Forward into the past

Charles 53 Comments

Most progressive initiatives in the world of death and funerals are characterised by a spirit of ‘Stop the clock, I want to go back’. 

Up in Tyneside, Michele Rutherford (DipFD) has just launched a retro initiative. It’s for those people who don’t want men in black macs taking away the person who has died, but would rather keep them at home and have them looked after there. Michele is going to look after people who have died in their own homes. 

Michele says, “Really, what Last Respects is offering is a return to the old-fashioned type of funeral, when a local woman would be responsible for laying out the deceased.  This means that someone does not have to leave their own home and we can organise all the funeral, from the cars to the service to any reception afterwards. I have no overheads, because I operate from home, and there are no ‘hidden extras’ for customers. I am offering a personal, less conventional option for funerals, as well as a bereavement aftercare service.”

I rang Michele and we had a nice chat. She’s very nice. If you feel inclined to wish her good fortune, please add a comment, or contact her:  0191 597 1872 or 07766 221 539 – She’s still working on her website. 

Full story here


  1. Charles

    it sounds great Charles

    Michele sounds as though she clearly has good value funerals in mind and as she does not have Area Managers, targets and all of the hoo hah associated with the big boys, sounds as though it will be possible to considerably undercut them

    coincidentally I was mulling over new Indy start ups in funeral land the other day. It occured to me that ‘new ventures’ simply only need premises, an ambulance and a small car and hire the hearse and limo’s in from a Carriage Master, and leave it at that………………or is this a too simplistic way of looking at it?

    comments appreciated – start a new thread please, if this merits it



  2. Charles

    Simplistic Andrew? Too damn complex, there are a few I can think of who are not saddled with even these overheads.

    I have just finished off an article for the next edition of our More to Death e-zine. It features nearly 20 women who are undertaking in new ways. Michele is not one of them as I was unaware of her plans. So thanks Charles for bringing her brilliant sounding service to my attention.

    Michele, please get in touch, we need to talk. Are you going to Stoneleigh?

    Natural Death Centre Charity

    1. Charles

      Rosie/Andrew – you both make valid points, but surely it depends on your target market, and, as always, subjectivity and ideals.

      Andrew’s point is more geared to a traditional set up, for which yes, you do need premises and a vehicle (not 2 vehicles – when there’s only 1 of you, you can’t drive ’em both!)

      Rosie’s comment is naturally referring to a more new-age perspective on funerals, encouraging home funerals and family involvement.

      I think you can combine the two, in fact you have to, if you don’t want to alienate at least some of your potential clients.

      As people who work, sleep and think death, it is very easy for us to forget that not everyone has the same ideals. A vast percentage of bereaved people just want the undertaker to take over. They don’t want to see the body. They don’t even want to think about it. Suggesting to these people that they might like to keep the body at home would, IMHO, be the easiest way of getting them to phone the Co-op.

      Michele has presumably done her market research and identified a need for her business in her area. That’s great, very good luck to you Michele, and as others have said, please keep us posted.

      1. Charles

        Hi thank you all for your comments & warm welcome. I can honestly say the amount of people who have asked me to look after them when they do die is too many to mention, a lot of them being people who took out Golden Charter plans while I was working at a Funeral Home. These days there are so many around I think it is not only down to cost but trusting someone to care for and tend to the needs of your most treasured possession ( A loved one ) Onwards & Upwards

  3. Charles

    Michele, having realized some time ago that the only thing you need a funeral director for is a fridge, I’m lost in admiration at this simple way around the elephant in the room. Genius.

    Love from Jonathan

    1. Charles

      Not wanting to split hairs Jonathan but………you don’t need a fridge.

      Ice packs, Flexmort………even a 48 hour funeral……..I thought the point of this post was about returning to the pre technological way, releasing us from the shackles and related expense of sanitised funerals and potentially control freak FDs?

      I have advised countless home funeral families.

      Fran, this is surely a thread to copy the members of the Society into!

      Natural Death Centre Charity

  4. Charles

    Wise woman – ‘laying out’. Someone described a friend of mine in those terms recently and it strikes a caring, compassionate chord. It’ll be interesting to see how modern folk respond to this wonderfully old fashioned and natural offer….will they be up for it…or scared to be in the presence of death? Keep us posted. Good luck!

    1. Charles

      Back to the way things were when we had only hard working people who all had the same, all stuck together to get the job done. THE TRADITIONAL WAY x

  5. Charles

    A fantastic Idea, and long overdue. Rosie I agree with your remarks reference the fridge not being a must, I am certanly concidering a fleximort but for the time being a portable Air Con unit does the job, and Michelle you purchace them via Amazon, in the summer hot months you could include the use of one in your fees and leave it with your family members and collect after the funeral.

