Tag Archive: funeral


Disrupting Funerals

AMDG

A glut of funerals here at St.Ignatius, North London, has made me curious about the whole funeral business.  Every minute there are over 100 deaths on the planet,  in an ageing population such as the UK, the Death Rate is climbing, in 2016 there were over 560,000.  Losing a loved one involves a lot of grief and people are very vulnerable at these moments,  when families are sadly open to exploitation.  As a business, it seems ripe for disruption and reform.  I have been surprised about the costs and the variation in prices on what is a similar service.  On the face of it, funerals are a predictable, low risk, high margin business with a steady supply of uninformed loyal customers.  The more unscrupulous directors seem, the more likely to sell things what the customers do not know they can refuse,  or feel too embarrassed to question.  It’s not a business where it feels right to haggle,  though that might be changing.  If I meet the family at an early stage in planning the funeral,  I now suggest that they go on a website called “Beyond Life “.   This is a funeral director price comparison site.  You would be surprised at the variations within a short space.  If you go to Amazon to see what the price of a coffin is,  then you will realise the outrageous markup that the funeral directors have placed on it. In Britain, Dignity plc.  is the biggest provider of funeral plans and operates over 44 crematoria around the country, but like all dominant market players it might not be the most efficient.  It has merged many funeral providers around the country and at a cursory glance, the directors affiliated to Dignity seem to charge the most.  It is important to realise that there is no legal obligation to use a funeral director.  In fact, more and more people are getting into unnecessary debt paying for a funeral – The Natural Death charity are campaigning against this exploitation and have a website link worth visiting.

We know there are profound changes in society,  as families are more mobile and dispersed they are also less likely to tend a family grave.  So the traditional ‘Victorian’ funeral in this country may be dying out.  A funeral director recently told me that they are beginning to feel more like event planners. Thank God, in the Catholic Church there is less leeway and the liturgy in some ways protects the grieving family from funeral planners who may want to fire the ashes out of a canon (and then charge you 5k for the privilege).  For a Catholic there are three reasons for a funeral, firstly the family gets strength from their faith in the resurrection, the community and the sacraments.  Secondly an honest celebration of the deceased life and finally the disposal of the body either through burial or cremation.  Other funerals will often include the second and third element.  According to a recent article in the Economist, there seems to be a growing trend of separating the disposal of the Body with a commemoration of someone’s life.  I have noticed that receptions afterwards (like in weddings) are becoming more elaborate and more lavish. In a less religious society, we are seeing an increase in direct cremations, with no-one present, or what Dignity euphemistically call ‘Simplicity Cremations’, wheras the life may be celebrated in a lavish hotel around the corner.

As the internet has cut out the middleman, with companies such as Uber, Amazon, Skyscanner getting rid of taxi companies, bookshops and travel agents – it is also starting to affect the funeral process.  This has lead to a new generation of ‘disruptive consumers’.   However bringing an assertive attitude to the church’s door is difficult for older priests to manage, when ultimately the church is on their side and are trying to respond pastorally. For a £5000 package the church would often only receive around £150 from the undertakers.   This asserting themselves can create a bit of tension in the planning process when we are burying a stalwart of the parish who wishes a simple Catholic requiem mass. However, as the funeral arrangements are not stated in their will then you suddenly are at the whim of a son or daughter who feels they have the right to dictate the service. If they are alienated from the church they are often ignorant about what is appropriate and also what will confuse the loyal parishioners.

Miss me, but let me go!

AMDG

At a funeral yesterday, one of the family read out this poem at the crematorium – which I thought was very helpful.


When I come to the end of the road
and the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
– why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little, but not too long,
and not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that we once shared
– miss me, but let me go.

For this is a journey we all must take,
and each must go alone.
It’s all a part of the Master’s plan,
a step on the road to home.

When you are lonely and sick of heart
go to the friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds
Miss me – but let me go.


Why was is to so helpful?     

We know that grieving is a process…. according to Kubhler-Ross

And many things have to die in our lives (not just people)

Maybe it helps us keep moving on that journey

Funeral Speed

AMDG

A while back I had the unusual experience of a 45-minute journey, in a hearse, to a graveyard after a requiem mass,  longer than usual.  Often it is a much shorter journey to the place of committal from the church.  In this instance, the person had insisted that their funeral take place in a church that was precious for them, that they frequented even though it was about 12 miles from where they lived.  They also wanted to be laid to rest in the local graveyard where it was easy for family and friends to visit and tend the grave.  So his final journey was longer than normal.

The journey in the hearse was quite a revelation. Whilst on duty, a funeral cortege usually moves slightly slower than normal traffic, as a sign of respect.  I was told that this is known in the trade as ‘funeral speed’.  Sitting in the front of the hearse, I was shocked by how impatient some of the other drivers were.  Some people were irritated, occasionally overtaking in an aggressive manner,  we were even ‘honked’ a couple of times.  I was shocked although the chauffeur seemed calm.  On the way back, without the coffin and family in the back, driving at normal speed – he admitted that this insensitivity by other drivers was becoming more common, ‘funeral etiquette’ was certainly on the decline. We both agreed that ideally, you would want the procession to take place in a stately way, you can’t legislate for other drivers. I was impressed with how calm he was but sad about how the family must have felt with the ignorance on display.

A school I used to teach at, was close to a big crematorium. This meant that the students were often waiting at bus stops to come home when a funeral procession would pass by.  It was a great credit to them that they would always stop larking around, bless themselves and bow their heads when a hearse passed.  The headteacher told me that he would occasionally receive letters from families who were very moved by these schoolboys showing such respect.   These things leave lasting impressions and speak more than anything about the ethos of a school, and the culture in which someone is brought up in.  You notice when people stop out of respect when a hearse passes…. I still bless myself when an ambulance roars past.  When you are in raw grief, you are hyper-sensitive to whats happening around you, I still remember as a teenager…  the night my nan died, I needed to take a walk and felt angry that normal life was going on, people were enjoying themselves in bars, out shopping etc…..  How dare they!  As W.H.Auden memorably said…

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.