Fran Hall

 

The former editor of the GFG, Louise Winter, brought the packed room at Porchester Hall to their feet at the close of the 2017 Good Funeral Awards with a powerful emotional tribute to the late Jon Underwood.

Everyone present joined in a standing ovation in recognition of Jon’s pioneering work in starting the Death Cafe movement, and in honour of the memory of an unassuming, gentle man who was an example to us all.

Jon’s sister, Jools Barsky, bravely took to the stage to accept the award for Outstanding Contribution to Society on Jon’s behalf in an emotional ending to this year’s honours list.

In response to a number of requests, we are proud to share Louise’s words with you below.

On Tuesday 27th June, Jon Underwood did not pass away; he died – that difference in wording is an important distinction that Jon would have wanted us all to make; his work with Death Cafe helped to reclaim the words death and dying and placed importance on us all being unafraid of using the actual words and not speaking in euphemisms. 
 
Jon brought together tens of thousands of people who began to talk openly and honestly about one of life’s toughest subjects, over tea and cake. 
 
Since the first Death Cafe was held in Jon’s front room in Hackney in 2011, there have been over 5000 Death Cafes in over 50 countries. Death Cafe has received unprecedented press coverage including the front page of the New York Times, Woman’s Hour, BBC Breakfast News and pretty much every other major news outlet around the world. 
 
Jon also painstakingly built and managed Funeral Advisor in association with the Natural Death Centre Charity and worked on many projects for Dying Matters. 
 
My colleagues in the death and dying profession, including so many of the people in this room, have been devastated by Jon’s untimely death. We are honoured that we were able to call him both a colleague and a friend. 
 
In the beautiful setting of the Jamyang Buddhist Centre and with the generosity and creativity of some of the 
people in this room today – including Hasina, Allistair and Sarah from Compassionate Funerals, the team at Ecoffins, Andrew and Steve from Brahm’s Electric Hearse and the members of the Good Funeral Guild who carried Jon’s coffin, Jon’s funeral ceremony took place on Thursday 6th July. It had been Jon’s dream to hold 
funerals at the centre and with an irony he would have relished, his was the first. 
 
A perfect reflection of Jon, his funeral was brave, pioneering and groundbreaking. 
 
Jon was a source of invaluable advice, support and encouragement to everyone in the fields of death and dying, always generous with himself and his resources. He was one of the good guys – the most genuine, well intentioned, humble, kind hearted and gentle person, both professionally and personally. 
 
He was a mix of quiet determination, loving kindness, extreme modesty and belief in the importance of the work he was doing as a self-confessed death activist. His commitment to making the world a better place 
through his work was unwavering. 
 
Since 2011, Jon funded Death Cafe entirely through his own personal savings and small freelance 
projects. He had recently begun trying to fundraise so he could pay his bills and support his family. 
 
As a community, we wanted to support Jon’s young children, Frank and Gina, and set up a JustGiving page 
in his memory. We’ll be auctioning the infamous gold cake at the end of today’s awards ceremony, and all 
proceeds will go directly to Jon’s family. 
 
So in Jon’s own words: “I’m motivated to do this work because I believe that engaging with death is both important and overlooked. My experience tells me that death can play a role in helping us enjoy life. I also believe that focusing on death can play a part in helping us get to grips with some big challenges – like supporting older people, climate change, a broken economic system and chronic global inequality. This may not 
immediately make sense but if we can face up to death we can face up to anything. I am very proud of 
my work – I don’t think there has ever been anything quite like it!”
 
On behalf of everyone here today, the wider death and dying community and Death Cafe hosts and 
attendees all over the world, I’d like to ask Jon’s sister Jools Barsky to collect an award in Jon’s honour – the Good Funeral Award for Outstanding Service to Society.”
Fran Hall

The Good Funeral Awards 2017 sponsored by Greenfield Creations

The winners of this year’s Death Oscars were announced at the glittering awards ceremony in London today.

 

Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death

Joint Winners: Liz Rothschild and Lucy Coulbert

Runner Up: Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief – It Takes a Village.

