At the end of a recent dinner party at home, a good friend hugs me and tells me I am brave. I laugh, that very british laugh “get away with you” but inside I am quite surprised to find that yes, I do feel brave.
At 4am the following morning, I am almost in tears thinking about “being brave”. Did she mean downright foolish ? Cos that’s how i really feel ! After 7 years working as a Funeral Celebrant I am embarking on a new venture, as I set up as an Undertaker.
However, the fact is having taken over 1000 ceremonies over the last 7 years, I do feel qualified to talk death, funerals and bereavement, and in truth there is a gap out there and it’s becoming quite the void.
Funeral poverty is a big deal. Most of us will organise around 3 funerals in our lifetime. The average cost of a funeral today is somewhere in the region on £4k, and more in some parts of the country. In times of austerity, how many of us can say we have that sort of cash hanging around in the event of a sudden or unexpected death in the family? What if, as in my family, two come at once?
As a Celebrant, I work with grieving families – often in deep shock and under pressure to fill out paperwork, cancel lifetime subscriptions, organise pension payments, direct debits – the list is endless – oh, and there is the funeral.
Who do we turn to for help? In most cases it is the local Funeral Director. They will discuss your options, but you will most likely get their plan of choice, based on what you can or cannot afford. We spend more time researching a holiday than we do an appropriate funeral, and as a result the ceremony is often little more than 20 minutes in the Crematorium, and a £4K bill.
I know it doesn’t have to be like that but, working solely as a celebrant, I have come to understand that I can’t change things or move things forward. Often basic choices like cremation or burial have already been made by the time I am involved. We have a conveyor belt funeral system in place. After 7 years in the job, I have decided to branch out.
Divine Ceremony will be a new venture. Based from my home, I will help families create an appropriate ceremony at a cost they can afford – It says a lot that transparency is my USP.I want people to be able to come to me knowing what it will cost. I do not promote embalming, and I am passionate about a greener funeral process. If this sounds modern then we only need to look a little way back in time to realise that the current traditional funeral practices are “Modern” – a Traditional Funeral is what I am talking about.
Our current Funeral practices have as much to do with one womans inability to deal with grief, as they do with economics. After her beloved Albert’s death, Queen Victoria sank into a deep grief. All the resulting masculine pomp and ceremony within the Funeral Industry as it has become, stemmed from this time. Victoria considered the funeral business an unseemly job for women to undertake. Later, the medical world began to see death as a failure of medicine, rather than a fact of life.
Before this time, it was the midwives who brought the babies into the world, it was the midwives who also laid out the dead. Death was an intrinsic part of our lives. People stayed home after death, families attended to their dead and began the important process of grief and mourning together – close to their loved ones. Home Funerals were normal.
I want to give families back this choice. Working alongside some remarkable people who are trained as Death Doulas, or Spiritual Midwives, I want to be part of a movement to bring the funeral home. I follow in the footsteps of pioneers such as Paula Rainey Crofts from Heaven on Earth, Ru and Clare Callender from the Green Funeral Company, ARKA Funerals, and more recently Claire Turnham from Only with Love.
Over the last 7 years I have met some remarkable people working within the industry. Funeral Arrangers who care deeply for their clients, and Funeral Directors with a passion for providing sympathetic services and helping families achieve appropriate ceremonies.
There is space for us all, but there should be no space for the commercial services that view each death as a mark up. Those companies that charge extortionate rates to grieving families, who pay over the odds for a ceremony, that could be far more meaningful at half the price. That part of the industry is powerful, established and won’t thank me at all for saying any of this is a sad truth. To give you an example of their power, I telephoned a wholesale coffin company recently to ask for a brochure. I explained that I wish to pass on the cost of a coffin to the consumer – with no mark up other than a small handling charge. They thought I was mad – in fact they were more strong in their view, which was that I should not and indeed cannot do this – or else risk the ire of the Funeral Industry, and those more powerful companies. Instead it was firmly suggested they would not wish to sell me those coffins at cost to pass on to the consumer – I must look elsewhere or go to one of the internet based companies that add a mark up that the Industry can bear. I shall go elsewhere.
Do I still feel brave …ask me again, in a few months, after the launch event on the 16th June, when I am not viewed as a benign celebrant anymore.