Funerals as psychotwaddle

Charles 12 Comments

Writing about contemporary American memorial services (ashes optional), Thomas Long describes a funerary trend that some might discern in contemporary British celebration of life funerals — if you subscribe to his bracingly reactionary death-view: 

Even when they are crafted by caring people who are full of goodwill, these services often lack coherence. At their worst they are formless and aimless, without tradition or structure, sail or rudder. They can so easily slip into random odds and ends thrown together like a high school talent show, a pot-pourri of made-up pageantries and sentimental gestures combined with a few leftover religious rites that have broken loose from their moorings and floated downstream. Many have become a form of improvisational theater with upbeat emcees … less a story of what [the person who has died’s] life and death mean and more a pot of ritual spaghetti thrown against the wall in hope that something will stick.

The Good Funeral. 


  1. Charles

    An interesting comment from Thomas Long but the sickly image reminds me of a London pavement on a Sunday morning after a Saturday night. Beats the embalming video though.

  2. Charles

    I’m biased. But this is where the celebrant is worth her or his weight in solid mahogany. We should embrace the random odds and ends thrown at us and use these to create a memorable and coherent ceremony. Let’s keep the pot-pourri but place it lovingly and carefully into a hand-crafted bowl.

  3. Charles

    So glad to hear someone say this, A Celeb. I read Long and Lynch’s book with rising fury. Some of the best meals are made of odds and ends, but it takes an expert cook to know how to combine them deliciously. The improvisational work required to guide people through loss and help them find meaning calls for a very high order of intelligence and humanity. The best celebs are indeed, as you say, worth their weight in sustainably-sourced hardwood or even precious metal.

  4. Charles

    I kind of, y’know, like, know what he means. But writing as he does here (much as I admire TL) involves a viewpoint of aesthetic and psychological objectivity which is far from the situation celebrants usually find themselves in when they are talking to a family. The random odds and ends may be exactly what a family wants, and the major part of a celebrant’s role is surely to give the family what they want – whilst trying to steer them to whatever it is that our experience and empathic insights may suggest they need.

    A Celeb has it right, for me. Improving funeral practice is a slow, iterative, reflective process, working with the warm and breathing, often messy and complex situations of actual families. I guess TL’s eloquent observations might help a celeb or two to reflect and adapt, but it’s only getting down into it with families that is changing things, not magisterial pronouncements from professionals.

    1. Charles

      I’m with a family and I think, ‘This is never going to work.’ But against my better judgement, I throw it in the pot. And yay! It does work. Because they know what they need.
      The ‘made-up pageantries’ bit really got me annoyed. So what? Isn’t it all made-up?

  5. Charles

    Totally disagree with Long on this ( well maybe he has a point about the religious rituals broken loose…)
    He is talking about USA, but it’s a poke (and a nasty one at that) at all the hardworking, realistic fundamentally good celebrants out there.
    I don’t like his tone. And I don’t like his gross generalisations about us as a whole.
    ” caring people full of goodwill” he obviously hasn’t seen me slaving over a ceremony text in order to a) give the family what they want and b) keep it within the 30 minutes that the crematorium give us. The point I am laboriously making is that I’m not just “caring” I’m professional and committed to giving the best quality service possible. The critique totally ignores the huge professionalism emerging in the celebrant profession. Or maybe they are just really bad at it in the US ?

    1. Charles


      I wrote down your words
      in disorderly groups,
      which clamour to form sentences
      that speak you her name.

      She looks out from her photo,
      shyly at first,
      as I strain to catch your thoughts in her face.

      I touch my notepad,
      gingerly trying
      to feel you hand reach across my desk
      to hold hers.

      I stop writing,
      have a fag and some coffee and,
      back from my musings,
      I see you and she have altered my faltering prose.

      Good. We’ve begun,
      and slowly I withdraw
      to eavesdrop on your parting
      as you hold your goodbyes in my study.

      Just the donkey work now
      to get it word perfect,
      and give her the chance for
      her last call to you
      from the wrong side of the grave.

  6. Charles

    Sorry, didn’t mean professionalism ’emerging in the celebrant profession’ – that’s already there in large numbers and from reading these blogs in large portions. apologies again

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