 

Supplementary Award for Innovation

J.C. Atkinson for the Pathway coffin

 

Best Death Related Public Engagement Event

Winners: Life, Death, Whatever and BrumYODO

Runner up: Home Funeral Network (Funerals to Die For)

 

Most Helpful Funeral Advice Website

Winner: Nelson’s Journey Youth Panel’s Smartphone APP  

Runner up: Veterans Bereavement Support Services

 

Doula of the Year

Winner: Felicity Warner

Runners Up: Lizzie Neville, Nett Furley, Jane Henderson & Anna Lyons

 

Anatomical Pathology Technician of the Year

Winner: Dr. Wendy Birch

Runner Up: Lara-Rose Iredale

 

Care of the Deceased Award

Winner: Cara Mair and the team at ARKA Original Funerals

Runner Up: Kirsty Sailes

 

Coffin Supplier of the Year

Winner:  Ecoffins

Runner Up: Earth to Heaven

 

Funeral Florist of the Year

Winner: Rebecca Sharp of Dazzle Me Daisy Do

Runner Up: Rosie Orr, of Flowers by Rosie Orr

 

Minister of the Year

Winner: Fr. Christyan James

Runners Up: The Right Revd. Charles Muglestone & Emma Curtis

 

Celebrant of the Year

Winner: Justine Wykerd

Runners Up: Kathryn Sansom, Stuart Preston & Wendy Coulton

Highly Commended: Terri Shanks

  

Gravedigger of the Year

Winner: Martin House of Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground

Runner Up: Julie Hillman of The Eternal Forest

 

Best Burial Ground in the UK

Winner: Heatherley Wood, Greenacres

Runner Up: Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground

 

Best Crematorium in the UK

Winner: South Oxfordshire Crematorium and Memorial Park

Runners Up: Kettering Crematorium, Mortlake Crematorium and Seven Hills Crematorium

 

Crematorium Attendant of the Year

Winner: Richard Hooker at Mortlake Crematorium

Runners Up: Paul Jansen at Golders Green Crematorium and the team at Cardiff Crematorium Thornhill

 

Best Direct Cremation Provider

Winner: Holly’s Funerals

Runner Up: Respect Direct Funeral Services

 

Best Low Cost Funeral Provider

Winner: Fosters Funeral Directors

Runner up: Memoria Low Cost Funerals Ltd

 

Most Eco-Friendly Funeral Director

Winner: Leverton & Sons

Runner Up: Woodland Wishes

 

Funeral Arranger of the Year

Winner: Lorraine Aitken (Youngs Independent Funeral Services)

Runners Up: Barbara Scrimshaw (Edd Frost & Daughters) & Persephone Salway (A. Monger Funeral Directors)

 

Most Promising New Funeral Director Business

Winner: Compassionate Funerals

Runners Up: Crescent Funerals and O’Dwyer Funeral Directors

 

Most Promising Trainee Funeral Director

Winner: Sarah Ellis (Bewley and Merrett Funeral Directors)

Runners Up: Rhys Askham (Rosedale Funeral Home) and Sarah Tully (Compassionate Funerals)

 

Best Modern Funeral Director

Winner: Full Circle Funerals

Runners Up – Dandelion Farewells and Bewley & Merrett

 

Best Traditional Funeral Director

Winner: A. W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service (with especial mention of two staff members, Louise Cook and Dominic Lister)

Runners Up: Bungard Funeral Directors and Southall Funeral Service

 

Best Funeral Caterer

Winner: Rocket Catering

Runner Up: Tea and Sympathy

 

The ‘What to do with the Ashes’ Award

Winner: Sacred Stones Willow Row

Runner Up: Ann Bates Ceramics

 

The Lifetime Achievement Award

Clive Leverton

 

The Outstanding Achievement Award

Jon Underwood

Fran Hall

A funeral may need organising at a moment’s notice. But how much notice do you think is advisable, or reasonable, for renovating and repair a gravestone? And what should the relevant institution do to accommodate health and safety concerns, if you don’t take action fast enough?

