fleeting, you are doing something exceptionally good and thoughtful.

  4. Charles

    Steady on chaps and chapesses, I’m sure you would all do the same under the circumstances.

    Michael stood out when he arrived in Totnes 18 months ago. 6ft 4 with bushy hair and a slightly mad look in his eyes, none the less he was very approachable. Claire and I met him about 8 weeks ago, at an event put on by our local Quakers, and I was so glad to be able to speak to him, make a small connection and keep up our relationship, even if it was just exchanging greetings and giving him a couple of quid.

    When I heard a tramp had died, the night after a picturesque extreme downpour of hail which made everything look Chrismassy I just knew it was Michael. He was 42, same age as me.

    What shocked me so much was that at least three, some say five other members of our homeless community in Totnes had died within the past 18 months, and I hadn’t heard a word of it, nothing in the local paper, no gossip on the street, not even a word about it in the hospital mortuary. These people are so invisible that even their disappearance isn’t enough to bring them into focus.

    We just want to give Michael a voice in death he didn’t have in life, and also to give people the opportunity to carry his coffin, whether they knew him or not. It is the duty of every Muslim man and woman, and I believe every Jew to help once in their lives with the burial of a stranger. How beautiful and proper, how profoundly leveling. This is a chance for the people of Totnes to do the same, whether their motivation is curiosity or guilt or anger.

    The whole ceremony will be outdoors, on the street, and the act of carrying him all the way up the hill and onto the town graveyard is no small undertaking if you’ll forgive the pun. It’s probably a mile, mostly up hill.

    We have a lot of local characters helping us, raising funds for the cost that can’t be avoided such as the grave fees including Graham Walker, the most well known ex Big Issue seller in the southwest who wrote an incredible account of his homeless life called Unsettled. The marvelous Will at Greenfield Creations has donated one of his cardboard coffins for nothing.

    Yes, we are making a symbol for all the homeless around the country, but surely better that than a dignified but anonymous council funeral. Everybody deserves to be acknowledged in death, especially if they were overlooked in life.

  5. Charles

    Er, no, I’m not sure we would all do the same under those circumstances, because the extra spark that lights the fire of action (nb bespoke metaphor for you) is sympathetic imagination. And that, surely, is what has pulled people together and made them help – right thinking, right ritual. And we might or might not find that spark, on any given day…

  6. Charles

    Well done, to Rupert Callender the undertaker … Acts of Kindness and making a stance will hopefully bring the community together and offer ways to ease the pressure on homeless people.
    Giving Michael a voice and acknowleding his death ..magic .lets see more undertakers making this stance as a charitable act and great PR for the business. Local newspapers love this type of news!
    Will be in contact..

  7. Charles

    Ru and Claire – this is why you so richly deserved to be joint winners of the GFG Funeral Directors of the Year – I am proud to have you as my friends.

    You are giving Michael Gething a public funeral, in the truest sense of the phrase – and I am so glad that in his body is being cared for and laid to rest by two genuinely humane people who care about their fellow men in life as well as in death and who are inspiring others to do the same.

    I hope that the mile long procession is hardly sufficient to allow those who turn up to help you each take a turn bearing the weight of a stranger who died of hypothermia in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. If I could, I would come and help too, in shame at the number of times I have walked by without really seeing a homeless person on the streets in my town. There but for the grace of god go any of us – something I know only too well after recent events in my own life.

    And Sue – trust me, there is no possibility that the motivation for this act of kindness and inspiration is PR for the business – Ru couldn’t be further from a business person if he tried!

  8. Charles

    what date are you planning? or are you waiting to hear when most people are available? I think this is an astonishing act of compassion and I love you for it xx

    1. Charles


      I live in Totnes and can tell you it’s Thursday 6th December at 11.30, starting at the bottom of town where I often saw Michael hang out. Think of us, please do.

      Michael had that look in his eyes that Ru talks about – he’d be sitting on a bench appearing to be seeing something apocalyptic, though I’m sure he was as approcachable as Ru says he was, and I’ve been talking to others who knew him and wishing I’d approached him

      1. Charles

        (sorry, I appear to have pressed the wrong button… as I was saying)
        As I walked near him just before he died, the friend I was with said “I hope someone knows about that guy.” Ironic how her wish is coming true, with all the media interest in the death of a tramp in NotoCosta Town.

  9. Charles

    Well done both. This should be what local community funeral directors are all about. The ‘community programmes’ undertaken by the big players are nothing more than sales opportunities in disguise.

    I hope your little business benefits hugely from this act of kindness – but I would bet that you definitely didn’t do it for that reason.

  10. Charles

    Another great man of compassion once said: ‘Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
    We should all be thinking about this very deeply…we are so often compassionate in theory, compassionate from our armchairs and our PayPal accounts…..Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Compassion is a verb.”
    Ru, you and Claire are compassion in action. Thank you.

  11. Charles

    Well done to you both for such a generous act of compassion. I hope it goes well and the town do their bit to support you. (I am sure they will) This is a heartwarming end to an otherwise tragic tale.

  12. Charles

    Everyone deserves a decent funeral regardless of his social status. This blog is an eye opener for us to be reminded of the sanctity of human life and the relationship between death and eternity.

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