Wise words


Ru’s opening words to the assembled guests struck a chord with many who were there, so we thought we’d put them on the blog for the whole world to read. Over to you Rupert.

“Welcome everyone to the Good Funeral Awards 2016!

It started off, as so many good things do, in a sweaty basement in Bournemouth, and has grown into this glamorous Metropolitan lunchtime bunfight.

My name is Ru Callender and I should be standing here with my wife, Claire – sadly, she’s got flu. Together, we run The Green Funeral Company in Devon, and we used to be the Enfants Terrible of the undertaking world. Self taught, stubborn, scruffy, we still use our family Volvo instead of a hearse – but as we’ve been doing it for 17 years, we’re probably just terrible…

Today is a genuinely unusual mélange of the alternative and the conventional funeral world, and it has probably taken longer than the Good Friday agreement took to get everyone in the same room.

You are here because someone thinks you’re great. Let that sink in.

Even if you asked them to.

This gathering is largely due to Charles Cowling and crew of the Good Funeral Guide, and also to the original renegade masters, the Natural Death Centre, both of whose organisations dared to believe that ordinary people could deal with the gritty detail of death, the truth about what happens to our bodies, that a deep, internal understanding of death is part of our birthright, part and parcel of being human.

And what they did – brace yourself, maybe have a glug of wine to steady yourself here, was to treat the public as adults, to include them in a conversation about the one thing that will happen to each and every one of us.

They presumed, as we all should, that people can handle more than the protective narrative that is fed to them.

They were right.

It was thought wildly radical then, now it just seems honest and transparent.

I said funeral world because I refuse to use the word industry. Making computers is an industry. Fashion is an industry. Even getting fit is an industry. I don’t decry industry. It’s necessary.

But death is a true mystery, and working with it should be a vocation, a real calling, and if you’re not meant to be here, if ego, or an understandable search for meaning in your life has misled you here, then death has a way of calling your bluff. You are either initiated, in or out.

This work, the real work of dealing with death and loss is not glamorous, however closely it nearly rhymes with sex, however interesting it makes us appear to those who unfortunately have to work in jobs they hate to pay the bills, and that matter little.

This work, done properly, is incredibly stressful.

It’s exhausting, frightening, physically, emotionally and existentially challenging, but it is also deeply, deeply rewarding.

Burn out is a real risk, or worse, an unconscious hardening of your outer emotional skin – these are the risks you face depending on whether you fully engage with it or not.

Breakdown or bravado. Truly a metaphor for our times.

So, if you work with death – florist, celebrant, undertaker or chaplain, particularly if you are new to it, you really have to let it in.

Go deeper.

Feel it. Fear it. Don’t pretend to love it , because the only thing worse than death is not death – and then, if you can, let it go.


This world is also open to all.

Undertaking is completely unregulated, and should remain so in my opinion, not just because no amount of qualifications can teach you what to say to the mother of a dead child, that is an instinctive language that rises unbidden from the heart, but also because we are all amateurs when staring into the abyss, all professionals when faced with a dead body.

And they are OUR dead, yours and mine. We are all funeral directors eventually.

It is a shared mystery and your guess as to what it means, and your actions as to what to do are as valid as mine, or the Church, or the Humanists.

Nobody knows for sure.

The mechanics of what needs to be done are easy, I promise. Keep bodies cold. Put them in a suitable receptacle. Carry them, bury or burn them.

The rest, the words, the rituals, the how we do this, you KNOW, deep down what is right for you. You know.


But here I am, bringing you all down at a funeral award convention – I should get a prize for that!

But just indulge me one last time before we start bringing on the champs, and this celebration of the real change that has happened gets underway –


They cover the kitchen floor of bereavement like a spilled cat litter tray.

They protect no-one, they fool no-one, they confuse children. They are well meaning, but they are wrong.

I’m only going to take on one here, and I apologise if anyone has to amend their speech or their website as a result.

Loved ones.

Not everyone is loved, some because they have led sad, lonely lives, others because they did bad things.

They die too. They need funerals and their families are broken, and the depth of their pain makes the phrase ‘Loved one’ seem like a jeer.

Just saying.

So call them the dead, the dead one, the dead person, anything other than ‘loved one’. Call them by their name!

