Thoughts from an unaffiliated funeral director (i)

Fran Hall

 

After yesterday’s deadline for unaffiliated funeral directors to make contact with the FSCSR came and went, we thought we would share some of the thoughts from some of the people who managed to scrabble together a response to the request within the time frame offered.

Given that all responses were received by the FSCSR Secretariat, which is operated by the two funeral trade associations, these responses are hardly confidential, and all concerned are happy for their comments to now be in the public domain.

We begin today with the letter sent by Ru Callender, from The Green Funeral Company

Dear

My partner and I have been independent self taught undertakers and celebrants for the past twenty years. We run The Green Funeral Company.

We set up as a direct result of the dissatisfactory funerals I was subjected to throughout my childhood and twenties at the hands of the very corporate organisations which appear to be covertly represented here.

I discovered the work of The Natural Death Centre charity, which back then was a radical movement to empower the public and force funeral directors to show a little transparency.

It taught me, as you all know but I doubt much of the public do, that a family are not required by law to use a funeral director. They can do pretty much everything themselves, and we have indeed advised and supported many families to do exactly this, as well as providing a much more integrated and participatory service for the families who do chose us.

The reason this is possible is simple; dead bodies are not complicated, or as much of a health hazard as is generally perceived. You can disrespect them, but you cannot hurt them.

The real skill of funeral directing lies with how you treat the living.

 And no amount of spot checks or being part of a trade body will ensure that the living are treated well. This requires emotional intelligence, which is teachable to a degree, but is unlegislatable.

We believe regulation will destroy some of the best funeral directors in the country while appearing to ‘solve’ a problem in the eyes of the public, that doesn’t actually exist.

The problems that actually exists in the funeral industry are:

An emotional disconnect between individual funeral workers and the families they are serving, mainly in large corporate chains, and a lack of support for these workers when it comes to the complexities of the psychological stresses involved with the job.

A financial beholdenment to shareholders within the corporate sector above all else.

 The overmarketing of funeral plans as a tactic to secure future business by the large corporations forcing smaller funeral directors to follow suit in a manner which brings the moral tone of our work down in the eyes of the public through tasteless emotionally bullying adverts on daytime television.

 And most obviously, our crematoriums are with a few very notable exceptions no longer fit for purpose, environmentally, practically, spiritually or financially.

They have inappropriate outdated designs and short time slots and are mainly worked around the on time traffic of too many funerals per day.

These are the issues which are affecting the quality of funerals in the UK today.

Let me elaborate on my first point, about the emotional labour required to do this job properly.

By disconnect I mean that often with the larger chains, the people who pick up the body are not the same as the person who makes the arrangements, who is not the same as the person officiating on the day.

This lack of continuity reduces the dead person to a logistical problem, storing them in large central warehouses in identical coffins, and takes any emotional and narrative stake away from the people at the sharp end of the job.

They are as much a victim of the lack of joined up thinking as are families.

With no real training in the dynamics of shock, grief and bereavement and the impact these have on funeral workers, you have people on very low wages collecting bodies in the middle of the night walking into people’s houses in the middle of the night to collect their dead father asking “Where is it?” This happened to friends of mine.

We are not members of any trade organisation for many reasons, but largely because trade organisations in any industry largely exist to serve their members, while giving the public a veneer of accountability.

The funeral trade organisation offer cheaper insurance, a few quid off this and that, and are completely obsessed with selling pre paid funeral plans, most of which don’t significantly help the funeral director.

And the majority of the members of the largest trade body, the NAFD, are from the various Co-op’s who dominate the agenda to suit them, and use their enormous clout to produce endless press releases about changing trends in funeral music ignoring the bigger changes that have been created by small radical undertakers like ourselves,

When we make a mistake, as inevitably in the past twenty years we have, the buck stops with us. We are the complaints department as well as everything else. We are accountable, and own our mistakes and rectify them without the need for an intervening trade body. This is simple good and ethical business. People stand and fall on their reputation.

Don’t get me wrong, funeral directing is an extremely hard job, physically, psychologically and emotionally, and if you are doing it and it is not your vocation, then you will burn out.

Obviously we do not accept the widespread cultural belief that funeral directing is somehow exploitative, there are lots of fabulous undertakers, both independent and within some of the larger chains quietly and sincerely giving of themselves, but there are enormous corporate behemoths hiding behind a lot of good will and misunderstandings of the general public, and this regulation will only benefit them, while punishing the cutting edge creativity of many independents.

Forcing regulation on the industry will shut the door on ordinary members of the public participating in their own bereavement experience, and will close down the visionaries of this industry, all for the sake of convincing the public that they are protected, and has been tried by vested interests in the industry for over 100 years, with the same agenda; the shutting down of small independents.

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M Shaw
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Fascinating and well thought out review. I’m not sure which potential elements of regulation would pose any challenge to a half decent, well thought out funeral professional. Those who are conscientious will always work to a high standard. I see no harm in introducing a minimum level of care below which we can’t go. Mistakes, yes we all make, but how do we minimise them and their impact on families. There are cowboys at both ends of the market. Funeral plans are great! The problem is that most of what is sold online or by door to door / cold… Read more »