We all know how this ends.

We have been asked to write about a new book,  ‘We all know how this ends’ by end of life doula Anna Lyons and progressive funeral director Louise Winter. It was published yesterday by Bloomsbury and celebrated with virtual tea and cake in a moving, inspiring Zoom session last night.

Our thoughts?


Buy it. Today.


That’s it.


This beautiful book should be on every bookshelf in every home in the country. It should be in every library, in every hospice, in every doctors’ surgery, in every workplace. It should be handed out to anyone when they are given a terminal diagnosis, offered to everyone facing life changing illness, shared and shared and shared again.

Once you have read it, you will want to buy it for your friends too, and for anyone you know whose life is touched by the knowledge that we are all going to die.

Everyone who reads it will find something empowering, comforting and wise within the pages, something that will help change the way you think about dying and death and funerals and bereavement. It’s a treasure trove of nuggets of beauty, woven together by expert hands who want to share what they have learned with us all.

We know Anna and Louise well and admire their work at Life. Death. Whatever. tremendously. They are dear friends and strong advocates of the Good Funeral Guide, and their wise, gentle voices take you through the book, weaving stories and thoughts and insight that they have collected from the many, many people they have worked with.

This book is a collective call for change, a sharing of experience, of heartbreak and tears and humour and wit and wisdom. It’s inspirational and informative, written by real people who want you to know what they’ve learned.

Buy it now. You need to read it.

Choosing a headstone – advice and inspiration


Stone carver Fergus Wessel and his wife Hannah from Stoneletters have just published a beautiful new book called Headstones – Advice and Inspiration

The book is being sold to raise money for Maggie’s Centre, Oxford, and, in our opinion, it should be on the bookshelves of every funeral director in the country to lend to their clients. Choosing a headstone can be a difficult prospect, so hearing reassuring advice from experts written in plain English and being able to leaf through photographs for inspiration is something that many bereaved families will hugely appreciate.

Priced at just £12.99, or available as a downloadable PDF for £5.99, the book is full of images of different styles and inscriptions. The various materials used for headstones are described, and advice and guidance is clearly explained.

There are also helpful suggestions for epitaphs and personal stories from Stoneletters’ clients about their experience of deciding on a headstone. These personal comments are both touching and profound – here’s an example from Victoria Bennett’s words about her mother Maureen’s headstone; ‘Long after we have gone, long after the lichen has made the stone its own, I want a person passing to look and see some small letter, a faint echo of a flower and think, “There is a beautiful stone,” and feel uplifted.‘ 

The idea for the book came about after Hannah’s mother died from cancer two years ago.  Fergus and Hannah wanted to write a book to sell in order to raise funds for Maggie’s. As Hannah explains:

The process of choosing a headstone is often overlooked by the Funeral industry although we believe it can be an incredibly important part of the grieving journey.

Most of us find ourselves in the position of having to choose a headstone at some point in our lives. It can feel overwhelmingly daunting, but far from being stressful, creating a lasting memorial can be a healing process, leading to a deep sense of peace.

In this comprehensive guide, Fergus takes you on a step by step journey to commemorate your loved one, offering advice on all aspects of crafting a headstone, from finding the perfect words to selecting the best material. With over 150 photographs, epitaphs, and client stories, it is also a rich source of ideas and inspiration.

All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to Maggie’s and we hope to raise £12,000.

Visit stoneletters.com/book to purchase a copy and help us reach this target.”

About Maggie’s

Built in the grounds of NHS cancer hospitals, Maggie’s centres are uplifting places with professional staff on hand to offer the support people suffering from cancer need: practical advice about the benefits of eating well; emotional support from qualified experts; a friendly place to meet other people; a calming space to simply sit and have a cup of tea. For more information visit: maggies.org





Something for the weekend? Some good reading – and another book.


At GFG Towers we do like a good book, and recently we have indulged our book buying habit rather a lot – a pile of our recent acquisitions is shown above, all thoroughly well worth a read for anyone with an interest in dying and death. 

Last week, our attention was drawn to another recently published book, written by a celebrant, entitled ‘HOW TO HAVE THE FUNERAL SERVICE YOU WANT..? ‘And How A Celebrant Can Help’. Sounds interesting, we thought. And according to a couple of fulsome 5 star reviews on Amazon, it’s just the ticket.

But it’s not great. It’s not even good. How can we put this without sounding rude? It’s dreadful.

One of the first duties of a celebrant charged with the responsibility of writing a funeral ceremony for a bereaved family has to be accuracy – of content, spelling, grammar and syntax. So it is surely not unreasonable to expect that a book written by a celebrant about celebrancy should be a shining example of the beautiful use of language.