I know it’s awkward, but it will spare you the look of contempt you get when you say it to the wrong person.

Lecture over.”

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.

Lawrence’s story

The following story is not new and it has been published elsewhere. I’d not seen it, and perhaps you hadn’t, either. It was sent to me by Lawrence’s mother, Virginia Prifti. 

“Lawrence’s death and cremation was incredibly powerful for us as a family. We decided to take control, organise our own goodbyes and keep Lawrence with us at home. It was very therapeutic and helped us to come to terms with his death over the five days. During that time I learnt that death was nothing to be afraid of –but like birth, it is a completely natural event.”

In late Spring 2004, my six-year-old son Lawrence was diagnosed with a very rare genetic degenerative terminal condition called Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). We were told that we might have another six months of near normality, but that after that the disease would take its hold quickly and that Lawrence would end up in a vegetative state.

By December Lawrence had developed a sickness bug and ended up in hospital. He recovered quickly and was discharged from hospital the following day, but when I went to get him up I discovered to my horror that he had lost the ability to walk. This was the start of a pattern – sickness bug followed by a dramatic decline – until the ability to move, talk and swallow had disappeared.

In late July Lawrence developed yet another sickness bug. My husband, Peter, and I took the decision that Lawrence had spent too long in hospital recently and that we would keep him at home. When we first received the diagnosis I was adamant that I did not want Lawrence to die at home, but now I realised that he needed to die in his home, surrounded by familiar things, and with us with him.

On the evening of July 22nd 2005 Lawrence died at home, surrounded by his family and all things familiar.  We had been able to love and comfort him and I put his favourite Mozart CD on which seemed to calm him. I sat next to him and stroked his arm. I told him just to let go – that he shouldn’t fight. I told him how much we loved him and how much we were going to miss him, but that he would always be with us.

After Lawrence had died, we took him up to his bedroom and laid him on his bed, we changed him into his favourite clothes – combat trousers and a khaki T-shirt. We knew we should turn our minds to his cremation, but I have always had a problem with the undertaking business, and find the idea of lavish funerals distasteful.

I had seen a programme about a ‘green funeral service’ and had been struck by how lovely it was. I couldn’t imagine how one would go about organising this, but the local crematorium advised me that it would be much easier if involved a funeral director. I phoned our recommended undertaker and was horrified by the call – he wanted to come and get Lawrence’s body that afternoon, but wouldn’t tell me how much he was going to charge for the service. He wouldn’t entertain my idea of an ‘eco friendly’ cardboard coffin and tried to push me into a quick decision. He ‘phoned again to say that he would be in the vicinity soon so could collect the body. When I told him that this was not possible, he started to sound quite menacing – he told me that he had heard that I was considering a ‘DIY’ funeral and informed me that I couldn’t just do my own thing, I needed to ‘play by the book’.

I realised that there was no way that I was going to let my precious child go off with some complete stranger. I wanted him at home – it was still where he belonged even though he was dead! I still needed to look after him.

Two friends who had been medically trained very kindly offered to come and give Lawrence what I called his ‘makeover’. They closed his eyes and mouth and washed him, cut his nails and did his hair. All the time they were with him they chatted to him and treated him with such care and tenderness. This was the turning point for me – I realised that if I treated him as if he was still alive, I would find going into his room much less scary.

A friend brought an industrial air conditioner to keep his room chilled. Another friend came to visit with a gorgeous bunch of highly scented stocks, and another with a posy that she had made out of lavender and rosemary also to put in his room. I was amazed and very touched at the number of people who wanted to say goodbye to him. Imogen our daughter, meanwhile had made herself scarce. We were worried about the fact that she was scared to be in the house with Lawrence.

Over the next couple of days the house was inundated with visitors, most of whom were keen to go to Lawrence’s room to say goodbye to him. Most people stroked his hair or kissed his forehead, and I had to keep a hairbrush beside the bed to rearrange Lawrence’s hair into his usual style so that he looked like himself!

Imogen, by this time, had completely come to terms with Lawrence being at home, and spent hours in his room with her friends – chatting to him, doing his hair, stroking his arms and kissing him. It was really lovely to see her behaving like this, having been so scared of Lawrence just after he had died.

