When the tide of opinion turns

Charles Cowling

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“Afore ye go.” Remember the slogan? You will if you’re old enough. It spoke to us oldies (Scots: auldies) from billboards everywhere, advertising Bell’s whisky. It echoed the invitation offered as a matter of course in those days to every dinner guest or pub boozer when they announced they were going home: “One for the road?”

Yes, in those days we fortified ourselves with a generous nip before driving back in our Rovers and Austins, whether we’d washed down good food with lashings of fine wine, or 4 packets of pork scratchings with 10 pints. Everybody drove pissed then. A lot of us reckoned we drove better. Then they brought in a law against it.

Get caught over the limit now and you’ll get no soft soap from friends about stupid laws and how dare they interfere with individual liberty. No, you’ll hit a brick wall of universal disgust. Drunken driving may be illegal: it’s also become socially unacceptable. In addition to the ban and the fine, you receive a stigma. You never live that down.

Oldies have seen lots of once-tolerated practices become intolerable in this way. In the recent past, it’s fox hunting; that’s why it’ll never be re-legalised. Smokers are increasingly regarded with puzzled revulsion. You can’t shout at people at work any more; dammit, you can’t even grope them. I can think of all sorts of things that have been socially exiled in my lifetime (I’m 62). If you’re young, my prediction is that you’ll live to see the end of the acceptability of eating of animals.

If you’re in funerals there’ll be an end to practices now taken for granted. An example is undertakers walking in front of hearses. Family members will do that. There will be changes in the way undertakers interact with clients. Shroud-of-service, martyr-to-my-vocation undertakers will give way to less up-themselves, more collaborative undertakers. No stigma will attach to the old ways of doing things, though; they’ll just be regarded as quaint. Embalming will pretty much die out as clients opt out.

The mouth suture, though, well that’s something else. It’s not offered as a choice. It’s done without the knowledge or understanding of the client. Sure, it’s performed by very nice undertakers with the best of intentions. But when people discover what was done to their mum they are going to be appalled and furious. To them it’s going to seem brutal, high-handed, repugnant. How dare you damn well do that without even asking? Get your coat and glasses off and come outside.

It’s almost certainly the undertaker’s role as ‘custodian of the body’, together with the disempowering effect of grief, that leads them unilaterally to do certain we-know-best things in what they reckon to be the emotional interests of the bereaved, and in doing so to drift from their expectations. Sorry, ‘They don’t need to know’ is no defence. The client is always right.

If you’re one of those undertakers who sews up the mouths of the dead, watch out. Stop now. Use one of these. There’s a backlash brewing.

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Hazel Pittwood
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*I should point out, my reference to a majority of people having lived long lives is with relevance to their age and the values upheld from their lifetime, which are usually, in the family’s words as far as funerals are concerned, ‘traditional’.

Hazel Pittwood
Guest

Thought provoking as ever Charles, as you can tell from my lengthy response! (apologies!) The changes you mention may come, I have noticed changes in attitudes, but for the time being the majority of people who die have had long lives. Their family members tasked with arranging the funeral service (their next of kin being sons or daughters in most cases) may not want a traditional funeral when their own time comes. However, for the person who has died, what is seen as the traditional is deemed by the family (the most important point, it is of course their choice)… Read more »

james showers
Guest

What an excellent site this is: strong opinions expressed with vigour but without rancour; GFG editor gracious in response (and courageous in issuing the challenge) but unbowed in the mission.
Not the site to go to for unearned LOL’s and smileys.
LOL you’all.
James

ian
Guest
ian

Charles, what is frustrating is the way you tend to be a harbinger of doom for the funeral industry, somehow predicting either solutions for problems that don’t really exist or foretelling changes that won’t happen. Nothing has really changed in the 20 years I have been a funeral director. Families aren’t suddenly demanding more personal services than they did a decade or two ago. They always demanded that. And mostly got it. Like everything else, some funeral services offer a better level of service than others, but that’s not really any different than any other service sector. We don’t really… Read more »

ian
Guest
ian

As a funeral director (and not in any way a fuddy duddy old fashioned one) it gets irritating to hear people who clearly have little real extensive knowledge proclaiming to know the answers to questions that don’t really exist. I would never ever embalm someone without prior authorisation. No properly trained embalmer would. It is part of the BIE (of which I am not a members) code of conduct. I would also always advise a family as to the poor state of a body. This is one of the few forums I have found for discussion of views and for… Read more »

Jonathan
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Jonathan

I would prefer to know it my daughter’s dead body were green and oozing black smelly slime, and I’d be angry to discover it had been humanely hidden from me by someone who put his beliefs about my sensibilities before the truth; but I’m aware my views are not always representative. As an occasional custodian of a dead body, I like to think I would always talk, tactfully, to its former inhabitant’s relatives about its condition, and make suggestions appropriate to their responses that leave them with their right to make informed decisions on their own part. You may have… Read more »

Richard
Guest
Richard

I have mixed feelings about this one, Charles. I like it because it’s so well-crafted and entertaining, but find myself leaning towards the embalming realist commentators, even though I myself would rather avoid the practice.

I’d also question the inevitability of so-called progress towards hippy-drippy, tea-total, non-smoking, vegetarian, anti-traditionalist, nanny state and bureaucratic EU-loving, eco-fantasist, politically-correct, history-revising, wrong-headed, aren’t-we-so-nice-and-modern-but-really-we’re-intolerant bores.

The backlash has already begun.

ian
Guest
ian

I gave up reading this blog for a while because it got tedious and it looks like its heading back that way… …everyone is, of course, entitled to their opinion but I would really like to know how many dead human bodies the people who deem embalming so awful have had to deal with. Today I brought 2 people back from different hospitals. Both were green from their genitals to their chests. The smell was pretty bad and it’s hugely unhygienic. One had putrid black liquid pouring from his nose and mouth. I’d love to know how to deal with… Read more »

james showers
Guest

Have you ever used ‘one of these’? It seemed a great product, and I bought different sizes; however it pushes the skin and flesh up and out, making the person look worse than left gaping imho.. I think GFG’s outstanding pioneering for people’s rights may be slightly asquiff here; a bit like innoculations ‘simply more poisoning of the blood’ as an eminent homeopath once told me; and that a neatly closed mouth is worth doing – even with suture. Yes, perhaps undertakers should always ask permission, and maybe explaining the exact procedure will shock a family into refusing. At least… Read more »