Countdown to Be Better

Less than two weeks to go now until Be Better, our fabulous event in Stratford-upon-Avon showcasing the work of some of the UK’s most renowned modern undertakers.

Be Better is an opportunity for everyone to come and hear how funerals can be beautiful and meaningful without costing the earth – how families and friends of those who have died are the real funeral directors, and how modern undertakers see their role as helping bereaved people create funerals that really matter and make a difference.

It’s a day that could change the way you look at funerals forever, and if you haven’t got a ticket yet, there are still places available. Bring your friends and family too – we can guarantee that everyone who joins us for the day will never think of funerals in the same way again. 

(And there will be the most extraordinary, unforgettable and totally Instagram-able cake courtesy of our dear friend Anna at Conjurer’s Kitchen, which we’ll cutting up and sharing in a perfect example of the impermanence of everything – and the importance of appreciating everything good in our lives.)

Details about our speakers and a link to the ticket site can be found here 

Be Better.

Be there!

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date

 

Eight days ago (three of which were over a bank holiday weekend), funeral directors who don’t belong to either of the funeral trade associations were invited to get in touch with the Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review – the self appointed body founded by Dignity PLC that is looking at ‘quality, standards and outcomes for funeral service consumers’.

The independent chair wrote on the FSCSR website “If you are a member of SAIF or NAFD, then they have a seat at the table to represent your views – but we really want to make sure that non-trade association affiliated funeral directors also have the opportunity to express their thoughts.

So, if you are a funeral director who is not a member of a trade association and would like to contribute your views on how to improve funeral care (or express your specific concerns about current standards, or possible regulation in the industry), then please get in touch with contact@fscsr.co.uk by Friday 30 August.”

This invitation was also tweeted out to the 71 followers of the FSCSR account. 

So, unless non trade association affiliated funeral directors happened upon the FSCSR website (why would they?), or followed the FSCSR Twitter account (followers seem to be organisations, heads of organisations and a smattering of individuals) then non trade association affiliated funeral directors are largely, we would guess, unaware of this opportunity to have their voices heard by those who comprise the FSCSR.

This is unfortunate.

Because in due course, and before the CMA comes up with their findings from their Market Investigation into the funeral sector, the FSCSR will be seeking “to identify the extent to which the recommendations of HM Inspector of Funerals could be usefully implemented as a statutory system in the rest of the United Kingdom. The FSCSR’s findings and any recommendations will then be presented to Government stakeholders.”

Hmm.

The self appointed group has set up two working groups – one of which has been working for some time on ‘a) a robust and comprehensive code of practice for the funeral directing profession (output 1); and b) an agreed list of premises inspection requirements, to be enforced by both major trade associations (Output 2), and the other particularly focusing on ‘how transparency in relation to services offered, the standard of those services and pricing could be improved‘. (This second FSCSR group, the ‘transparency working group’ has not as yet identified the members who are sitting on it. Which is ironic)

Both working groups are chaired by the former Inspector of Funerals in Scotland, Natalie McKail.

Ms McKail actually left post in June this year.

The post of Inspector of Funerals in Scotland is currently vacant.

There is no HM Inspector of Funerals in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. And now neither is there one in Scotland.

The citation of Ms McKail’s role as a member of the FSCSR Steering Committee in this document  on the FSCSR website, dated July 2019 and noting her as ‘HM Inspector of Funerals’ is therefore factually incorrect and somewhat misleading. 

Anyway, we digress.

Non trade association affiliated funeral directors who are tempted to get in touch with contact@fscsr.co.uk might be interested to note that they will be in fact be sharing their thoughts with the FSCSR Secretariat, which is helpfully being provided by the two funeral trade associations which they have chosen not to join.

(We know of at least one non trade association affiliated funeral director who was not willing to be identified in their letter to the independent chair of the FSCSR as they were concerned about confidentiality, given that the e-mail was landing in an inbox at NAFD).

They might also want to get their skates on. As today is the 30th August and the deadline set for contacting the FSCSR.

Despite the group having been formed in November last year, and the work to attempt to put right the mess that is funeral world having been ongoing since then.

Or, they might do exactly what we have done, and make contact with the CMA directly to express their thoughts about the funeral sector in general, and why they have not chosen to be part of a trade association.

One progressive funeral director has done both – you can read the letter that Louise Winter sent to the independent chair of the FSCSR yesterday here: Letter to Lewis Shand Smith – 29th August 2019

Go on, make a cup of tea and have a read.

You’ve got less than 12 hours to respond anyway.

