Feasting on brains

Charles 6 Comments

Weekends? Ha! We don’t believe in them here at the GFG-Batesville Shard. Probably you don’t, either. Because, like you, I know that the number one regret of the dying is: I wish I had worked harder.

So on Sunday, noticing my bank manager had nodded off in a deckchair, I slipped my fiscal leash and zipped down to Bath for the second day of the annual CDAS conference: New Economies of Death: The Commodification of Dying, the Dead Body, and Bereavement. Snappy title. Forty-five quid, lunch thrown in. Thank you for letting me in at the last minute, Caron!

I’d obviously missed lots of good stuff the day before, because everyone was keen to rub it in. Not to worry, there was lots of good stuff on Sunday, too, much of it from hands-on people like Barbara Chalmers, and Shaun Powell and Lawrence Kilshaw. There were good papers on funeral costs and much talk of funeral poverty. A highlight was a very bright Australian undertaker, Anne Gleeson, who talked about the importance of joining up end-of-life care to the care of the dead body. She and her husband specialise in ‘individualised funerals on farms and wineries, traditional church services, small personal ceremonies in homes and community venues’. This very bespoke way of working doesn’t necessarily endear them to their fellow undertakers, better termed funeral directors. Yes, there’s a difference.

For me, the best bit was the session after lunch. Steve Gallagher, from the Chinese University, Hong Kong, lectures in law and specialises in trusts — an area of law, he told us, reckoned by lawyers themselves to be the most boring of all. He loves it, and managed to communicate that. He told us about Chinese customary trusts in the New Territories, and how they were adopted into the common law of Hong Kong by the British. The main purposes of these trusts are threefold: ancestral veneration; the provision of funeral costs for clan members; and the maintenance of clan graves. The richer trusts cover other expenses of clan members, too – education, for example. They are unique to China and incorporated into law only in Hong Kong. 

What an excellent model, I thought, for British funeral planning. I put it to Steve and he agreed that it would work. He named the English trust that would best suit (I wish I’d written it down). It needs to be renewed every 21 years, giving a family the opportunity to review and remodel. All good.

He reminded us that, when you arrange a funeral in China, you consult not only the wishes and needs of close family and those who knew the dead person but, also, the expectations of the ancestors. That’s quite a weight of responsibility and a considerable enrichment of a funeral. We could do with some of that here. 

There was a good spread of people from all areas of funerals. We all enjoyed swapping ideas, refreshing our thinking and learning new things. The people at CDAS are always very welcoming, and actively encourage ‘civilians’ to attend.

Regrettable, therefore, that not a single funeral director went. The debate about where funerals are going in an age of growing secularism and a rapidly changing landscape of dying is going to go on without them because it’s a debate that masses of people want to take part in and it’s urgent. Ideas are change agents, and the sideline, just now, is no place to stand. 

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Twaddle rating: 6


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