“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.