An open letter to SAIF, the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors from Cara Mair, Director, ARKA Original Funerals, sent 4th May 2018.
Dear all at SAIF
I write this to you as a longstanding member of SAIF, in the hope that you will not see this letter negatively, but more as a positive tool to allow you to look at how SAIF can move forward. I hope that this letter will begin a dialogue on how the training that you offer can be more inclusive and how, at the heart of this training, should be the empowerment of the community that we serve. Where we find ourselves today in this fast-changing society let us be the disruptors and not the disrupted. To be truly bold and take leadership in this area and create a legacy that other independent funeral directors can build upon.
I have worked in the funeral world since 1998, beginning my days as a chauffeur/bearer at the Co-op in Brighton. After that experience, I trained as a freelance embalmer and worked with many funeral directors across the South East. My first hand experience of working in this secretive funeral world was dismal and I was adamant that I would stay in this profession and make a difference. In November 2003 ARKA Original Funerals opened in Brighton and since then things have changed in the funeral world and there have been many reasons for this. From The Natural Death Centre and The Good Funeral Guide showing how we as a community can be more involved. To forward-looking, inclusive funeral directors such as ARKA, Green Funeral Company etc and of course technology allowing the public to be far more informed re choice and insight into the funeral process. All of these factors have been key to increasingly making a difference ensuring that funeral directors are held more accountable for the way that we work. I also believe that there are many things that would not have changed in the funeral industry if it were not for pioneers like those mentioned above.
With twenty years’ experience, I know of many people and organisations working within this industry who could put a comprehensive training programme together that would benefit us all. There is more and more discussion about how being more involved with the care of the deceased can help people through the grieving process. The communities that we serve should have the right to be supported in caring for their dead and not be ‘protected’ by the ‘professionals’.
I attended the AGM of SAIF in Brighton in March this year. The whole experience was very disappointing. There was also much disgruntlement about how SAIF was representing us all. To focus on pre-paid funeral plan selling as a way to secure your business in the future is an extremely narrow viewpoint. This is such a blinkered vision of how things could proceed. These plans are marketed so aggressively and instead of empowering the public to take control of decisions (as they’re so often marketed as) they are instead further disempowering people and misinforming many. This whole process is contemptible scare mongering and I am sure that you know that you will not keep up with the big boys in this area.
What I find so disheartening was how you totally dismiss the progressive movement that is happening, both with new independents opening up and also individuals supporting funerals in new ways. To move SAIF forward and to mark independent funeral directors distinctly apart from the corporates is to be outstanding in the quality of support we can offer in the way that we work and present ourselves. To work in a refreshing empowering way that the corporates cannot compete with.
The training that you offer, as you are probably aware, is out of date. You focus on what you can sell rather than what you can give. You come from a stance of protecting yourselves rather that empowering others. Your training should include how we communicate to the public by looking at changing the use of the language that is bandied around and more insight into how we can offer permission to people to be involved in looking after their own dead.
There is really nothing that sets you apart from the corporates in the public eye. You dress the same. You put false value in things such as cars. You are secretive. You pay no importance to the collection and ‘care of the deceased’.
I propose to you that your training should be developed to include a natural way of looking after a body and to become more creative in looking at the role of the Funeral Director in the 21st century. Here’s how it could be achieved.
Each organisation should have a representative who would be knowledgeable, capable and willing to support families with a more hands on approach in looking after their dead. This representative could also support the other staff that you have to ensure that the environment is supportive and safe.
Believe me, this will not only help your organisation, but will also give much more work satisfaction to the people that are involved in your company and you will feel prouder of the support that you can offer.
This letter comes from a place of caring and of concern that what you stand for will rapidly disappear if you do not drastically change what you are doing and how you represent others. I ask that you seriously consider the points I have raised and not hide from what needs to happen.
I am up for a conversation, to go through these points and to find some solutions as to how you will still exist in a more empowering way for both the public and your members within this fast-moving landscape.
I very much look forward to hearing from you.
Director, ARKA Original Funerals