Is your funeral really necessary?

Charles 5 Comments



All of a sudden the media has started to take an interest in direct cremation. It’s the death of Anita Brookner wot done it. Here at the GFG we got calls after Bowie was whisked into the flames but little was written. I guess Bowie wasn’t reckoned sufficiently representative of mainstream people to be regarded as a sign of the times.

Will the upcoming Government consultation – here – take account of the needs of direct cremationists, we wonder, and consider abolishing the charge for the ceremony hall (chapel), and institute a dropoff service (also useful for home funeralists)?

What’s interesting about direct cremation is that it has come about without the benefit of advocacy by funeral reformers, who have been mostly (ironically) chattering about the desirability of more corpse-centric sendoffs. No one in the death biz saw direct cremation coming. How brilliant is that? The GFG has been, as in everything, way off the pace. In 2008 we wrote: In the UK we are culturally conditioned to believe that a funeral for a body is indispensable. Could that change?” In 2009 we wrote “We never thought [direct cremation] would jump the Atlantic, but it has. In 2010 we had second thoughts:  “It seems unthinkable that the practice of direct cremation … could land on our shores.”

Land on our shores? From where? Why, America, of course. But is direct cremation a transplanted practice – or did it arise here spontaneously? I’ve come to favour the latter theory. Increasingly, death announcements tell us, people are separating the disposal of the corpse from the memorial event, as in “Private cremation followed by a celebration of life to be held at…” The corpseless funeral and direct cremation are brother and sister.  

What bothers the media is what may also bother you. Isn’t it emotionally injurious to deny people the opportunity to pay their respects and say a ritual farewell to the person who’s died? No point in debating that question, it has already been answered. For certain people, certain deaths are best marked by a direct cremation or a corpseless funeral. End of.

Which doesn’t mean to say that the consideration of the needs and feelings of others has evaporated. David Holmes reminded us of this a couple of weeks ago when he was involved in a death not as an undertaker but as a family friend. He wrote:

The driver for them all is DOING THE RIGHT THING. This is to be a cremation, with traditional coffin and hearse, we will wear less formal clothes …They want to do it this way because they all think this IS the way it should be done. There has been time for me to gently suggest alternatives, and frankly, their emotional state made me hesitant to suggest much at all as an alternative. When I have, they have usually closed me down.

This chimes with a recent correspondence we had with a person of extremely limited means. She was inclined to do it all from home affordably and decorate a cardboard coffin bought on the internet. Then, all of a sudden, she wanted a formal funeral with a horse-drawn hearse. She was wrenched one way and the other by what she felt to be a need to show the world she cared.

This was in contrast to the man, a few days later, who wanted to be put in touch with a direct cremationist. At 94 he was a bright as you like and wanted to talk about the issues. He is affluent, educated and freethinking, so he is socially fearless. More than that, he feels that even in death he has a duty to set an example to less confident people. He wants to give them ‘permission’ to make the same choice as him and do what they are inclined to do, not as they feel expected to do.

Here’s the point. Increasingly, people go to a funeral these days with no idea what to expect now that liturgy, even in religious ceremonies, has been replaced by a mash-up. When you don’t know what to expect, you’re open to… anything.

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David Barrington
7 years ago

I totally agree, Direct Cremation or Direct Burial which in lots of ways is less fuss than cremation is becoming more popular. In fact we have carried out 3 direct cremations in the last month. But I would struggle to fit them properly into the Direct Cremation category. What do we mean by Direct Cremation? Is it no one present, take the coffin to the crem and leave it there, then deliver the ashes a couple of days later? Or do we include the families that want to witness the committal? For these families we have to order music. No… Read more »

David Holmes
7 years ago

As ever, funeral directors are in a powerful position. Creating the funeral the deceased deserves is quite a weapon to the determined salesperson. Cherry Oak casket, Horse drawn hearse, beautifully bound orders of service, a fleet of pristine limousines, maybe Lymn’s amazing Rolls Royce hearse up front? Oh yes, I think I surely deserve all of the above, because I am so loved and have done so much for those close to me. It’s the least they can do, the last thing they can really do to honour me. But wait, I’m not even sure if I want to be… Read more »

Gordon Tulley
7 years ago
Reply to  David Holmes

Express Cremations already offer Direct Cremation in London for less than £1,275.00 and Express Burials off Direct Green Burial in London for £1,795 but as you say just like of of todays enquires from London the family are looking at all options around a simple cremation, be it also witnessing or delivering a short family / friends led service

Ru Callender
7 years ago

I still think it’s an unconscious desire to swerve the emotions. It would be fine if the family had nursed the person to their death at home, sat with the body, wept, laughed, helped carry them out to the car, but most of the requests we get are for people who ‘don’t want to be a burden’ to their children.
Next up, non visiting nursing homes.

Lucy Coulbert
7 years ago

I have undertaken 2 direct cremations per month for the last 4 months. The families reasons behind it were varied although interestingly, not one said it was because of price. The common answer was because that is what the deceased had specified. They didn’t want a service and although two families found this particularly hard, their overriding emotion was to do what that person wanted and not what was best for them. Another factor in other direct cremations was family. With so many families being scattered all over the world, to spend sometimes thousands on last minute flights back to… Read more »