        1. Charles

          ‘Hire’ is perhaps to strong a word Jonathan. I have a 3-blanket system and a baby system (I think I’m the only FD to have the baby system, I was when I bought it anyway!)

          Both have been used at people’s houses, but no money has changed hands. Perhaps it should, as I wouldn’t want to be accused of being female and having sense and empathy.

          When Flexmort first brought out their cooling blanket product, it leaked, grew holes and gave me more than one nasty shock. Their new and improved blanket is awesome, and I have 6 in almost constant use, running in rotation from 1 fridge unit. The Cuddle Cot (the baby version) is fortunately not used a great deal, but when it is required it is just so well designed and absolutely perfect for its function. I’m looking at buying a single blanket unit pretty soon as they have just developed a much lighter fridge which is much more portable.

          So yes, why not rent it out?

  6. Charles

    Gents, I can see this years NFE being of Interest, the hire of flexi morts could be on top of the agenda, We have been hireing catering vehicles for events/shows for years, no reason why the smaller type cant be used in our profession.

  7. Charles

    The comment ‘she’s very nice’ just about sums the Good Funeral Guide up, really. A 48 hour funeral, certainly in this part of the country, would be extremely difficult to sort out – most cemeteries want more than that for paperwork to be at their office and you would be hard pressed to get all the documentation sorted for a cremation.
    I’m sure I am in the minority on this blog regarding embalming, but really an air con unit in the summer months might be ok for a couple of days but I don’t think i’d like any relative of mine at home, dead, unembalmed and decomposing. Good luck though!

    1. Charles

      Well if That’s what people want its there choice to be embalmed or not, I have been in the trade for 18 years and a lot of people do not want open coffins, I certainly don’t, my family don’t either. I am offering a service to families who have already decided & if they do want embalming its not a problem I’ve done it from houses before.

  8. Charles

    Ian, Ru, good morning to you both. Im far from being against Embalming but if a family insists on keeping the deceased at home wthout HT/Embalming who are we to disagree, we are only the middle man (Woman) Ice packs, Air con Units, fans all do the same job, We can only advise on what naturally will occur its upto our families to decide.
    As for 48 Hour Funerals, just what we need right now……..
    Can you imagine local borough councills being asked by a FD on a Wednesday to book the 11.30 at the crematorium for a full service, not spliting hairs over private owned Crematoriums here but they are more helpful

    1. Charles

      Sorry if the idea of a 48 hour turnaround frightens the pants off you.

      The stay at home, arrange the burial within a couple of days funerals I have been involved with are usually only limited by the registrar and the grave digger.

      You will find that most Natural Burial Grounds are able and willing to help with this sort of request. In fact most families considering a home funeral will be pretty pragmatic and will, most likely, have sorted a plot out in advance and even given the manager the nod that things are imminent.

      Civil servants, what a nightmare!

      I have yet to meet a family who do not appreciate straight talk regarding nature taking its course. They often remark how nice it is to speak to someone who is open, frank and doesn’t patronise them or assume it is their role to protect them from the realities of death.

      Incidentally I was next to Flexmort at a DM do in Birmingham last Friday and their new light weight unit looks great.

  9. Charles

    Hi Rosie,
    We need to meet up…. I had a Community Manager whilst working for a large organisation some 12 years ago, that you remind me of so much, I had respect for the good lady even at times when we did not agree, the respect was there. what made things better was the mention of going for a pint after work and discuss the issues, not many ladies would be seen drinking a pint but this one had no problem.
    48 hour funerals are possible when all departments are prepared to work as one, and when the red tape gets lifted im all in favour of it,
    If natural burials were to get more popular in my area I could see the Independents doing more and more in way of helping the family, lets be honest here some of the big chains still have a 3 week wait for cremation or burial,

  10. Charles

    Just a slightly pedantic note to add to this interesting thread –

    To be encouraging home funerals and family involvement is hardly ‘New Age’, as Andrew suggested in an earlier comment about Rosie’s approach – it’s totally traditional, normal, natural – and what most of the world does when someone dies.

    Paying thousands of pounds for non family members – and increasingly, unknown strangers – to deal with a dead person is a luxury / peculiarity of our ‘first world’ life, and it’s really not traditional, it’s just something we’ve got used as the norm over the last century. More fool us for accepting it.

    There’s a real change in the air, and it’s long overdue – welcome Michele, you join a small but growing gang of funeral enablers who help families who want to do things the old fashioned way and care for their dead themselves. And the more of these helpers there are, the more empowered families there will be, and eventually even those who don’t want to think about it and just want the undertaker to take over might stop and wonder whether that is really what they want after all….