Many churchyards monuments are, by anyone’s measure, on the unsafe side of upright. Land settles; time passes; some might say it’s the higgledy-piggledy appearance of headstone in an expanse of church ground that actually provides quintessential Britishness to our countryside.

For the most part, ‘caveat visitor’ is the adopted position of the Church. Being aware of surroundings and taking care to avoid situations of peril seems like common sense. However, we have seen at least one death reported this century in Glasgow as a consequence of young children playing, unsupervised, among unsteady headstones.

Now, in Kilsyth, notifiable family members are being served 21 days’ notice when headstones in Kilsyth Cemetery are deemed to be ‘unsafe’.

Not surprisingly, the health and safety measures being implemented in the interim are causing as much concern as the need for remedial action: plastic orange hazard barriers are always an eysore. It is debatable, as to whether or not they provide enough deterrent for the people who would be most at risk.

This is a balancing act. For the Church; the local authorities – in this case, North Lanarkshire Council – insisting on regular risk assessments; heritage and preservation societies; and the families themselves. What’s not being reported in such large typeface, are the steps then being taken to remedy these situations.

The notices make this clear: “It may be necessary to lay this stone flat or trench (set lower part of memorial place into the ground) or support it to prevent injury or damage”. Or in other words, if the family does not come forward with contractors who’ve been commissioned to take remedial action, then the headstones will be laid flat on the ground instead. Like so many others.

In actual fact, stories like these hide the facts rather well: the local authorities are taking appropriate action, which reflects what’s happened for hundreds of years. Whether anyone’s given 21 days’ notice or not, when a headstone falls over, it falls over and usually stays on the ground.

Fran Hall

This year’s Long List has just been published, and all the finalists for a 2017 Good Funeral Award can be found on the Awards website here

Or you can skim down the list below and see if you’re on it. Individuals listed first, alphabetically by first name, and companies / organisations listed second. 

It has been another exceptional year for nominations and entries, and the runners up and winners of each category will be announced at the glittering lunchtime awards ceremony at Porchester Hall on September 7th.

All finalists will receive a copy of the logo and the code for a special discount on the ticket price this week. 

Individual finalists

  • Alan Lister
  • Angela Bailey
  • Anna Lyons
  • Annette Furley
  • Barbara Scrimshaw
  • Barry Waples
  • Cara Mair
  • Carol Higgins
  • Cath Pratley / Tosh Abbott
  • Chantal Lockey
  • Charles Muglestone (Right Revd.)
  • Christine Jolly
  • Christyan James (Fr.)
  • Claire Turnham
  • Clive Cappleman
  • Clive Leverton
  • Colette Robinson
  • Colin Liddell
  • David Crayton
  • David Homer
  • David Ledger
  • Dominic Lister
  • Drew Rush
  • Emma Curtis
  • Felicity Warner
  • Frances Tulley
  • Glynes Mewton
  • Helen McLean
  • Helen Williams
  • Howard Hodgson
  • Hugh Milsom
  • Ian Willox
  • James Rogers
  • Jane Morgan
  • Janet Cheal
  • Janet Qualters
  • Jason Kiely
  • Jeremy Field
  • Julia Samuel
  • Julie Hillman
  • Justine Wykerd
  • Kate Tym & Kate Dyer
  • Kathryn Sansom
  • Kirsty Sailes
  • Lara-Rose Iredale
  • Laura Jane Smith (Dr.)
  • Lindis Pattison-Tadman
  • Lindy Irving
  • Liz Alman
  • Liz Rothschild
  • Lizzie Neville
  • Lorraine Aitken
  • Louise Cook
  • Lucy Coulbert
  • Lucy Talbot
  • Lyn Baylis
  • Martin House
  • May Andrews
  • Michael Tiney
  • Natalie Newbury
  • Natasha Bradshaw
  • Nicole Turner
  • Oliver Bird
  • Paul Jansen
  • Pauline Hyde-Coomber
  • Persephone Salway
  • Rebecca Sharp
  • Rhys Askham
  • Richard Hooker
  • Roger Knight
  • Rosalie Kuyvenhoven
  • Rosie Orr
  • Sally Ward
  • Sarah Ellis
  • Sarah Tully
  • Simon Dyer
  • Stacey Pitsillides
  • Steve Stacey
  • Stuart Preston
  • Susie Bearne
  • Terri Shanks
  • Victoria Fisher
  • Victoria McKeegan
  • Wendy Birch (Dr.)
  • Wendy Coulton
  • Yvonne Harper

