Not in front of the children

Charles 3 Comments

The information revolution has done huge damage to the funeral industry. Recent TV exposés of goings on behind the scenes in a Co-operative Funeralcare and a Funeral Services Partnership mortuary went viral when they aired and endure in the public memory. That the NAFD did not, in the aftermath, suspend or expel FSP called into question its claim to discipline its members when they breach its Code of Practice, a matter it is currently addressing with an urgency that might be lacking if people were not watching. 

The information revolution has also done the funerals business an enormous amount of good. Sky’s documentary in the Great Little Britons series profiled some of the great people who work in the business and showed them to be the kindest and most dedicated human beings anyone could hope to meet anywhere, ever.

Latterly, the Coronation Street plotline around Hayley’s suicide and subsequent funeral has got people talking and thinking in all sorts of positive ways.

And when people start talking and thinking about stuff these days, they tweet, they facebook, they text and email; above all, they google. In the wake of Hayley’s funeral the GFG has been awash with people looking for, and exchanging, information — especially about coffins they can buy online, of course. And celebrants. The BHA website will also have enjoyed a great deal of traffic.

Funeral people are understandably protective of the image and the good name of their industry. They worry about being brought into disrepute — as you might expect when any scoundrel can call themselves an undertaker and open a shop. 

At last year’s Good Funeral Awards, an event which prides itself on celebrating diversity and bringing funeral people of all sorts together in a spirit of fellowship, some ‘respectable’ FDs, people for whom the GFG has a high regard, were disturbed by the presence of what buy cialis uk next day delivery they felt to be one or two gothy exotics letting the side down, giving a poor impression. They had misgivings about how the event might have been portrayed by the media with the help of mischievous edits and selective quotes. We hadn’t expected that, Brian and I. It it caused us some amazement and heartsearching.

We reflected that we’ve had a media presence, including TV cameras, at both awards events. We court the media, dammit, we work hard to publicise the best in the business; that’s the whole point. We reflected that media portrayal of funeral people at the event has never been other than 100% positive. The event reflects the diversity of British society. There are all sorts of undertakers out there catering for all sorts of people. Where’s the shock horror in that? 

The story of last year’s Awards, if you want to remind yourself, was in the Spectator magazine. Sheer class.

Funeral people worry about things getting out. Reputation management used to be all about blind eyes and cover-ups, of fudges and dissembling, of closing ranks and putting up a front. Not any more it ain’t. In this new, floodlit age, everything can be known and everyone is accountable.

So you want to protect people’s feelings? So you think there are things it’s kinder not to tell them? Well sorry, it doesn’t work like that any more. They’re not children. In any case, that was always a patronising way to treat people.

If you want to suture the mouths of your dead, fine, just be sure to have an answer when you’re asked about it. If you want to embalm, be ready for the trocar question.

There’s no hiding place any more. The genie ain’t going back in the bottle. Don’t blame the sunlight. Everyone has the right to make informed choices. Deal with it.


  1. Charles

    I’ll make a note to remember that when I arrange a family to fully explain how we embalm, suture, pack orifices etc. Also must remember to explain fully just what that nasty smell is…
    I don’t think there are really many funeral directors that wouldn’t explain, when asked, exactly what happens, but I don’t really see that there is any benefit in telling people that, yes, after the post mortem all of their deceased loved-ones (or ‘corpse’ as the 2 embalmed folk were called on this blog a couple of days ago, if that is your preferred term – personally I think its a bit cold, but that might be my own over-sensitivity) internal organs, including the brain will be chopped up, put in a yellow clinical waste bag and then replaced.
    I’m sure that will help them at night….what an idiot I’ve been all these years.
    Thanks GFG for showing me the error of my ways.

  2. Charles

    I think media exposure is a good thing. If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.
    With information so easily at hand, there is nothing that isn’t instantly “googleable.” This can be a good thing, but also bad.
    If anyone asks how I prepare a body, of course I explain. If they want to know exactly how embalming takes place, I offer to call my embalmer and put him on the phone. Because I am not an embalmer, surely it makes sense for them to actually speak to one?
    However, I agree with Ian when it comes to post-mortem cases. If anyone really wanted to know what happens, again, I would tell them but why would I go so in depth if I knew it was going to distress them and when they hadn’t asked?
    Sometimes I think people ask questions without really wanting to know the answer or actually being prepared for the answer.

  3. Charles

    Hello Ian – It’s been a long time. If I have not made myself clear, that’s my fault. My argument is that since people can, if they want, easily find out about all this stuff now, then a FD needs to have a response ready — a justification. In the days when no one knew what went on, and it was a lot harder to find out, FDs were ‘safer’ – ie less accountable for what they do. I did not mean to give the impression that FDs ought to be proactive and graphic in the way you describe.

    An example is the ‘industry’ response to the Co-op hub mortuary. There was pretty much universal defence of the practice of storing dead people on open racking. But funeral directing is a commercial operation which must answer to the needs and wishes of its clients. If clients don’t like open racking, that’s the end of it: it’s indefensible; it doesn’t matter what the industry thinks. The only acceptable response would have been to say sorry and find an acceptable way of looking after dead people.

    Would I have wanted my Mum to go to a hub? No.

    Would I have wanted her mouth sutured? No. Now that I know about it I can and will say no in future. If I were a FD I would, these days, consider carefully the likelihood of an ignorant client finding out how it is done shortly after it had been done and demanding to be told why they weren’t offered the optionof saying no. In fact I’d go further and stop doing it altogether on the grounds that it’s unjustifiable to carry out, unilaterally, a cosmetic procedure which people may find unacceptably invasive. It’s something people need to opt in to, not out of.

    As to the use of the word corpse, this is an ancient, common noun which simply says it as it is. It is not a swear word, it is not pejorative; it is neutral. It is not invested with presumptuous sentiment in the way ‘loved one’ is. If you had used to the term ‘loved one’ in connection with my father, my brother and I would have responded with some asperity. The English language offers many synonyms for corpse. The important thing is to choose the noun appropriate to the occasion and the audience. This is a blog read by people in the death trade. In the context of the topic under discussion it was spot on. In my opinion.

    I think we are destined to disagree, Ian, until the first of us passes on. That’s a good thing. This blog should not be a cosy, consensual place. I value your opinions and consider them carefully, and I thank you for taking the trouble to articulate them.

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