On the Wednesday we decorated the coffin.We had found a supplier of wicker coffins on the Internet – it was the most beautifully hand crafted object. Our neighbours helped to decorate it, creating posies using garden flowers and herbs. Another neighbour made the most magnificent bouquet out of garden roses, honeysuckle and wild flowers. I wanted something soft for Lawrence to lie on, so Imogen cut down half our leylandi hedge and mixed this with the best part of a rosemary bush – it did look very comfortable and smelled lovely.

and then just before we left, Peter carried Lawrence downstairs and put him into it. We loaded him into our car– it felt as if we were going on a family outing. We had a very simple but moving ceremony at the crematorium.

The whole process of Lawrence’s death and cremation was incredibly powerful for us as a family. Keeping Lawrence at home was very therapeutic and helped us to come to terms with his death over the five days. During that time I learnt that death was nothing to be afraid of – like birth, it is a completely natural event. I am still so glad that we did things the way we did, it helped us to move on and feel more positive about Lawrence’s illness and death.

I would encourage anyone who has ever thought about making their own arrangements for a funeral or cremation to go ahead. It is very simple and we found the local crematorium very helpful. The Register Office can also help you complete the paperwork. Most district nurses would be willing to come out and sort the body out after death. There are various sites on the Internet which sell alternative coffins – cardboard, willow or bamboo.

Virginia Prifti

ED’S NOTE: Virginia set up a charity project in Lawrence’s memory. It’s called Lawrence’s Roundabout Well Appeal. All money raised is used for building PlayPumps™ in Africa. “The roundabout playpump combines a children’s roundabout with a pump. The pumps are usually installed in schools to harness the natural energy of children. As the children play on the roundabout they pump water into a holding tank at the rate of 1400 litres per hour.”  You can see Lawrence’s wells here.

Imagine this: when someone dies we don’t hand them over to strangers

When the GFG, in conjunction with the Plunkett Foundation, announced a community funerals initiative back in 2012, we supposed that someone might pick it up and run with it. The Plunkett Foundation, far cleverer than us, was pretty confident they would.  They contacted all their community shops and community pubs and we waited with bated breath to see what happened next.

Absolutely nothing. Zilch. Squat.

So we are really pleased to learn of the emergence of a community funerals initiative on the other side of the world – in SE Australia in the steel town of Port Kembla, a place where, according to its community enterprise website, “no one wanted to live” until recently, but “now there is a change in the atmosphere”. It does look a bit like one of those unprepossessing places that brings out the best in people.

The purpose of the Port Kembla community funerals enterprise is to “empower people around death and dying, and offer a not for profit funeral service that is affordable and highly personalised to support healthy bereavement.” It is called Tender Funerals.

Tender Funerals will “offer affordable and flexible services and a transparent fee structure, to minimise the financial impact of funeral care. It will counter the idea that the amount of money spent on a funeral is a reflection of the amount a person was loved.”

“Tender Funerals will offer personalised services that demystify death and dying, and involve a model of community support, to assist healthy bereavement. This will include unique offerings of information and support, funeral services that celebrate and acknowledge both a person’s death and their life, and support and facilitation of active participation and community support in funeral care.”

They will also create an education programme to teach people about issues around death and dying: “We will develop and implement a community development model to provide ongoing support and community awareness … By providing a more open approach to death and the process around caring for the dead it is envisaged that people will become for familiar with death as an inevitable part of life.”

“Tender Funerals is re–imagining the way in which we as a community deal with death and provide a context within which the community is informed and empowered to ensure that the end of life process is one which is meaningful, authentic and good value.

“It will be a community resource and a funeral care provider that responds to shifts in community needs, attitudes, ideas and experiences in relation to death and dying.

“It will also develop a model for not-for profit funeral care that supports healthy bereavement, and empowered decision making at end of life, which can be replicated in other communities.”

The Port Kembla Community Project already has a scheme which offers no-interest loans up to $1,000.

Tender Funerals is presently crowdfunding to raise the money it needs to get off the ground. Check out the vision statement.

Its originators have had a film made about them – you can see the trailer at the top of the page.

Here at the GFG we’ve sent them a few bob to help them on their way. And we wish them every possible success.