Company / organisation finalists

  • A. W. Lymn – The Family Funeral Service
  • Amber Valley Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • Ann Bates Ceramics
  • ARKA Original Funerals
  • Attwood Funerals
  • Bewley & Merrett Funeral Directors
  • Brighton Death Forum
  • BrumYODO
  • Bungard Funeral Directors
  • Butterfly Memorial Garden
  • C. S. Boswell Independent Funeral Directors
  • Cardiff & Glamorgan Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • Cardiff Bereavement Services
  • Classic Flowers Maidstone
  • Coffin Club
  • Compassionate Funerals
  • Cradle To Grave
  • Crescent Funerals
  • Dandelion Farewells
  • Denbighshire Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • Earth to Heaven
  • Ecoffins
  • Edd Frost & Daughters
  • Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground
  • Fosters Funeral Directors
  • Full Circle Funerals
  • Funeralbooker
  • Funeral Choice
  • Funeral Zone
  • Collins & Sons
  • Gimcrack Productions
  • Go Simply Funerals
  • Golders Green Crematorium
  • Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief
  • Harrison Funeral Home
  • Harrison Low Cost Funerals
  • Heatherley Wood Woodland
  • Home Funeral Network – Funerals To Die For
  • Holly’s Funerals
  • huunuu
  • C. Atkinson & Son Ltd.
  • Godfrey & Son Ltd.
  • Kettering Crematorium
  • Kirkleatham Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • Leverton & Sons
  • Life, Death & the Rest (Arnos Vale Cemetery)
  • Life, Death, Whatever
  • Meadow Wood Pet Cemetery
  • Medfest 2017 – Matters of Life & Death
  • Melville & Daughters
  • Memoria Low Cost Funerals Ltd.
  • Moribund (Gimcrack Productions)
  • Mortlake Crematorium
  • Nelson’s Journey Youth Panel’s Smartphone App.
  • O’Dwyer Funeral Service
  • Only With Love
  • Passionate Flowers
  • Perry & Phillips Funeral Directors
  • Pushing Up Daisies – Things Left Unsaid
  • Respect Direct Funeral Services
  • Rocket Catering
  • Rose Funerals Ltd.
  • Rounce Funeral Services
  • Sacred Stones
  • Scattering Ashes
  • Scraptoft Burial Ground
  • Seven Hills Crematorium
  • Sick Festival
  • South Leicestershire Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • South Oxfordshire Crematorium & Memorial Park
  • Still Loved Documentary
  • Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Services
  • Tea & Sympathy
  • The Art of Dying Well
  • The Good Grief Project
  • The Individual Funeral Company
  • The Natural Burial Company – Scraptoft Burial Ground
  • The Natural Death Centre
  • The Team at Cardiff Thornhill Crematorium
  • Thornhill Crematorium Cardiff
  • Varley & Varley Funeral Directors
  • Veteran Bereavement Support
  • W. E. Pinder & Son Ltd.
  • Waveney Memorial Park & Crematorium
  • Westmill Woodland Burial
  • Woodland Wishes
  • Woodvale Crematorium

 

 

 

Fran Hall

 

Willow, cardboard, veneer. Wool, even. The material in which we choose to be buried may be imbued with cultural, emotional or traditional significance.

We have the benefit of access to so many superb suppliers. We know the options are highly varied now, as are the means of interment. It is important that we don’t take this knowledge for granted, though, being intimately acquainted with our own industry’s gamut of possibilities.

