Louise Winter. Possibly one of the most creative and insightful people involved with funerals anywhere in the world, Louise first attended a funeral just six years ago, when her grandfather died. Since then, she has absorbed herself with the hitherto unknown world of undertaking, and what she has found led directly to her setting up Poetic Endings in the summer of 2017 as the funeral service she felt that bereaved people needed, a service that she couldn’t find anywhere else in London.
Louise is well known in funeralworld – just Google her name and you’ll see a snapshot of her tireless work over the last few years trying to raise expectations of what a funeral could be. She has hosted Death Cafes around the world, from Brooklyn to Bestival, from the Morbid Anatomy Museum to a farm in Essex and many in London, she was co-director of the ground-breaking Life, Death, Whatever – a month long ‘celebration of life, death and everything inbetween’ at The National Trust’s Sutton House in October 2016, she won a Death Oscar at the 2017 Good Funeral Awards, she has written on all matters of death and dying for national press and has been a speaker at Tedx.
It’s probably fair to say that death is now her life, she’s immersed in it and is dedicated to improving it, for all of us. In her own words, describing Poetic Endings; ‘We’re brave and bold and leading the way at the forefront of modern funerals. Emotional intelligence and transparency – truly modern. This is not just a business, it’s a vocation.’
Until the age of 25, Louise’s life had been a very different one. She had a high-flying career, working with a young entrepreneur as a creative communications and brand manager and creative strategist, and she worked for well-known brands around the world. In the transition to her founding Poetic Endings in 2015, Louise brought with her all her intuitive and creative skills, and in turn, after spending two years working as a celebrant across London and seeing the lack of the type of funeral director she felt was needed, her abilities culminated in transforming her former online information website into a fully functioning funeral director business.
At this point, when Poetic Endings began providing undertaking services in 2017, Louise regrettably ended her role as Editor of the Good Funeral Guide because of the perceived conflict of interest for a funeral director in running this not for profit social enterprise.
She had been in this voluntary role for a year, and had helped transform the GFG, using her understanding of the importance of social media, among many other things. We declare this fact at this point, as the former relationship between the GFG and Louise could potentially be used to question the validity of her accreditation. For the avoidance of any doubt, Louise has gone through exactly the same accreditation process as any other funeral director seeking recommendation by the Good Funeral Guide.
Poetic Endings is a funeral business that prioritises the funeral ceremony, and is, (unlike many others that profess the same values) truly transparent, open, modern and honest. From her time training and working as a celebrant, Louise fully understands the importance of the funeral ceremony and she will listen closely to every family to ensure she suggests exactly the right type of officiant to work with them creating the ceremony that they need.
“Our funerals are important. They are our emotional legacy. If done well, they give the people who survive us a space to feel, and to accept and acknowledge that their lives will never be the same again,” she says in her inspiring Tedx Talk entitled ‘This May Be The Last Time’.
While learning how to be a celebrant, Louise spent a week sitting in the gallery of a crematorium watching every funeral that took place, observing how some ceremonies were just templates with the names and eulogy details changed, how others lacked a sense of connection with the family, and how so much more could have been done to make the ceremonies unique and individual. She realised how transformational a good ceremony was, and yet how rarely these occurred, and she was determined to do better.
For two years, she worked alongside some of the best and worst funeral directors and officiated at hundreds of ceremonies, experiencing many aspects of the funeral profession. What she realised was that, for many funeral directors, the ceremony itself was the least valued part of the funeral arrangement.
Many undertakers didn’t attend the ceremony, preferring to stay outside or going to get a coffee. Others refused to pay any celebrant more than a specified fee, usually equivalent to – or less than – the cost of the flowers on the coffin, and less than a third of the cost of the hire of the hearse. And yet the words and the shape and the music of the ceremony, the experience of being part of it would be what guests remembered. The time spent with the family learning about the person who had died that was translated into a beautiful ceremony was not reflected in the fee paid to the person delivering it. This in turn meant that great celebrants couldn’t continue working in their roles long term, as their earnings were limited by the fees that they were allowed to charge.