This one isn’t.

We’d love to show some examples of Ms Mewton’s work, of ‘grief’ and ‘funeral’ being spelled wrongly, for instance (pages 5 and 50) or of the frequency of unnecessary capital letters throughout sentences, the direct excerpts taken from the Death Cafe website and the frequent references to the opportunity to purchase her helpful Funeral Ceremony Wishes Planner, (also variously referred to as ‘Funeral Ceremony Wishes plan’, ‘Funeral Ceremony Wishes Plan’, ‘Funeral Ceremony Life Plan’ and ‘my visiting Funeral Ceremony Wishes planning service’) – but there is a stern warning at the front of the book prohibiting reproduction of any part of the publication. And we’re not keen on being sued.

We did, however, notice a fairly corruscating 1 star review of the book on Amazon which ends: ‘If I were a celebrant (or a Celebrant, as the author bestows the word a capital ‘C’ throughout the book, perhaps to emphasise how Very Important the role is) I would urgently be seeking a new job description. And if I were someone seeking guidance and advice ‘to help me have the funeral service I want’, I’d feel cheated.’

We found this review helpful. And told Amazon so.




Bring on the empty corpses

Book review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Caitlin Doughty, graduate in medieval history and author of a sunny thesis entitled The Suppression of Demonic Births in Late Medieval Witchcraft Theory, rejects a promising career in academia in favour of one as a corpse handler and incinerator of the dead.

Anticipating bewilderment she asks, rhetorically, “So, really, what was a nice girl like me working at a ghastly ol’ crematory like Westwind?” And she goes on to tell us what drew her to it. She describes a traumatic childhood trigger event. I won’t reveal what it was, of course; you need to read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes for yourself. Her theory is that she dispelled the consequent denial that insulated her from the traumatic event by confronting her fears and getting on down with corpses. As a result of this self-prescribed and gruelling CBT she is now at peace with the “stillness and perfection of death”.

More than that, Doughty is now the world’s leading cheerleader for death: “Death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives,” she says, “but in fact it is the very source of our creativity.” This is just one of many debatable assertions she makes in this book. Death may inspire urgency and thereby rouse latent creativity, but it is doubtful whether it can put in what God left out.

Doughty is the leader of a clever, charismatic and acclaimed corpse cult, the Order of the Good Death, “a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.” You’ve seen the Ask A Mortician video series — you have, haven’t you? She’s sassy, funny, outrageous and very likeable. She’s a brilliant performer. She spills and splashes behind-the-scenes secrets with a mischievous glee that appals and infuriates industry insiders, who firmly believe that there are Things It’s Best We Don’t Know. To this day, despite a great and growing following, she remains shunned by the National Funeral Directors Association. Her preparedness to bring down, in Biblical abundance, the murderous fear and loathing of old school funeral people takes guts. She’s outrageous because she’s also passionately seriousness.

Like so many progressives, Doughty is essentially retrogressive — in a positive way. Her prescription for the way things are is to get back to doing them the way we did. Nowadays, when someone dies, we call the undertaker and have them disappeared. This, reckons Doughty, is a symptom of a “vast mortality cover-up … society’s structural denial of death … There has never been a time in the history of the world when a culture has broken so completely with traditional methods of body disposition and beliefs surrounding mortality.”

The way to restore society to emotional and psychological health, Doughty believes, is to engage with the event and get hands-on with the corpse. She believes that “more families would choose to take responsibility for their own dead if they knew that it was a possibility.”

This is what working in a crematory teaches her: “Westwind Cremation & Burial changed my understanding of death. Less than a year after donning my corpse-colored glasses, I went from thinking it was strange that we don’t see dead bodies any more to believing their absence was a root cause of problems in the modern world. Corpses keep the living tethered to reality.”

I’m not so sure. I have in mind David Clark’s 1982 paper, Death in Staithes. The older inhabitants of Staithes, a fishing village on the east coast of Yorkshire, could easily recall the way things used to be: “When a person passed away the first thing they did was go for the board – the lying-out board,” which was kept by the village joiner. The lying-out itself was supervised by women qualified by skill and experience. These same villagers had lived through the commodification of death and the arrival of the Co-operative. To them the hands-on past is no paradise lost and they display no desire to return to it.

I question Doughty’s assertion that we suffer from “structural denial of death.” If we were to think about death some more, would it really do us any good? Yes, she says: “I don’t just pretend to love death. I really do love death. I bet you would too if you got to know him.” Elsewhere, she writes: “Accepting death doesn’t mean that you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by the bigger existential questions like ‘Why do people die?'”