And we think Louise has said it all.

Look what’s cooking.

There’s something afoot in funeral world. Letters have been pinging into the inbox of funeral directors around the country advising them of a shiny new entrant into the world of undertaking.

“Over the next few days you may read about a new funeral company called Hospice Funerals LLP.  It has been set up by St Margaret’s Hospice of Somerset in order to allow local hospices to extend their care to the local community by providing a caring, transparent and personal funeral service..”

A joint operation between St. Margaret’s Hospice and Memoria, this partnership is, at first glance, a match made in heaven.

Expert end of life carers join with expert provider of state of the art crematoria and low cost funeral services to offer communities across the UK a new, better alternative when it comes to funeral arrangements.

But let’s take a closer look.

Memoria’s CEO, Howard Hodgson, is well known in the funeral world. Here’s a little background, taken from an article by Tony Grundy in 2015:

‘For example, in a classic UK television documentary some years ago, former undertaker and entrepreneur Howard Hodgson told of how he led the transformation of the industry through a combination of acquisition, consolidation, value innovation and cost management. In his book ‘How To Become Dead Rich’ Hodgson set out his vision of how to run his funeral business as economically as possible, with an efficient set of local operations providing up to several funerals in a day, making much better use of facilities such as cars, storage and sales facilities. Alongside this he pioneered a more extensive range of services, optimising the average price.

This hugely widened operating profit margin and increased return on net assets. This vision became the model of the Great Southern Group, which Hodgson sold out to and which, after a period of being owned by US company Service Corporation International, is now called Dignity, one of the UK’s top players. These changes also reduced competitive rivalry in the UK market, where a higher proportion of the market had previously been fragmented, made up of ‘mom and pop’ independents.’

St. Margaret’s Hospice announced their plans earlier this month, without mentioning their new partner. The role of funeral director was advertised at £36,000 plus car. One of their existing charity shops is being converted into suitable premises in Taunton – a town in which there are already 12 other undertakers.

The Hospice Funerals website states:

HOSPICE FUNERALS’ VISION

To provide all hospice communities with the choice and experience of hospice funeral services that uniquely reflect the dedication, warmth and reputation of the hospice movement – an extension of exemplary hospice care – caring, transparent and personal.

HOSPICE FUNERALS’ MISSION

To bring choice, quality and affordability to families in our communities, so that they can celebrate the lives of loved ones with a unique and individual funeral that respects their wishes. This is achieved by only engaging highly trained staff with unwavering attention to detail and compassion – so ensuring a caring, transparent and personal funeral to all whatever their budget.

This sounds absolutely wonderful.

Although the top benefit for hospices electing to become a provider listed in another part of the website is:

‘Participation in a new enterprise that will deliver sustainable and growing income going forward and thus helping to bridge the considerable funding gap that stands between government funding and the annual needs of the hospice.’

And in the brochure for ‘hospice partners’ it clearly states:

The partnership will operate as a franchise scheme. These are the facts:

  • Hospice Funerals signs an agreement with the partner hospice (the partner Franchise Agreement – samples available)
  • The hospice partner will be entitled to operate exclusively within the defined area
  • A hospice partner can acquire more than one area if it so wishes
  • Hospice Funerals will give each partner a demographic survey providing a death profile of the granted area and will be able to advise the partner on this issue
  • Hospice Funerals will issue a list of products and prices that the partner will need to purchase in order to create their funeral service.
  • The hospice will be supported to deal directly with these suppliers, shop fitters ad other trades. This means that Hospice Funerals is not involved in the invoice chain and so is making NO margin on the set up of the unit.
  • Hospice Funerals support you with a turnkey service and are on hand throughout the set up period, signing off the premises when complete.
  • Thereafter, the location will be inspected prior to opening and all snagging signed off.
  • Hospice Funerals will select, train and manage the partner’s funeral staff, while being accountable to the partner.
  • Memoria will also carry out the majority of funeral administration for the partner.
  • Memoria will also install and teach the partner’s funeral director how to operate a bespoke software system for making funeral arrangement.

Hmm. So, perhaps not quite so in line with the hospice movement set up to look after the dying and their families by Dame Cicely Saunders then.

It’s a franchise scheme, dressed up in the hospice’s clothes, making money for both the ‘hospice partner’ and Memoria alike.

Here’s what we think.

It’s hard to criticise the idea of the much loved local hospice continuing to care for those who have died after death (albeit charging for this part of their service, while everything else until the last breath is taken has been free of charge.)

Why wouldn’t you choose to use them?