Frustrated and infuriated by the difficulties she encountered as a celebrant and aware that many families were being short changed, Louise began working with a very experienced funeral director in West London assisting him in his office. Don O’Dwyer had started his own company a year earlier, and was immensely successful very quickly. He needed someone reliable and knowledgeable to help with administration, and he had worked with Louise previously when employing her as a celebrant, so the arrangement worked well for them both.
It swiftly became apparent that Louise was never going to stay sitting behind a desk, and she began learning everything that Don could teach her. “My training has been very much in the deep end, from day one,” she says. “I purposely partnered with a great funeral director with years of experience and he has taught me everything I know.” This works both ways too, Louise’s outlook and approach to her work undoubtedly complements Don’s more traditional ways. By the summer of 2017, Poetic Endings was ready to offer a complete funeral service from the premises shared with O’Dwyer Funeral Directors in leafy Ealing.
The premises are warm and comfortable, attractively furnished and with an inviting feel. The large window enables passers-by to glance in as they walk past, with a small room offering privacy for families making arrangements for a funeral. As you enter, the scent of aromatherapy oils drifts towards you and you’ll be greeted by Louise or Don emerging from their small office to the left. Further back is the family room where you can spend time with the person who has died (the word ‘deceased’ is banned by Louise, she calls each person in her care by their name), and at the rear of the premises is the mortuary and preparation area. If you want to be shown where a family member will be cared for, just ask and Louise will be happy to take you through to see the back area – transparency is a big part of how she works.
And keeping things beautiful and thinking of the impact of her every move on those around her is also a big element of Louise’s ethos. When people who have died are collected by Louise and her colleagues, the functional plastic cover over the stretcher is draped with a calico sheet that has been impregnated with aromatherapy oils, not only softening the starkness of the sight of the stretcher, but leaving a beautiful scent lingering as the person is taken away.
Challenging the existing inadequacy of funerals on every level. Louise has created Poetic Endings to bring a beauty and an emotional intelligence to the experience of arranging a funeral, and this, together with her transparency, both personal and professional, means that this is an undertaker quite unlike any other in the London area.
Her style is soft and quiet and unobtrusive – the most important thing a funeral director can do, in Louise’s opinion, is get out of the way (having made sure that every single aspect of the funeral arrangements has been scrupulously carried out and taken care of, of course). She has a gentleness about her that belies the core of inner steel which makes her unbending in her determination to inspire bereaved people to expect more – and fellow funeral professionals to provide more – and a tirelessness that means she is constantly working to improve the options available to each family.
Raising expectations of what could be possible by providing a genuine, transparent, emotionally switched on, honest and forward thinking funeral service that is leading the way. With every Poetic Endings funerals, those attending can experience something special and every detail will have been carefully attended to.
This is a small, flexible and agile business that can be completely responsive to the requirements of their clients. Louise and her colleagues pride themselves on being very much involved in any progressive conversation, and on offering pretty much everything worth offering. They are also fully inclusive, LGBTQIA friendly and experienced with many different cultures and faith groups.
The freshness of approach. Louise’s life experiences and her previous career bring an openness and honesty to her service which is rare in this business.
Even rarer is her absolute determination to make a difference with her work.
She says “Direct cremation is on the rise. Poetic Endings exists to counteract that and help people see how healing, meaningful and important funeral ceremonies can be.”
Her business is an extension of herself, an honest, ethical, progressive oasis where people are treated with kindness and normality, and offered a fully transparent service of exactly the type they want.
And she always attends the ceremony. She’s often giving out pens for message writing.
Poetic Endings is the change that the funeral industry needs. It is the thoughtful, creative face of funerals, and the plethora of faux-Victoriana-loving undertakers should sit up and take notice. This is a funeral business for the 21st century, one that is open and questioning and ground breaking in its approach.
We admired Louise when she was a celebrant, that’s why we invited her to come and help us at the Good Funeral Guide as our editor. Now that she is a funeral director, we are proud to be able to add Poetic Endings to the list of GFG recommended funeral directors. Our loss is the public’s gain.