For many families – irrespective of religion – the assumption is that a wooden coffin will be involved. This has long been the case and the exposition of a coffin in Durham this month will do much to assuage any doubts about the benefits of choosing high quality products.

St. Cuthbert’s coffin went on display in Durham cathedral. Hermit; bishop; the saint who inspired the Lindisfarne Gospels. Cuthbert died in 687, probably from tuberculosis, but his body was exhumed relatively shortly after death to be reburied in this coffin, which was made from English oak: tests have confirmed it was manufactured (‘crafted by artisans’ is probably a less anachronistic term), on Lindisfarne in 698.

However, it was lifted again, in 1104, and reopened several times thereafter to allow viewings of the remains. While it was interred for a short time behind the altar of the catherdral, it was also disturbed again – allowing new bacteria in to have their effect on the wood, each time – in the 19th century. This is a coffin that has truly served its purpose. 

Some environments are more forgiving than others. Soil and humidity conditions have an impact; acidity is also an influence. If wood has been heavily varnished, that preservative may act as a moisture-barrier for years. Deterioration depends on the material that a coffin or container is made of and the environment it’s resting in, and archaeologists have even found Roman coffins in reasonable condition. 

It surely behoves us to be transparent about the nature of materials used, and what the reality of material degradation is. Sadly, it’s still a matter of record that families may be offered non-ethical products for use in woodland or natural burials.

But perhaps, tongue in cheek, we can now offer a rather more positive caveat when it comes to ‘how long will it last?’

Fran Hall

We noted The Sun newspaper’s report on a floral tribute this week, pointing a mild gosh-look-at-this finger at a family’s ambition to let funeral wishes be carried out – to the perfumed, petalled letter.

However, it was the throwaway inclusion of another story, further down the page, that caught our eye. Moving on past the report of a Royal Artillery sergeant’s coffin being transported on a gun carriage – de rigueur perhaps – The Sun has a picture of a JCB at the head of a funeral cortège with a coffin secured carefully in its bucket.

A little background research revealed that Tony Law had always worked with plant machinery. As a digger enthusiast, he’d not only specified the mode of transport to his own service but also had his wishes extended by the family: instead of traditional, low-key or formal dress, everyone wore hi-viz jackets to mark the occasion. ‘Tony Law’s Last Ride’, they said.

Happily, in most situations these are far from being seen as irreverent gestures. They are endearing; a little eccentric, perhaps; but intended without malice to bridge the gap between the absent character of the person who has died and people who are coming together to commemorate that person’s unique life.

Flowers, saying ‘BARSTARD’? Traditional limousines on the one hand, but a bright yellow JCB to carry your coffin? It may not be the done thing to suggest it up-front without knowing the family’s background, but if the situation is the right one then – for a good funeral – these gestures are not out of place.

However, specific wishes like these may cause significant dismay, pain even, if they are set out in a funeral plan but not shared in advance. Karen Anstee’s short film, Rachel, brought this into sharp perspective last year. Anstee’s 10-film explored the relationships between religion and family: Rachel had rejected her conservative Jewish upbringing for a more bohemian life and wanted her ceremony to reflect those life choices. Rachel’s family wanted to reclaim her body for burial in the traditional way, and the story unfolds to reflect both points of view.

In the 21st century, diverging preferences are becoming more common. Families are, sadly, more dysfunctional than they once were. Couples of all ages may come together from different cultural backgrounds and pass on new traditions or beliefs to their children. Whereas, once, intimate rites of passage served to bring families and communities together at a difficult time, today the expression of individuality has the potential to stimulate conflict.

Nowadays the expected form for a funeral may bear little or no resemblance to the unique, individual service or ceremony that’s requested either by a partner, a close family member, or – prior to their death – by the persons who have died. And as a result, funeral directors and celebrants may find themselves in a difficult situation.

Questions, then.

We hear much, still, about the importance of making a Will and ensuring it’s valid and kept up-to-date. What more could we do to reappropriate the term ‘funeral plan’, or is it too toxic to contemplate?