Hospices are pillars of the community after all, caring for the dying in the most wonderful way. And your money will be going to help support this admirable cause instead of lining the pockets of those men in black, the stereotypical undertakers.

It’s easy to see what a brilliant idea this is – piggybacking on the reputation and respect held by the hospice to give an immediate advantage over the funeral directors who are so widely and relentlessly pilloried in the media as greedy, money-making vultures who prey on the vulnerable bereaved.

With the helpful assistance of the self-serving life insurance companies generating fear of soaring funeral costs in their annual cost of dying reports, and the media focus on funeral poverty (driven by high charges from corporate funeral businesses including Dignity, Howard Hodgson’s baby, plus austerity cuts and shortage of space impelling local authorities to keep raising the cost of cremation or graves), funeral directors en masse are tarred with the same brush.

The public won’t take much persuading to look elsewhere for help with organising a funeral. And it’s available to everyone, not just hospice patients – again, from the Hospice Funerals website:

‘It is important to note that it is intended that everyone needing the services of a funeral director will be able benefit from the caring, transparent and personal service offered by Hospice Funerals. Therefore, our services are available to everyone in the community – irrespective of whether or not they have been a hospice patient.’

Well, not quite everyone.

This from Howard Hodgson’s letter to funeral directors yesterday:

‘The Directors of Memoria have no desire to compete with its funeral directing clientele. Therefore, in order to prevent a conflict of interest, it has been contractually agreed that NO Hospice Funeral operations will be set up within a 20 MILE RADIUS of ANY existing MEMORIA crematoria. 

This agreement will be on going and so will prevent funeral directors within the declared 20-mile exclusion zones from facing this new competition now or in the future.

We hope this act demonstrates our loyalty and gratitude to ALL of our funeral directing clients, whose close working relationship we highly value.’

Nice of him to consider how funeral directors might feel about this idea, although only the ones who operate in the vicinity of one of Memoria’s crematoria. The rest of the funeral world is clearly fair game.

What concerns us about this genius return to the world of funeral provision by Howard ‘How To Become Dead Rich’ Hodgson is what it will do to the wonderful, dedicated, desperately hard-working, ethically run, generous, kind and principled undertakers who have devoted their lives to starting up and running small businesses to serve their communities.

They are everywhere, working day and night to do the absolute best for the families they care for, often living hand to mouth and struggling to stay afloat as the corporate companies relentlessly target them by opening branches nearby. Many of them can be found here on our recommended funeral director list. We applaud and salute them for what they do, and we fear for their future with this latest new player in the game.

These really good people don’t have the massive marketing budgets to pay for TV advertising and PR campaigns, unlike Dignity, Co-operative Funeralcare and now Hospice Funerals, but they are providing vital services for their communities. And they are offering real, informed choice.

Hospice Funerals could spell the end for many of these artisan, genuine, small undertaking businesses, people who have been battling against the corporate expansion into funerals for years, as money men have scented the opportunity to get rich by taking advantage of economies of scale. The Hospice Funeral idea is likely to be a pressure too much for many if it spreads around the country.

If this idea were vision-driven, altruistic. non profit making, a real community venture motivated by a genuine desire to really make a difference to our society , we’d respect it, we’d be completely behind it and we’d be promoting it as far as we can reach.

But it’s not, it’s a clever, clever commercial move.

Maybe the public, those who volunteer and fundraise and support their local hospices might see it for what it is, but probably most people will just think it’s a great idea and not give it any more thought.

And sadly, we expect that the advent of this new hybrid beast is likely to be greeted with delight by hospices around the country as a means of generating the much needed income to keep them afloat. Without thinking about the wider implications.

We’ll find out tomorrow – it’s on the agenda at two high profile hospice meetings, the Hospice UK National Conference in Liverpool and the Legacy Foresight Workshop in London 

We’ll be at both events.

Care of the Deceased Award 2017

 

Formerly the Embalmer of the Year award, this category now accommodates all aspects of caring for the dead.

With a number of finalists, the judges were impressed with the calibre of care and dedication shown towards all those in their care, and some of the testimonials received demonstrate just how important this is to the families of deceased.

The runner up in this category was applauded by a number of families for her skill and professionalism in looking after their relatives, and was also commended for her helpfulness with teaching others how to care properly for those who have died.

The winners in this category are a small team of people led by a qualified embalmer, but they haven’t embalmed a body in their care since the inception of the business some 14 years ago. They have pioneered the art of creating beauty around death, and focus on engaging families to be involved and spend time with the body in a beautiful, comfortable space. The judges particularly applaud the leadership of this team and the way that every aspect of their work with the dead is carried out with such creative care.

