Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Three in one week

You probably won't want to bother with this post unless you are actually interested in the funeral business itself - ethics, work-load, family/undertaker/celebrant interface etc,

Next week I've got three funerals, two on one day.
Wasn't I the one pontificating about not doing too many funerals, not long ago?
Indeed I was.

In a fairly sparsely-populated part of the UK, secular celebrants, let alone BHA celebrants, are pretty thinly spread. My usual first point of referral can't help, for various reasons to do with other areas of her life. Another celebrant I'm not too happy about referring to, because - well, never mind because why, let's just say it's not personal animosity, it's down to approach, dogmatism, that sort of thing, and that's not just my view.

Much as I value many of my BHA colleagues, I may make, for future reference, private investigations and see if there are other celebrants, maybe of the "mix and match" sort rather scorned by some BHA-ers, who would do what I might call a good job. Arrogant? Or just using the sort of discrimination and judgement I want undertakers to make about us celebrants?

Anyway, here's how this overload happened: one family member phoned me direct i.e. not through an undertaker, and when she contacted an undertaker and he suggested a nearer colleague, the lady said she'd talked it through with me and wanted me to do it. That looks a bit self-satisfied, but the fact is that once someone in this situation has talked to you on the phone, they tend to want the same point of contact, if it's been at all helpful. (If it wasn't helpful, then I'm clearly in the wrong job.) People, it seems to me, want a bit of stability amongst the emotional turmoil of recent bereavement. It could just as easily have been my colleague she phoned. I could have said "Can't do it, talk to....." I wouldn't have been happy with that. So that was the first one in the diary.

The second one is a sad story of someone who died too young. The undertaker has not worked with a non-religious celebrant before. This isn't really a good context in which to prevaricate, promise to get back to them soon with an alternative, etc. Yes or no. I said yes.

The third is much more selfish. The undertaker is making contact again after a long interval, and he is the one who apparently decided not to use me because I worked for The Competition as well. I don't know who he's been using for non-religious ceremonies, let's hope it was someone who was better than me. Anyway, I want to build that bridge again. And in any case my colleague can't do it.

It's impossible for me to be objective about motivation here. Maybe there's vanity in amongst it all, maybe there's neediness. But if we celebrants think we are doing anything of a good job, if we think the work is reasonably important and worthwhile, then we want to do the job. There are, as Rupert Callender wrote recently of his much bigger and more demanding role, easier ways of earning money, so you can forget about that as a motivation for over-loading my week.

It seems to me we should think carefully before saying "no, can't do it," if the reasons are "because it'll dominate my thinking for the next ten days, it's very tiring, the computer gives me a headache" and other whines. Similarly, we should also think hard before saying yes. I tried to do so. But it's difficult to say "no" if you're uneasy about the alternatives, and it is obviously a bad idea just to say "no" and do nothing to help fill the gap.

All this is a long-winded way of having a little worry, and explaining why I probably won't be bending your ear (can you bend someone's eye? Probably not) for the next few days.


  1. Hello GM. I have been reading your blog, and the exchange of comments, for some time now. I haven't always agreed with the views expressed about strict limits on numbers of funerals to be performed per week because I think life (and death) is too complex to impose rigid rules and I prefer a bendy framework. However, I admire your integrity and humility and especially your courageous honesty in admitting that you are about to conduct three funerals in one week.
    You are being much too hard on yourself though - becoming formulaic in order to cram in as may funerals as possible to maximise income has no bearing on responding to need. Even when it comes in bundles of three.
    I wish you the strength to meet that need and the wisdom to allow restorative time for yourself afterwards.
    Kind regards.

    ps I hope you will investigate the "mix and matchers". If there are any independents in your area trained by greenfuse I think you could be impressed.

  2. Thanks for these very encouraging words, Aon - I'd certainly watch out for greenfuse trained people, how could I fail to be drawn to an organisation entitled with a quote from Dylan Thomas?

  3. GM, I think we've all been there; we say yes because we hate to say no when we are needed. I've done back-to-backs and that can feel weird (I am doing the right one, aren't I??!). So I am at one with Anon on this. I'm sure you'll do a really good job.

    I'm with Anon about the other sec celebs, too. Good and indifferent in all schools, but greenfuse definitely a cut above.

    You'll need a little space and hill walking when they're done. Good luck! Our thought are with you.

  4. Thanks Charles, really, very much appreciated. I'll grease the old boots ready for the hills.
    Now then - which CD was it for the 13:00??

  5. You are writing a book aren't you. . .

    Perhaps there should be government targets for the number of funerals you do?


  6. H'm, well, then we'd need a government target for deaths per months, and within that a target for non-religious funeral requests, and a target for non-religious celebsters ready to take them, and a...

    Don't even mention it to them.

    Anyway, that nice Mr Cameron says he's doing away with targets (along with one or two other, more useful things...)

  7. Just a brief pennyworth before Sunday breakfast... having even one funeral on puts the mind into 'on call' mode for me, and it's never far from my conscious thoughts. Besides, I'm sure you'll agree you do a lot of the work while you're resting from it, just allowing images and thoughts to float by, which return on your next stint at the laptop.

    Working on more than one funeral at once highlights the depth of our involvement with a family and the trust we accept from them to give them our undiluted attention. The first time I did it it scared me, but you learn skills in keeping them separate without diminishing the quality of your creative input etc.

  8. Thanks for these encouraging commments, Anon,I think, broadly, I agree - it can be done, and indeed, was, without any disasters(see next post, if you wish, though it's a bit procedural, lessons learned, unasked for advice to others in the same boat etc)And as for the productive floating thoughts in between funerals, and the separation skills - absolutely.