Would it not help us all if we could encourage the solicitors or Will-makers we know, locally, to include detailed funeral arrangements as a part of that process, and to highlight the benefit of communicating these details in advance? Or would that be too complicated in itself?

And should we consider ‘how to tell people what’s happening’ guides as an integral part of the information we all provide – or do you do this already?

Fran Hall

We are really sad to announce that our lovely Editor, Louise Winter, has resigned as part of the GFG team this weekend.

We’ve been lucky enough to have had her on board for over a year, during which time she has reinvigorated and rejuvenated the Good Funeral Guide, teaching us oldies about the power of social media and helping us reach farther than ever before using Twitter and Facebook. She’s been a great friend and colleague, and we will miss her immensely, but we’re delighted that her reasons for stepping down are such good ones.

Lou will be devoting herself to running her new bespoke funeral business in London, Poetic Endings  while simultaneously curating Life, Death Whatever and developing a LDW community – and writing a book in her spare time. After much deliberation, she decided that there just wasn’t enough space for her to continue her voluntary role with the GFG, so she has reluctantly decided to bring this chapter of her life to a graceful close.

I know that I speak for my fellow directors when I say how sorry we are to see her go, but we are incredibly lucky to have enjoyed her creativity and company over the last year and we will remain the firmest of friends.

Louise will continue to be an active member of the Good Funeral Guild, and will be acting as Creative Consultant to the GFG in the future – which basically means we’ll be ringing her up regularly to arrange to meet for a coffee and a chat, but she won’t have the burden of having to give up hours of her time being the editor of the GFG.

So thank you very much for everything you’ve done in your time with us Louise. You’ve been amazing, and will be a very hard act to follow. We wish you every success with your exciting work, and we will feel a strong sense of pride as we watch you continue to change the way we do funerals in the UK.

 

Fran

 

Fran Hall

 

It was only a matter of time.

The GFG has been the go to information resource for anyone needing to find out about the intricacies of organising a funeral for years and years, in fact, we’re amazed it’s taken this long for someone to hitch on to our coat tails.

The winner of the prize for trying to look like us is a certain Mark Brown – of FuneralGuide.co.uk. Go on, click on the link, we’re sure he’s counting visitors to his website. He’s probably very well meaning, but the relentless emphasis on urging readers to take out a pre-paid funeral plan doesn’t sit terribly well with us. We’re not sure why he would do this. Nor does the rather cheeky purloining of a website name that is remarkably similar to ours.

Funeral Guide offers FREE help with funeral planning and lots of badly written and not very accurate or helpful advice. We’ve signed up for his ‘Beat the Funeral Price Hike’ free download just to see what he suggests for us. It apparently contains all the information you need to make an informed decision about planning ahead. But we really couldn’t be bothered to go to his ‘fast quote form’.

Helpfully, Mark has been e-mailing funeral directors on our Recommended by the GFG list asking if they’d be interested in linking to his site and kindly offering to promote anything of theirs on his social media and with his audience. Perhaps we’ll send him a link to this blog. In the meantime, if you hear from him, be assured, he’s nothing to do with us.

Louise Winter

We were devastated to learn that Jon Underwood, the founder of the Death Cafe movement, died on Tuesday.

Jon wholeheartedly believed that engaging with death is both important and overlooked so made it his mission to encourage society to embrace death as part of life.  His life’s work was the Death Cafe movement, which began in Jon’s front room in Hackney in 2011 as a gathering of people talking about death over tea and cake.  The impact of Death Cafe has been huge – as of 28th June 2017, there have been nearly 5000 Death Cafes in over 50 countries.

Jon also painstakingly built and managed Funeral Advisor in association with the Natural Death Centre Charity and ran Impermanence – his commitment to doing good in the world by encouraging society to deal with death in interesting and innovative ways.

He was a source of invaluable advice, support and encouragement to others in the fields of death and dying, always generous with himself and his resources.  He was one of the good guys – the most genuine, well intentioned, humble, kind hearted and gentle person, both professionally and personally.  His absence will be deeply felt by everyone in our community and beyond.