 

Winner: Cara Mair and the team at ARKA Original Funerals

Runner up: Kirsty Sailes

 

Photograph by Jayne Lloyd

The 2017 Good Funeral Awards were generously sponsored by Greenfield Creations

Thank you Lou!!

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

 

Most Promising New Funeral Director

18-judith-dandy-most-promising-newcomer

Judith Dandy of Dandelion Farewells

Judith is an outstanding example of a new wave of breath-of-fresh-air funeral business owners – what the Good Funeral Guide terms ‘artisan’ funeral directors. Some people call them alternative funeral directors. Typically, they reject what they regard as the arcane traditions and mystique of funeral service, presenting themselves as people first, funeral directors second.

Dedicated to transparent business practices and a highly flexible and personal service to bereaved people designed to enable them to create a bespoke funeral which best expresses their wishes and values, Judith’s humanity and intelligence place her at the forefront of this new wave of funeral directors

Having worked in two large corporate funeral companies in 2014, Judith set out to create a personal, flexible, thoughtful and cost-moderate service to support bereaved families. Dandelion Farewells was founded in January 2015, reflecting principles of client-centred support and professional standards of care derived from her previous career as a social worker. Judith is involved in all the aspects of care for the person who has died and their family. The business has gone from strength to strength.

Judith has dedicated much time and energy to travelling nationwide to learn alongside the very best in the industry – those with many years’ experience and others who themselves have begun their business a few years earlier. She has developed strong, mutually supportive relationships with other professionals and is able to draw upon a valuable network of colleagues, suppliers and mentors. In the same spirit, she has been called upon to support the work of other funeral directors who have identified her professional and interpersonal strengths. Coupled with valuable empirical learning alongside others, Judith has completed formal training programmes to provide a firm theoretical and professional foundation to her work. In March 2016 achieved the BIFD Certificate of Funeral Services and is now on the pathway to achieve the Diploma qualification in 2017.

Judith operates from a unique village premises from which she provides modern funeral care.

  • Judith has developed a planning workshop for small groups, called My Wishes My Way. This was launched during Dying Matters Week this year. The core of this session is to freely provide information about end of life choices and funeral planning and encourage people to write down their funeral wishes.
  • Dandelion Farewells provides personal, meaningful funeral occasions whatever form this may take for each individual family. It is an unhurried approach. Time is spent listening and working alongside the people making the funeral arrangements to ensure that their decisions resonate with their lives and preferences. The person who has died is cared for with tenderness, kindness and dignity.
  • Judith continues to support families beyond the day of the funeral. This may be through meeting at intervals after the funeral and if necessary sign-posting them to appropriate bereavement services.

Mary Hughes, Director of Affinity Funeral Services Ltd, said: “Judith’s enthusiasm for creating the perfect farewell is matched by her wealth of knowledge and her patience and availability to her families. Nothing is too much trouble. Dandelion Farewells is a rising star.”

A client said: “Judith immediately understood what I was going through, she was very approachable and kind, extremely patient and knowledgeable. Judith was always available, reassuring me in every way. Her attention to detail was touching. Judith continued her care wonderfully after the funeral too.”

 

Runners Up in this category:

Edd Frost & Daughters

Final Journey Funeral Directors

Young Independent Funeral Services

Funeral Arranger of the Year

17-sarah-lee-funeral-arranger

Sarah Lee of Holmes & Family Funeral Directors

Sarah offers an exceptionally caring service to bereaved families and has carried on doing so while coping and coming to terms with the sudden death of her mother.

There are hundreds of superb funeral arrangers throughout the country but Sarah stands out from the rest of them this year.

Sarah works for a funeral director, David Holmes. The employer-employee relationship is not characterised by deference on Sarah’s part. Exceptionally dedicated and caring, she makes sure her bereaved families get what they need and deserve, no matter how many extra miles that might take. She spends all the time she needs with her families – a very great deal of it – and helps them to arrange exactly the right sendoff for their relative.

Sarah is always focused and uncompromising. She has an eagle eye for detail. She is warm and caring. She supports and guides the arrangers in the firm’s other two offices. She juggles her work with her two teenage children. David Holmes’s two boys, Toby and Oliver, are like sons to her.