Owl you need is love

Screenshot 2014-05-23 at 10


The natural death movement in the UK of the early 90s was very much a child of its time. Its parents were the natural childbirth movement and the environmental movement. The happy coupling resulted in the birth of twins: the DIY funeral and natural burial.

The natural burial movement grew strappingly, but the DIY funeral didn’t. Not in the UK, anyway. But it has begun to thrive in the US, where DIY funerals are more fittingly called home funerals.

The buzzwords at the heart of the home funeral movement are empowerment and reclamation. Like all progressive movements in funerals it draws its inspiration from a golden age, specifically that time when people cared for their dead at home assisted by members of the community. It resists the commodification of funerals and the sidelining of those closest to the dying and the dead by specialist professionals:

“Reliance on a funerary industry to care for our dead and the removal of death and dying from our homes and communities are startlingly recent developments … Our modern approach to death has … left us blind to the extent to which we’ve forfeited our most personal, vulnerable and significant life moments to medical, funerary, legislative and commercial pressures.” [Source]

It may be worth reflecting, at this point, on the popularity of home births in England and Wales. In 1961 32.4% of women gave birth at home. In 2011, that was down to 2.4%.

The GFG has scrutinised the US home funeral movement from time to time, with the result that ours is the only UK website listed as a resource by the National Home Funerals Alliance. It only goes to show how incredibly little is going on over here. We’ve always been puzzled by that.

At last, though, we can announce the birth of a UK enterprise dedicated to helping people care for their dead at home. It has been created by Claire Turnham, who cared for her own father at home. In 2013 she attended the nhfa annual conference in North Carolina. In the autumn she will be hosting Jerrigrace Lyons, one of the great pioneers of the home funeral movement, who will hold workshops for those who wish to care for their dead at home.

Claire’s enterprise is called Only With Love, and you can find it here. OWL is a welcome addition to the UK’s diverse and highly creative funeral culture. We wish you well, Claire!

It’s legal to care for your own

Kimberlyrenee Gamboa’s son Kyle took his own life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in September, three weeks into his senior year in high school.

A seemingly happy 18-year-old with lots of friends and into competitive lasertag, Kyle’s death was such a shock, his mother said, she doesn’t know how she’d have managed it through a typical funeral.

Instead, with help from her church and and home death guide, Heidi Boucher, Kyle’s body was returned to the family home one day after his death. Boucher washed Kyle and helped arrange the body on dry ice changed every 24 hours; she gathered information to fill out Kyle’s death certificate and managed all coordination with the mortuary. For three full days, Kyle’s body lay in the family living room in an open casket, not embalmed. During that time, day and night, surrounded by pictures and candles and flowers, all of his friends and family could say good-bye and remember his short life. For Kyle’s mother, that time was critical to her healing.


Kingfisher Funerals get behind home funeralists


Kingfisher Funerals of St Neots have bought a Flexmort body-cooling system for people who want to care for their dead at home. Andrew Hickson, who founded the business in 2010, tells us: 

“We have seen a marked increase in requests from the family of someone who has died, who do not want the person removed from home to a funeral director’s office.

“We are dedicated to providing our clients with exactly the service they want, not the one we want them to have. We have watched families who have kept a body at home using ice packs, and the emotional value of the experience for them has been incredible. Ice packs can only provide a certain level of cooling however, and need to be changed frequently, especially immediately after death. The Flexmort system can be placed on someone as soon as death has been certified, and left in place until the funeral, with no need for maintenance at all. 

“We are happy to allow bereaved families to borrow the system free of charge when we are appointed as funeral directors acting on their behalf. If clients wish to adopt a more DIY approach to arranging a funeral, we would make a charge to cover the loan and delivery of the unit.”

What taught Chuck about death?

We like Chuck Lakin at the GFG. We’ve blogged about him here and here. Here’s his reply to the question ‘When did you begin learning about death?’