Our thoughts are with his family right now.

Jon’s commitment to Death Cafe was unrivalled, and came at a cost.  Since 2011, Jon funded his Death Cafe work entirely through his own personal savings and small freelance projects and had recently begun trying to fundraise very actively so he could pay his bills.  We’d love to support Jon’s young children – Frank and Gina –  and have set up a JustGiving page in his memory.  Please donate generously.

Please watch this touching tribute to Jon which includes music by his daughter Gina.

Jon Underwood and his mum, Sue Barksy Reid, who was instrumental in developing the Death Cafe model 

 
 
“I met Jon when he was at the beginning of his Death Cafe journey and his quiet determination to create a subtle social change in our attitudes to death was something I had never encountered before. It truly became his vocation, second only to his devotion to his children who were just babies then.
 
We also worked together setting up Funeral Advisor when I was a trustee of the Natural Death Centre, and he handed over the database of UK funeral directors that he had spent so many hours compiling for me to update and complete before the website was launched. It was a real labour of love and continued to be right until his death.  Unlike other predatory funeral comparison websites, Funeral Advisor was wholly not for profit and must have consumed many hours of Jon’s time looking after it.
 
Over the years our paths crossed occasionally, we co-hosted a Death Cafe at the Festival Hall once, and bumped into each other at various events. He never changed, he was always a gentle, calm and warm presence in any gathering, and a man who truly lived his truth, his beliefs informing his living and his consciousness of the impermanence of life was a fundamental guidance for his work, to which he was dedicated.
 

He will be greatly missed but never forgotten, a quiet, inspirational revolutionary whose legacy is a better society. The Death Cafe movement has lost its founder, but his influence will continue spreading, like ripples on a pond.”

Fran Hall, CEO, The Good Funeral Guide

Anna Lyons, Jon Underwood and Louise Winter at Jon’s house in Hackney during Life. Death. Whatever. in October 2016. This photo was taken by his son Frank.
 
“I first came across Jon when he was involved in an event at the National Gallery called Death & the Masters.  He was talking about the gallery’s paintings and hosting a Death Cafe.  I wanted to attend but was broke and couldn’t afford the £50 entrance fee.  The National Gallery weren’t interested in helping but Jon found out and paid for me using his hosting fee with an insistence that I attend, even though I was a total stranger to him at the time.  It was at that point that I came to understand the sort of person Jon was – generous, thoughtful and extremely special.
 
He’s been a mentor, an inspiration and a friend to me over the last few years.  His dedication to his work has been unrivalled.  He was a mix of quiet determination, loving kindness, extreme modesty and belief in the importance of the work he was doing.  His commitment to making the world a better place through Death Cafe was unwavering.

The last time I saw Jon was when he was helping at Life. Death. Whatever. which was just around the corner from his house in Hackney, the home of Death Cafe.  He offered his unconditional support in the form of informative talks, a Death Cafe, reassuring emails and many smiles, hugs and cups of tea.”

Louise Winter, Editor, The Good Funeral Guide

 

 

“I didn’t know Jon all that well. A man of still waters and deep spirituality, he was a of different order of human being from me. Which was why I liked being around him. People like Jon conduct good energy. I also enjoyed his twinkle. Only Jon could have teamed mortality-awareness with cake. 

 
I first ‘met’ Jon when he read a blog post on the GFG about Bernard Crettaz, the intellectual progenitor of death cafe. He emailed. It was clear that the idea had gone deep. When he’d thought some more we agreed to meet in Oxford. He said he’d been to college in Oxford. A sixth form college perhaps, I thought. Maybe an FE college. We walked about a bit with the tourists and found ourselves in ancient place of honey-coloured stone and thousand-year-old lawns. ‘This is where I went to college,’ he said. So he was an Oxford man! How typical of him to underplay that. We drank coffee and he outlined his plans for death cafe. I considered what he said and replied carefully. I couldn’t see it taking off. The rest is legacy.”
 