Just a few weeks ago, Sarah lost her own Mum. The death was unexpected and the two of them were very close; they were a part of each other’s day-to-day lives. Not only did Sarah arrange the perfect send-off for her Mum, (of course) she carried on dealing with the funerals already in hand, hardly missing a beat. Her emotions were – are – all over the place, but you’d never have known.

David Holmes said: “I have been a funeral director since 1989 and in that time, I have known and employed some amazing people. However, it is impossible to think of anyone better at her job, more dedicated or caring than the woman I call our pain in the ass funeral arranger, Sarah. If she ever left our little firm, she would be truly irreplaceable.”

Runner Up in this category: Angela Bailey of Harrison Funeral Home

Green Funeral Director of the Year

16-jo-lorna-vassie-higher-ground-meadow-green-funeral-director

Lorna and Jo Vassie of Higher Ground Family Funerals

Jo Vassie is one of the leading figures in the world of natural burial; her site near Dorchester currently holds the Natural Death Centre’s People’s Award for the Best Natural Burial Ground in the UK.

With a custom built facility and a determination to be able to provide undertaking services for the many families that asked for her assistance, Jo is a great example of the no-nonsense, sensible and down to earth approach, which does away with any fluff or complications when it comes to caring for the dead.

She has an unfussy, straightforward and completely unassuming nature and brings this approach to her work caring for both the dead and their families, and she and her small family team are successfully growing this complementary business alongside their main love, which is of providing the highest quality natural burial.

In 2013, after years of trying to encourage her husband to consider offering an undertaking service for families choosing to be buried at Higher Ground Meadow, Jo and her son Tom decided that it was time to bite the bullet. They converted some space on their farm to suitable premises for caring for dead people, and bought a 9-seater vehicle that Tom adapted by removing the two back rows of seats and adding a shelf with rollers.

At the time of entering for the awards HGFF have carried out 71 funerals including some cremations, although invariably the majority of funerals involve a natural burial at Higher Ground Meadow. Bodies are cared for naturally, no toxic chemicals are involved and they don’t embalm, nor stitch mouths together or use plastic eye caps. Jo and her daughter in law, Lorna, take care of the bodies in their mortuary, and they take pride in making people look as nice as they can for their families. Some are dressed in their own clothes, others in a cotton gown supplied by HGFF, and all are laid on a thick cream coloured calico sheet before being placed in their coffin. All coffins are biodegradable, and the very reasonable costs are all displayed online.

Families are encouraged to be involved with the funeral, and hired bearers are rarely used – where necessary, four local men will help out but most families are pleased to do this part themselves with Jo’s help and guidance.

One of the many testimonials received reads; ’ How can I ever thank you enough? You have been there for me and my daughter every step of the way during this terrible, bewildering and heart breaking time. Everything you have done for us and for my darling husband has been so perfect. What you do for the grieving and the passed over is so very, very special. You are an angel, I am certain. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart”

 

Runner Up in this category: Only With Love

Low Cost Funeral Director of the Year

15-lucy-coulbert-low-cost-provider

Lucy Coulbert of Coulbert Family Funerals

Having geared her business specifically to help families of limited means arrange dignified and respectful funerals, Lucy was the only funeral director in England and Wales to give evidence to the 2016 DWP Bereavement Benefits Enquiry.

Lucy gives a 100% customer-focused service, unconstrained by the traditions of funeral service. In an industry which sets great store by conformity and mystique, Lucy is somewhat of a maverick. She does what she believes to be right and pays no heed to gainsayers.

She is at the forefront of a new, open way of doing things and her practice is a beacon to anyone contemplating establishing their own funeral business. She has been brave and outspoken and richly deserves this recognition.

Lucy has committed herself to supporting people of limited means, helping them create an affordable funeral. Funeral poverty has become a major issue in these times of austerity. Lucy created Coulbert Family Funerals to exclusively help people applying to the DWP for financial help paying for a funeral.

In the furtherance of the cause of combatting funeral poverty, Lucy gave evidence the Bereavement Benefits enquiry conducted by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) this year giving both oral and written evidence about the causes of, and solutions to, funeral poverty with Baroness Altmann and the DWP. She was the only person asked to attend all three meetings in the capacity of a funeral director.

Lucy is highly responsive to what her clients ask for. She publishes all her prices online, thereby achieving a transparency that all funeral directors would do well to emulate.

Lucy said: “I help people arrange the funeral they want in the way they want, and I do so in the most ethical way I can. I listen to what people want and don’t try to push them into having things they don’t want or need.”

 

Runner Up in this Category: Funerals on a Budget

Wise words

ru-callender

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 –

Euphemisms.

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.”