The precipitating incident was the death of my own father. This was in 1979 and he was home for the last six week of his life, and I’m glad to say I was there for the last month of that. And he was in his own bed with his wife and four kids touching him. It has been a very personal experience up until that point. And I didn’t know it before that, but I knew I wanted to be a part of whatever happened next. But I didn’t know what I could do. So, we called a funeral director. And he did what I’m sure he thought we wanted him to do, which was arrive promptly and zip dad in a body bag and take him away and mail us a box of ashes four days later. And that disconnect was very important to me. And it was almost 20 years later that I found the information that I needed that told me what I could have done at the point. I started giving people the information that they needed to have if they wanted the experience that I wanted to have when my father died. It has evolved past that. I started out just talking about home funerals. Now, I’m big on planning and making choices. It’s about thinking about it and making sure it is written down and you’ve had a conversation with the family. If you haven’t transmitted the information about what you’d like to have happen to your body to anybody, those people are going to have to make a lot of potentially expensive or contentious decisions. It’s a tragedy and it’s very stressful for everybody. If you’ve made the plans ahead of time, it can be a spiritual time. It can give them a chance to grieve.

Full interview here

Forward into the past

Most progressive initiatives in the world of death and funerals are characterised by a spirit of ‘Stop the clock, I want to go back’. 

Up in Tyneside, Michele Rutherford (DipFD) has just launched a retro initiative. It’s for those people who don’t want men in black macs taking away the person who has died, but would rather keep them at home and have them looked after there. Michele is going to look after people who have died in their own homes. 

Michele says, “Really, what Last Respects is offering is a return to the old-fashioned type of funeral, when a local woman would be responsible for laying out the deceased.  This means that someone does not have to leave their own home and we can organise all the funeral, from the cars to the service to any reception afterwards. I have no overheads, because I operate from home, and there are no ‘hidden extras’ for customers. I am offering a personal, less conventional option for funerals, as well as a bereavement aftercare service.”

I rang Michele and we had a nice chat. She’s very nice. If you feel inclined to wish her good fortune, please add a comment, or contact her:  0191 597 1872 or 07766 221 539 – lastrespects@hotmail.co.uk. She’s still working on her website. 

Full story here

EXCLUSIVE: It’s going to be one wacky sendoff for Downton’s Matthew

The GFG can exclusively reveal that Downton star Matthew Crawley will be cremated in a way-out guerilla funeral on the ancestral estate in a ritual created by the grief-stricken family.

Devotees of toff-soap Downton Abbey were left dazed and heartbroken at the end of the 2012 Christmas special when heir Matthew Crawley was violently killed after his motor car flipped as it swerved to avoid an oncoming lorry.

According to plot notes for upcoming series 4, jotted by writer Julian Fellowes and seen exclusively by the GFG, a distraught Lady Mary will banish local undertaker Grassby’s men when they come to take Matthew’s body into their care.

In  heartrending scenes that follow, viewers will see Lady Mary supervise sobbing servants as they wash Matthew’s body, dress it in his favourite suit and lay it out in the state drawing room flanked by bowed footmen and surrounded by candles and essential oils. Here, it is reverently watched over by members of the family.

Meanwhile, it’s all hands to the pump downstairs as the servants are enlisted to build Matthew’s coffin and refurbish a derelict cremator (pictured) which was last used to cremate Lady Mary’s convention-busting great-grandfather Lord Bertram Crawley in 1882.

In a final agonising development, the funeral procession, led by butler Carson, is surrounded by police tipped off by villainous valet Thomas Barrow. After a tense standoff the proceedings are allowed to go ahead in a ceremony led by real-life funeral celebrant and GFG commenter Gloria Mundi.

The storyline is believed to be inspired by Fellowes’ near neighbour and cremation pioneer Captain Thomas Hanham, who lived just 20 miles away in Blandford Forum. Hanham illegally cremated his wife and his mother in the grounds of his estate. The authorities did not prosecute him and a few years later the first Cremation Act was passed.

The GFG believes that Fellowes intends to raise awareness of family-arranged or home funerals, sometimes termed DIY funerals. He was overheard at a funeral he recently attended to exclaim, “Why on earth do we hand over the whole bally shooting match to strangers? We really should jolly well do more of this ourselves.”

Fellowes’ plot notes reveal that he even considered cremating Matthew on an open-air pyre. A scribble in the margin betrays second thoughts: “No. A twist too far. Maybe for Maggie [Smith].” Dame Maggie Smith plays the part of the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

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