Charles Cowling, Founder, The Good Funeral Guide
 

Please leave your tributes to Jon in the comments below.

 
Fran Hall

Yesterday, I spent the day visiting our latest funeral director who has joined the list of those who are ‘Recommended by the GFG’ – Bennetts Funeral Directors in Essex,  and met most of the lovely staff there, including Leigh Tanner, who has just recently set up a family support group for those who have been bereaved by miscarriage or stillbirth.

Leigh has personally experienced the trauma of recurrent miscarriages, so this is something very close to her heart. When she and her husband were undergoing the sadness of losing their babies there wasn’t anything available locally where Leigh could share her experience with others who had been through the same experience. She felt completely alone and unsupported, so the opportunity to create a support group for other parents was one that she jumped at.

Here’s Leigh speaking about the group in her own words:

‘So, at Bennetts we are very proud of our bereavement groups and that we are able to provide specialist services by people who have themselves experienced such losses.  My group, Tiny Stars, is a miscarriage and still birth group run by myself.  I personally experienced the trauma of recurrent miscarriages and found that there was no help out there locally for me and so therefore I felt very lonely and isolated. 

This group came about after I joined Bennetts and when I realised that they provided services for pre-term babies and miscarriage.  I instinctively asked Jane if I could learn more about this.  I explained that I had been through this and had never been given the opportunity to have a service or group support.  Jane asked me if I would like to be the primary arranger for babies and start a support group for families who have been through such loss which I was very grateful of such an opportunity. 

The word miscarriage is so taboo, with women and men feeling as if it’s something too common to grieve over but this is not the case.  We at Bennetts are fully aware that any loss is a loss and should be treated as such.  For a family to lose a baby to miscarriage or still birth brings such an enormity of grief that destroys the hopes of a future for a baby you have already fallen in love with, and luckily through Bennetts, I have been given this opportunity to offer support for parents who feel that isolation and loss.  

Our group runs at Merrymeade House, Merrymeade Chase Brentwood CM15 9BG on the 2nd Friday of the month from 9.30 – 10.30 in the tea room.  We have exclusive hire of Merrymeade House for the group and offer free refreshments to all guests.

I do of course understand that attending a group can be very daunting and so therefore if anyone would like to contact me prior to coming or just for a chat I would always be available to talk to someone on 01277 210104 or by email on leigh@bennettsfunerals.co.uk

This is such an important initiative, and the GFG is hugely supportive of Leigh and of Bennetts in setting up the Tiny Stars group for the community. If you or anyone you know in the Brentwood area has lost a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth, Tiny Stars could offer you a place where you can talk to others who have had a similar experience. Do contact Leigh and talk to her.

Leigh also told me about Aching Arms, a babyloss charity run by a group of bereaved mothers who have experienced the pain and devastation of baby loss.

The charity works with more than hospitals across the UK providing teddy bears for parents to take home from hospital when their baby has been miscarried or stillborn. Each bear is a gift from another family who has had a similar experience and who have donated in memory of their baby, and the bear given has the name of their baby on the label. The bears help to provide a connection for bereaved families and ‘to ease their aching arms as they grieve for their baby who has died’.

A bereaved mother explains how this scheme could have helped her:

“When I left hospital without my daughter my heart was broken and my arms were empty. Nothing could have fixed my heart at the point, but if I had had something to hold and cling to then the physical ache I felt so strongly in my arms as I clamped them tightly to my sides might have been less. As soon as I heard about the idea of giving grieving mums a bear to take home I knew that I would have been keen to take one to cuddle as I walked out of the hospital and to sob into in the dark days and nights that followed. Not to replace my baby – nothing ever could – but something to hold as I learnt to live with the empty space my baby left in my heart and in my life.”

The charity also offers every hospital participating in the scheme training for their staff in caring for parents bereaved by miscarriage or stillbirth.

If your local hospital isn’t on the list here do contact Aching Arms on info@achingarms.co.uk