    1. Charles

      My apologies Fran, I knew it was the wrong word, but I couldn’t think of a better one. Now pressed, I still can’t. ‘Traditional’ seems to have changed its meaning when referring to funerals. Perhaps there isn’t a word. Perhaps there isn’t really a right or wrong when it comes to what people want. We all have our ideals, but as I’ve long said, the ideals are ours and not necessarily those of our clients.

    2. Charles

      “Paying thousands of pounds… just something we’ve got used to as the norm…”

      Exactly, Fran. Perhaps this seems as good a place as any to remind readers of Tony Walter’s comment that:

      “The problem with funerals is not that they cost too much, but that they cost at all. The funeral that communities used to provide for themselves has been stolen, and then sold back to them, at a price. We are now so used to this that all we can complain about is the cost at which it is sold back!” (Walter, 1990, p80.)

      Still, my problem remains given an increasing population, how do we find an inexpensive way to dispose of all of our dead ones’ corpses (other than through one-offs such as donation to medical science or surrender to the council or health authority’s £free provision)?

      And Edward, good on you for providing this service for those who can afford it, but what about the one in six who go into debt to the tune of (average) £1246, often just because they’re not aware of the many cheaper alternatives?


    3. Charles

      yes your right. I am all for families helping with things even styling the hair!! I used to do my mams for her so why let a stranger do it when they can only try their best from looking at a photograph. Also: all I really meant about traditional was a way of explaining how it was done years ago when Funeral Directors, mortuary’s or chapel of rests never existed. At the end of the day its all about offering families more choices. There was no way anyone was going to take my mam away to “get her ready” it was a personal request, and she was fine for a week. I hope more people are inspired by it as a lot of people think you have to be embalmed to be able to stay at home. I have always been honest, its no secret about what happens. Its nature.

  11. Charles

    As funeral directors we are there to provide our clients with the services they require. This often includes taking care of their loved ones body from when they pass away, until the day of the funeral. This duty is probably the most important part of our job, as dealing with the deceased is probably the most difficult part for the family. As professionals we have specialist equipment to best keep their loved ones during their time in our care. This can include various types of refrigeration, and also embalming. We relieve the burden of holding the deceased from the family, thus helping them to concentrate on supporting each other during their bereavement. As third party often not knowing the deceased, we find caring for the deceased easier than the immediate family would. We offer this service for a reason. There is a definitive need for this service.

    I agree there is a place in the market for home funerals, and this may grow on the future, but I believe most families will entrust their loved ones into the care of their local funeral directors who have a proven track record for providing a caring and sympathetic service. Those who have chosen funeral care as their vocation will always be respected by the community as many feel it is a job they could never do.

    1. Charles

      Not criticising but a lot of funeral homes have experienced people working for them but do not have experience or qualifications them selves they just do the business side of things which is fair enough. I’m not a new kid on the block I’ve got 17 years experience which started from being a receptionist and I progressed in my career, learning to embalm, making coffins up, driving limousines, arranging and conducting funerals. Building my knowledge up and very hard work. I did not need a Funeral Home, is there a difference?

      1. Charles

        I worked for the Co-operative Society from the age of 16 then setup my own funeral home. Since 2009 I have carried out in excess of 600 funerals and now have a 3 branch network. Volume is growing on a monthly basis. We have just recently purchased our own fleet of Jags and feel we now have our feet firmly on the ground. Families keep returning to us throughout our network, and appreciate our funeral homes as the decor and well thought out layout ensures we provide them with the services they require in absolute comfort and privacy.

  12. Charles

    Funeral Director – Custodian of the body.

    We are entrusted to care for the body of our clients loved one in our purpose built facilities and this forms a large part of the service we provide.

    Families appoint a Funeral Director to relieve the some burden of their bereavement. Although dealing with the deceased is for some of us a daily occurrence, we don’t on the other hand deal with a deceased relative on a regular basis. Knowing the deceased adds a third dimension to being the custodian of the body.

    We, as funeral directors, invest in specialist equipment to carry out this part of our service, which includes various types of refrigeration, and embalming equipment.

    I agree that Home Funerals will become more popular, but I don’t think the local family funeral director will ever lose the trust of his/her local community. Families feel comfort in entrusting their loved one’s body and funeral arrangements to a professional in the field, someone who has a proven track record.

    I know from a personal basis, my family, prior to our involvement in the funeral business, would not have been comfortable in arranging a home funeral, having our loved one at home until the funeral.

    1. Charles

      I understand but yet again personal choice, my family and a lot of practising Catholic’s prefer the Funerals at home.