Philip Larkin felt sort of the same until he hit 50. In Julian Barnes’ words, “our national connoisseur of mortal terror … died in a hospital in Hull. A friend, visiting him the day before, said, ‘If Philip hadn’t been drugged, he would have been raving. He was that frightened.’” Pretty much the same can be said about the death of another connoisseur, Sherwin Nuland, the man who wrote with spooky prescience “I have not seen much dignity in the process by which we die.” He was that frightened, too.

“Let us … reclaim our mortality,” exhorts Doughty headily. But does the dearth of corpses in our lives really distance us from death? Death was big in the lives of everyone in the past because people died at any age. They don’t do that so much now, they mostly die old, and that’s less tragic, less sensational. But death is arguably bigger in our lives than ever before because the dying spend so bloody long about it. There can be very few children who are not acquainted with a tottering, muttering relative, and very few adults who do not spend years despairingly caring for dementing, degenerating parents. They are in no doubt about what their parents are doing: they are dying a modern death, a slow and beastly death. That’s why there’s such an intense national conversation in so many countries about assisted suicide — come on, how mortality aware is that? Far from being a time of death denial, the present age has focussed our attention on mortality at least as urgently as any other because the distressing dilapidation of legions of almost-corpses starkly and terrifyingly prefigures our own end times, leaving us in no doubt that the home straight is going to be unutterably horrible. If we don’t feel we have much to learn from corpses, we learn as much as we feel we need from the living dead (ever seen a stroke ward?) and from self-deliverers like Brittany Maynard. They teach us the allure of Nembutal. We talk about this. A lot.

What people believe also plays its part in modern attitudes. Religious and spiritual-but-not-religious people are, pretty much all of them, dualists. There’s a soul and there’s a body. It’s a belief reinforced by the appearance of any corpse they have ever seen. Gape-jawed and evacuated of all vitality, a corpse speaks of the absence of self. Whoever it once embodied has gone. The corpse is not the person, so what value is there to be gained from cosseting it? This isn’t a new thing. Radical Protestantism has always taught it. Calvinist settlers in America became very careless of the ‘dignity’ of their soul-less dead and drifted into just hauling them into the forest or pushing them into rivers. In some places it got so bad that neighbours were appointed to oversee next door’s disposal arrangements and held responsible for making sure things were done properly. For these settlers, direct cremation would have been a godsend.

If I take issue with Doughty’s thesis, it is because someone’s got to. For Doughty, the contemplation of the corpse is “the beginning of wisdom.” If you are inclined to believe that, she says, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you you are ‘sick’ or ‘morbid’ or ‘deviant.’”

What does morbid mean, exactly? It is Doughty herself who has pointed out that it has no antonym. Yes, what is the word for a healthy interest in death and dying? How does it express itself? Doughty and her fellow members of the Order of the Good Death express their wisdom exotically, sharing delight in much that others would regard as macabre — transi tombs, taxidermy, mortabilia and of all sorts. All a bit goth for my taste; I think there’s more than a dash of innate morbidity here. It would be idiotic to question the charisma of the cause, because it has attracted a huge worldwide following. How does it play to Mr and Mrs Everyday-Person? It remains to be seen. All I can say is that, speaking as a detached and jaded dullwit, after 6 years of hanging out with funeral people and their charges I remain unconvinced of the value of the corpse in death rituals, and while I acknowledge matter-of-factly the inevitability of death, I hate it as much as I ever did.

If by now you need some remission from my grinding and joyless pessimism, you need to buy this book. It it touches all the right bases — funny, shocking, sad, wise. Above all, it is full of hope and purpose. It is also highly readable. It was only when I re-read it that I became aware just how beautifully constructed it is. This is the work of a highly intelligent person who has got the inspiration-perspiration balance right (1:99). What she has to say is the product of experience, a lot of it penitential. She has captured the zeitgeist. This is a manifesto for today.

ECSTASY OF DECAY №1: Your Mortician from Angeline Gragasin on Vimeo.

What you say and the way you say it

Caroline Goyder is a voice coach at the Central School of Speech and Drama. At the Good Funeral Awards weekend 2013 Caroline spoke to funeral celebrants and earned rave reviews. She’s got a new book out, Gravitas: Communicate with Confidence, Influence and AuthorityThere is an attractive launch offer. In Caroline’s words: 

Until 14th March you get the first two audios, Find your Gravitas, and Presentations with Gravitas (worth £40) as a present when you purchase the book: 2 great 40 minute gravitas audio mp3 recordings of Caroline’s core principles for confidence and gravitas, in bite-size sections.

How? Either from Amazon:  and email us the receipt to  by 14th March to receive the audios via emailed link.

