Eight Things You Should Know About Funerals
The funeral industry is unlike any other trade. It's the only business where consumers will blindly sign a cheque for something they aren't really sure they want. It's an industry where myths and assumptions are commonplace and left unchecked; where consumers don't really complain, ask questions or write reviews. It's the only industry still powered mostly by the fax machine. It's an industry hidden behind net curtains on Britain's high street and in outdated crematoriums in out-of-town locations, far from everyday life.
Poetic Endings exists because Louise realised that most of the funerals happening today are not serving their purpose. Here's what she's learnt about funerals so far.
Louise Winter originally wrote this article for Netdoctor in 2016.
1. There are no rules
There's no such thing as a 'standard' funeral. Contrary to popular belief, your funeral doesn't need to be in a church, or have three pieces of music, a poem and a hymn. A funeral can be held anywhere you like, however you like and can be hosted by whomever you like.
Don't feel restricted to the often strange and restricted environment of the outdated crematorium. Life doesn't fit into a 30-minute time slot, and neither does death.
2. You're not supposed to be 'good' at funerals
"I'm sorry," our clients often say. "I'm not very good at funerals."
"You're not supposed to be," we tell them. "It's a funeral."
We try to create funerals which give people the space to do whatever it is they need to do. Grief is complicated and comes in many forms: numbness, hysteria, silence, sobbing – it can all be welcome at a funeral.
3. A funeral doesn't need to cost the earth
There's much hysteria in the press about the rising costs of funerals, and this has only been encouraged by insurance companies on a mission to sell pre-paid funeral plans. But a funeral can cost a little, or a lot, depending on what you want.
If you're prepared to get creative, resourceful and embrace the reality of a dead body, you can do a DIY funeral for very little cost. You can cut the overall cost by encouraging your family and friends to be bearers, using fresh flowers from the garden, and or simply cancelling the limos and driving yourself to the crematorium.
If you want horses, plumes, shiny cars and endless floral tributes, you're going to pay the price. Traditional funeral directors will be very happy to oblige. Do your research and find a flexible funeral director who will provide the service you'd like. That might mean just providing the basics, so you can take care of the rest. Or it might mean something more.
There's no law stating that you must use a funeral director if you don't want to do so. You can take care of the funeral arrangements yourself, or work with a flexible funeral director who will be able to help you take care of your loved one at home. The Natural Death Centre is an essential resource for anyone who is curious about the realities of dealing with the dead.
4. You don't need to use a funeral director
5. Talk about death before it happens
Talking about it won't kill you (or your loved ones). Embracing it might change your life. Have the difficult conversation. See where it takes you.
If you've spoken to your loved ones about what you'd like for your funeral in advance, it takes away a lot of unnecessary stress and pressure when it actually happens. It also means they're less likely to get ripped off.
Take the time to think about your funeral. Who is it for? Who will your death affect? What will they need from you following your death? There's a surprising side effect to planning your own service. By working out who you are in life by looking at your death, you may be inspired to make changes before it's too late; before it really is your funeral.
Your friendly local high street funeral director might not be quite so friendly and so local. Even if it has a heritage family name, it might be a corporate chain in disguise.
Don't be fooled into thinking that using a big chain means lower prices. Independents usually offer a more flexible and personalised service at a much better price. I'm convinced that the entire funeral industry would fall apart overnight if people discovered what's really behind those net curtains.
6. Be wary of your local funeral director
It depends on how you lived, how you died, and what you're leaving behind.
'Celebrations of life' have become very popular. "We don't want to talk about death, dying or illness," I've heard families say. "We want dad acknowledged with sunshine and smiles and laughter."
There are no rules so do whatever you want to do. But consider what purpose the funeral is serving. It should be a space for the entire spectrum of human emotion that comes with grief. Sometimes a celebration of life is appropriate, other times a serious and solemn funeral that serves as an acknowledgement that something horrific and traumatic has happened is what's required.
The best funerals I've seen have been brave and bold in being exactly what is required of the situation, however painful that is. They've allowed the family to do exactly what they've needed to do. A celebration of life often glosses over what is really needed.
7. Funerals don't have to celebrate anything, least of all life
"You have to concentrate on the good times," I heard a lady telling a recent widow, whose husband had gone out for the evening, and never returned home. "Celebrate the life that he lived."
"There's nothing to celebrate," she cried. "We wasted 40 years arguing. I can't concentrate on the good times because there weren't any. Now I'll never get another chance to have any good times. We wasted our lives."
Every day I come across people who thought they had tomorrow, and only had today.
Today is all we have. Don't wait until it's too late.