The reason is that they don’t write down or talk about their wishes. The difference between what people actually wanted and what they end up having can be poles apart. It happens because ‘buying’ a funeral is a stress purchase and with no guidance from the person who has died, their families with their emotional energy already sapped, buy the default set piece.
This is what we've found.
During the summer we attend a number of agricultural shows. As well as spreading awareness of our natural burial grounds, it gives us the opportunity to meet and speak to local people. This way we can find out how they feel about what we do and they can ask us questions. Compared to the horticultural tent and cheese vendors (which are both fantastic!) our stand offers a completely new topic of conversation. And as you can imagine, it gets people talking.
The options on the board ranged from transport, coffin types and memorials, to dress code and drinks, with cider unsurprisingly beating tea by 55 to 28. Maybe a pint brings out the better stories at wakes? Concerning the more environmental topics, we found a considerable difference in choice between the options available. A wicker or hardwood coffin? 71 said wicker, 11 would prefer a hardwood one. A headstone or wildflowers? 6 wanted a headstone … the other 80 would rather have wildflowers on their grave. Eco-friendly or cremation? 56 to 29. The margins are huge.
If you follow the choices made to their logical conclusion you would be right in thinking that the average UK funeral would be a colourful, eco-friendly one. But it’s not. We’re taken off in an oak-veneered chipboard coffin in a shiny black hearse plus one limo to the gas guzzling, featureless crematorium by funeral directors dressed like Victorians.
When a funeral is given some prior thought, the experience can become a more memorable one, one to cherish rather than endure; "many of those who attended my wife's funeral were surprised that a natural burial was possible - and commented very favourably on the whole experience (particularly in contrast to recent cremations in the family.) … Finding an alternative to traditional graveyards and crematoria was important to her. Being able to plan her service and a resting place which reflected her personality was a source of great relief. The day itself, when it came, was peaceful and dignified and a truly moving experience for her family and friends" – a testimonial from a funeral at Cardiff Natural Burial Meadow.
Other results indicated that people would rather be carried by their mates than undertaker's bearers, for a Robbie Williams track to play them out instead of Frank Sinatra, and that the pub is the most popular place to go afterwards. Ultimately, the results demonstrated that somehow we’re not given the day we’d really like. We’re denying ourselves our final wishes.
So what’s going wrong? People are forgetting to write it down and/or talk about it. Do it today!
The results speak for themselves
Outside the funeral home lies the ‘Garden of Fond Memories’, where statues of the Resting Ones are erected in their memory. It is the job of staff Mister Jobel and his student Tasambeker to upsell. This they do via the ‘perpetual arrangement’. Sound familiar?
While your body is ‘suspended’ you can opt to have music and information played to you by ‘The DJ’ to keep you abreast of music trends and news. You don’t want to be out of date when you come back do you? For a bit extra the DJ can read messages from your loved ones to you to keep you updated with family events. And then there’s the memorial statue.
At the end of the episode The Doctor says “This place is called Tranquil Repose. I think we should leave the dead in peace don’t you? I know somewhere that is truly tranquil, peaceful, restful. A panacea for the cares of the mind.”
“Planets come and go. Stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, forms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal.” – The Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker.
So it’s a natural burial for Doctor Who then, when he stops regenerating.
It was watching Roisin Conaty on Room 101 recently that brought my attention to the regularity of some sayings we use at important times in our lives.
What Roisin wanted axed were greetings cards with writing already inside them – you know the ones, we’ve all had them. Inside are printed words to convey sentiments for special occasions, written in such a lovely, loopy italic pink font (also with too many adjectives). Ah, those cards!
Listening intently, I couldn’t help but think these notions are verbal too. We find ourselves repeating clichés at such times, whether that’s ‘get well soon’ or ‘best wishes on your birthday’. Or, concerning our line of work, ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ or ‘he’s gone to a better place’.
Really? Do we really know that they have? No we don’t.
The question I’m trying to raise is: does the over use of a phrase dilute its sincerity? And how do we avoid hackneyed remarks? In the case of a greetings card I think it’s fairly simple – write it yourself. For a funeral however, it will take more thought.
In theory, it would be lovely for everyone to have their moment with the family to pass on their condolences, but sometimes there are time constraints or the timing doesn't feel right. Everyone has their own way of showing sincerity, and we'd love to hear what poignant moments you've had and what you think about the matter.