Or you can buy Gravitas direct from Random House (RRP £12.99) for the special price of £9.75 including free UK P+P. To order please call 01206 255 800 and quote the reference GRAVITAS14. To get the free audios, simply send the invoice number to info@gravitasmethod.com and we will send you the audio mp3s via email.

We’re excited about the book and hope you enjoy it – and the great audios in this offer. To get both simply buy the book by 14th March, email the receipt to info@gravitasmethod.com and you will be emailed the audios via a link you can download from immediately.

When words fail

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

As both mother of a son with learning disabilities and also Professor of Psychiatry of Disability at St George’s, University of London, Baroness Hollins is well qualified to be founder and editor of the Books Beyond Words series, which communicates through pictures difficult messages to people with learning disabilities, including the topics of death and sex.

Am I Going to Die? tells the story of John, who is terminally ill, and deals with physical deterioration and emotional aspects of dying. The pictures highlight the importance of going on special outings, of remembering good times, and of saying goodbye to family and friends.

Other titles include When Mum Died and When Dad Died, which take a gentle and straightforward approach to grief in the family. The approach is non-denominational, and one illustrates a burial and another a cremation.

More info here.

A literary undertaking

“From that moment my mind was made up – I wanted to be an undertaker. That was that and all there was about it.” 

“A LIFE IN DEATH – Memoirs Of A Cotswold Funeral Director” by James Baker

“A Life In Death” takes the reader into the largely hidden world of death and funerals, as set against the picturesque back-drop of the Gloucestershire countryside. After spending twenty five years in the funeral profession so far, there is much that James Baker can share with readers about his professional journey and his experiences. This book was written not just to entertain, but also to enlighten and hopefully, to reassure. Above all, it offers a whole new view into the practical reality of death and bereavement in contemporary Britain. 

Written with a wide cross-section of readers in mind, this book will be of particular interest to: 

       People of all ages who are fascinated with the work of a funeral director, or readers simply looking for an entertaining account of a unique working life;

       Palliative care and/or nursing professionals wanting to understand more about the various procedures following a death and the choices open to the bereaved;

       Would-be entrants into the funeral profession;

       Those who are preparing for an imminent bereavement and who are looking for a sensitively written, but honest and truthful insight into the practical realities of death and funerals. 

“A Life In Death” fills what is still a gap in the market for an intelligent and comprehensive, but highly readable, account of life within the funeral profession. James deliberately avoids the use of hackneyed, predictably humorous anecdotes and overly-sentimental or lurid accounts of tragic episodes. Instead he offers a sensitive, insightful and nuanced account of what his working life as a West Country funeral director is really like. 

Available from Amazon, or to order from any good book retailer. 

292 Pages     Mill Place Publishing     ISBN 978-0-9573468-0-2     Paperback: £ 8.99     Kindle version: £ 2.22

Death and Life


Transitus member Zambodhi Schlossmacher has written to tell us of this book, just out. Here’s the blurb:

Bruno Bitterli-Furst was amazed when Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first contacted him from the spiritual world. Initially, he disbelieved her authenticity. However, over the course of communicating with her, it became unequivocally clear that this being from the spiritual world was a profound expert on death and dying. A few days prior to this unexpected encounter, Bruno had already decided to embark on another book project. So Elisabeth and Bruno determined to write a book together across the threshold of this world and the world beyond. Soon thereafter, a profound document emerged that shared deep insights about death, Elisabeth’s personal experiences in the nonmaterial world, and the collaborative creative process that is possible between the spiritual world and Earth. Their collaborative process culminated in this book with words that both touch deeply and put death in its rightful place – central to life! Bruno Bitterli-Furst initially worked as a woodcraft teacher. At 32, he embarked on an intensive course of study involving collaboration with the spiritual world. He has since been working as a psychic counselor and course leader supporting people to connect to their own inner guidance.

Zambodhi Schlossmacher adds:

The book investigates death and looks at issues in everyday-life relevant to death. Elisabeth shares her own experiences of what she went through when she died ‘for real’ and how she is now continuing to investigate aspects of death in the spiritual world. 


The book is an invitation to enter a deep inner process and it is not written for the intellect but for the heart. It follows themes and threads in gentle rhythms and has a meditatively slow pace in favour of reaching deep. It is very suitabe to read in small groups or together with a friend. 


The book is by no means gloomy and dishartening, on the contrary; it is very life-affirming and includes humor, based on the best that we as humans can be.
Most of all I am sure ‘Death and Life’ can help people who are in need to make peace with the reality of death in our earthly existence.


You can order it from the Book Depository here  (special offer at the moment) or on Amazon here