  13. Charles

    Edward, there is to quote the now disgraced Tony Blair a third way, which is to not presume that a family can’t cope with the realities of the death in their family, and that with a little information and support can become empowered enough to get involved in the practicalities in a way which would have astonished them at the start of the process. A home funeral doesn’t have to mean the body literally stays at the family home the whole time. If they died in hospital as most folk do then they will be per chilled which greatly helps. The body can come home a day or two before the funeral, or it can simply mean that the ceremony is conducted in their own home. Not embalming them is, in our opinion absolutely crucial in bringing the family closer to the reality of the situation. It means everyone is on an equal footing, the funeral director has no irreplacable technical mystique, the person is as they are: dead. Families can cope with this. Fourteen years of encouraging families to spend prolonged periods of time with their dead, unembalmed and unadorned with wax and make up have utterly convinced me of this.
    And I do worry that the public have lost their good will, let’s call it disbelieving slightly creeped out admiration of funeral directors after the godawful behaviour of some of them in undercover documentaries. Increasingly they would rather trust themselves, certainly demand more input rather than just hand it all over like the good old days.

  14. Charles

    I do believe families spending time with their loved one’s is a huge part of the healing process. I just think most families would prefer to do this in a controlled environment such as our funeral home, where they can leave, and go home to their sanctuary.

    I am sure there are families out there who would prefer to keep their loved one at home as long as possible, but I haven’t yet come across this.

    1. Charles

      Hello Edward

      Do you ask you families if they want this?

      Do any of them know it is an option?

      Do you routinely ask?

      Should you?

      Would you?

      Will you?

    2. Charles

      As Rosie points out, Edward, you may very well have come across it without noticing. It’s not so outlandish as you appear to be suggesting – on the contrary, until (historically) very recently indeed it used to be the norm, and nobody would have dreamt of asking someone to provide a controlled environment for such a natural, simple human need.

  15. Charles

    We offer a complete “Take Home” service, offering the family the option to have their loved one back home before the funeral takes place, not only the day before, but for as long as they feel necessary, with the obvious reminder of nature taking its cause.

    We also welcome their participation in the preparation of the deceased in our mortuary facility, as well as making the arrangements such as booking the minister, creating the order of service and taking the service etc etc.

  16. Charles

    I’m not against the idea. I personally offer 24 hour turn around funerals where possible, and love offering services different to the norm.

    All i’m saying is that personally I don’t think it is what people necessarily want nowadays. Families feel at ease knowing things are being dealt with by a professional in the field. I occasionally try DIY at home, but feel much safer with a qualified and reliable tradesman, someone who knows what they’re doing.

    By the way, we only embalm the deceased if the family request this service.

  17. Charles

    Edward, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. The proof of the pudding will, ultimately, be what happens in the future, but a few years ago when the word ‘green funeral’ started to be bandied about, I personally was expecting a huge increase in their demand. I have offered everything possible to families for the entire time I have been a funeral director but in reality it is few circumstances that occur when families want much that deviates from the well-trod path. I do resent the insinuation that you have to be either a join-the-dots funeral director or ‘new age’, there are loads of funeral directors that manage to tread the middle ground.
    I don’t think you’ll find a funeral director in the country that wouldn’t arrange and conduct a funeral in 24 hrs. In Northern Ireland 48 hours is pretty much the norm.
    As for taking bodies home – I’m all for it, but on a personal level I would rather not have a decomposing loved one in my front room – because that is exactly what it is. But, again, in Northern Ireland that is quite normal, even usual. The reality is though that where we are ( the North West of England) very very few families want that…
    As for embalming, it would be unethical to not ask families for their permission, if it were to be carried out.

    1. Charles

      Tell that to Carl Marlow.
      I have to say, I think you greatly underestimate people. When actively offered the choice to do things differently many people do. We hear this so often: it’s different up north/ in Scotland/Wales; wherever. Not true. We do funerals in Plymouth, as tough and traditional a city as anywhere, and when ordinary working class families are given the space and encouragement to do things as they want, not how they are told to then the funerals they organise are as creative and inspiring as anyone’s. People act on the information they have, and most people aren’t given the full information.
      And why the hell would anyone want to arrange a funeral within 24 hours, religious obligations excepted? It’s barely time to understand what’s happened.
      It is good to hear so many funeral directors not embalming unless requested to though, but annoying to be described as a new age funeral director. I’m a new wave undertaker don’t you know.

  18. Charles

    Edward, Ian.
    well said gentlemen,and straight to the point. I was born and lived in liverpool for 18 years, before a HMF request came my way, I recall the funerals back home included all the deceased being brought into the palour (front room),the curtains being closed, and if it was winter the heating would be turned off, cant recall if the deceased were embalmed as I would have been too young to even understand the meaning, but what I can recall is how quick the funeral was.
    May be its down to location and peoples understanding but from up north as they say it certanly is different, as for Embalming if a family insists on a loved one going home i would suggest and possibly recommend it, but if were talking of a 48 hour funeral, Then why put the family in this position.

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