Please leave your comments below.
This was created last week and enjoyed by many on our facebook page. Keep coming back for more in the same thought provoking vein and look below for ones we've posted already.
We loved Emma Freud's 'How to do a funeral' in the Guardian this week which gives some helpful suggestions when planning a funeral. At the time of a funeral there is of course a huge amount to think about, so she breaks it down into a most-important-bits format, very-helpful-indeed.
Duly inspired, we've put together our own list on how to tackle the big day natural burial stylee to make the occasion one to remember, not a day to be endured.
Leedam Natural Heritage's
The funeral director
Or not. It is not imperative to have one, although if you need someone to do the bits in the background then of course they're there to help. Like Emma says, it's ok to 'shop around' until you find one that feels right. And remember, it's always ok to say no!
Order of service
We're all for making it memorable and the order of service is a perfect opportunity to personalise the day - so perhaps use a picture from their motorbiking days for the departed eccentric or a black and white portrait for the traditionalist. The day should be a balance of what the person who has died would have wanted, and how you'd like to remember them.
You'll be offered the fleet by your funeral director which may be exactly right for you. If it isn't, then you could drive yourself or have a friend take you, or even a regular taxi. But why not car share? It's a great way to be 'green' on the day and can help make the guests feel like they're really part of it. Separating off into different cars can make others feel distant on a day everyone should be together. Others have hired a coach too, getting all the family and friends on one vehicle, chatting, reminiscing and keeping the mood upbeat between the service, burial and wake. A bike and sidecar is an option as well - see the post below to see more.
Emma's article puts it perfectly, "if your loved one's favourite track actually was Elgar's Nimrod, then stick with it. But if they would have hated the muted organ tones as much as the rest of us, then do something different." A live rock band, solo saxophonist, Mum's favourite song barely audible from a tiny ipod dock - we've seen a variety of choices at our natural burial grounds, but importantly they've all been personal and effective. 'Oh but what would the cousins think?' Do not be polite! This is your day so play what is right for you.
You will undoubtedly be overcome with offers to help out, 'if there's anything I can do ...' etc etc. So with all the good intentions on standby, make the most of it and delegate. It will take things off your mind when there's too much going on, and help make those offering feel like they're being useful. Our recommendations would be to have Mrs Jones (who makes the most amazing apple pies) make you an apple pie, Mr Butcher bring you some bacon for the wake's sandwiches, or your breakfast, and get everyone to pitch in for the all important after party. Speaking of which ...
Again, Emma sums it up succinctly, "alcohol was virtually invented for funerals." You've had the service, the burial, the eulogy, now make the most of having all those nearest and dearest all in one place. This can really help it end on a happier note, after all, it is a time to celebrate the life of the person who has died. To get started early, some have given their guests a little 'strong one' as they arrive at the burial ground. Just an idea.
If you've got any good suggestion, we'd love to hear them - get in touch via the 'add comment' link below, and for more ideas and information, have a look at our Funeral Advice pages. You may also like Your Stories - a collection of families' experiences with us.
We work with quite a few really helpful funeral directors and listings of these can be found on each burial ground’s website on the 'useful contacts' page.
All of our custodians and the team in Monmouth know the local funeral directors well and can recommend one that they think will click with you.
We also have a 'choosing a funeral director' page to help you choose who is right for you.
Heaven on Earth in Bristol are a good example of a funeral director that has the confidence and knowledge to stand back and provide support from the sidelines, letting the family do their own thing.
We also know that when we refer people to Green Willow in Cardiff, John Ross in Grantown-on-Spey, Tovey Brothers in Newport, and A B Walker in Reading, to name but a few, families will not be disappointed.
Please comment and tell us your experiences, both good and bad.
Tomalins of Henley on Thames are a great example of a flexible modern funeral director. Above in traditional but natural mode walking from the church to the woodland burial ground. Below, the same team at the funeral of a man who loathed formality and didn't want a hearse. The family were delighted with the result.
Please call us if you would like to ask a question about family led funerals. We are very experienced in helping those who decide that they don't need the assistance of a funeral director.
There is some helpful information here too. Good Funeral Guide - Do it all yourself.
Stories and thoughts from Elaine and James.
Family Led Funerals