Tuesday, 11 January 2011

CB's dream: funerals and mortality

Cafe mortel? (see http://www.goodfuneralguide.co.uk/2011/01/death-in-the-community-2/) Entirely brilliant idea. Branch near here, please Charles. I used to mention what I did with some hesitation, expecting a bit of a slump in the general conversation. In fact, much of the time, people want to know more about funerals and the work in general, and that will often lead into discussions about death. I think more and more people are finding a big sense of release when somehow there is a way for them to talk about their own mortality and how they feel about it.

I guess any celebrant will own up to a sense of heightened reality, "in tune with the truth," after a family meeting (if it's gone well) and especially, after a successful (define that for yourselves?) funeral. That's our great privilege and reward.

Chap who serviced the car today asked me about my work, and within five minutes I found out that he had an interesting view on the difference between spirituality and religion, with regard to how people view death. I hardly know him, but maybe I slip on a mask, in effect, which says "he can talk about death because he does funerals." Or rather, "he can listen to me ease my mind a bit."

Which brings me to my real point here. Over on Comfort Blanket,
(see http://thecomfortblanket.blogspot.com/2011/01/i-have-dream.html)
there's an entirely admirable post about disseminating and accelerating the change in our culture's attitudes to funerals. This is a big subject that has been knocked around the Good Funeral Guide and its commentators a fair bit. I'll risk a few bossy points, and really I'm talking to myself (no change there, they cried) not laying down the law to one as widely trained and experienced as CB:
  1. remember to talk to people about what you do, not just the bereaved and the FDs, and tell them a few salient points, such as: there's no need to rush into a funeral; you have complete freedom of choice, from no funeral at all, through horses and plumes and carriages, to a blinding three-day party; talk to more than one FD; consider the family leading it, or at least select a celebrant/minister who will help the family do what they want - etc etc, you know the stuff. Tell 'em about the GFG and other good books.
  2. link up, on the net as we do around the GFG, and in person; strengthen and develop your own ideas.
  3. talk creatively to FDs; I need to tell more of "mine" that actually I'm OK with the odd hymn, "hippy" (I quote) rituals, bespoke events, we don't have to do the usual "religion sans," as Charles calls it.
  4. tell everyone whenever the opportunity arises (obviously, not at your nephew's christening...well, not round the font, at least) that funeral ceremonies don't have to be at a crem or a cemetery; wherever the body is to be left can but doesn't have to be the same place as the gathering where people speak of their grief, their love and their joy in having shared a life.
  5. encourage people to open up to you about their fears and feelings (if you've the time and energy - ours can be draining work, and we need to take care of ourselves, we're not much use to the local bereaved if we're exhausted, flu-ridden wrecks.)
  6. maybe form a local network of FDs, celebrants, whoever: people who are looking to create more meaningful ceremonies and rituals.
So all this is about moving forward in and around your working life. That is, I guess, ultimately an evolutionary position. I don't know of any other, really, because what happens at a funeral seems to me to be the tip of an iceberg: which is, our attitude towards human mortality. That is, I think, changing, but I don't see how we can change it deliberately and quickly, we just have to be part of the change, enabling it where we can. The bees in my bonce are beginning to buzz, so I'll totter off now, with this thought - so much of what we see as wrong with our society seems to me to stem from our refusal to live with any genuine understanding of our own mortality. That includes funerals, of course.


  1. Thanks for the link GM, and I totally agree with all your points. I do my best to (delicately) inform people I meet about the new-thinking around funerals and how many choices they have. In fact, I've just been asked to give a talk to a local WI group. I'll let you know how that goes!
    And you are so right, it's our attitudes towards human mortality that set the pace of change. I get so engrossed in the subject that I forget that is not the norm! There are times, say when I'm queuing up in the supermarket, that I want to climb on to the conveyor belt and shout "we're all going to die!!" Not helpful, and messy when I end up face day in fresh produce, but the thought makes me laugh. One day...

  2. Yes, do let us know how the WI goes. And please, please let us know when you decide to climb aboard the supermarket conveyor belt, we all have to be there. I recommend Waitrose, expensive sometimes but the staff are better trained. Up to a point. Transported (geddit?) and eloquent celebrants may not yet be on their customer care course...

    Seriously, we sleepwalk a lot of the time, don't we?

  3. Well, there's something poetically just about proclaiming death from a conveyor belt given the way crems operate!

    GM, this is one of your even more inspired posts. Bit of a blueprint, really. Yes, it begins with death education, doesn't it? Why don't we teach children how to live with death? That's the place to start. And how society would embrace that.

    What's that Chinese saying about dripping water wearing away the stone? That's probably how it's going to happen. Let's keep dripping!!

    Nice of you to give my book a puff. But it's written in a certain style and only reaches a segment of the audience. There's room for more consumer guides, just as there are more ways of guiding consumers than we may imagine. The casual chat with a garage man, for example.

    This has put a much needed mid-morning spring in my step. Thank you!

  4. That should, of course, read: "face down in fresh produce".
    Must... slow... down... when commenting on posts. But it's all just too damned exciting!

  5. Taken as read,CB, and thanks for the marvellous image!