Thinking Outside the (Wooden) Box

June 3rd, 2013

Thinking Outside the (Wooden) Box

Those of us who have been conducting them for a few years will have a pretty clear picture of what a funeral involves: an all-in-one celebration of a life that starts with the delivery of a body, invariably by a black-clad funeral director, usually to a crematorium chapel, and ends with some hopefully uplifting music and handshakes on the flower terrace.

But that picture is beginning to look out of date. For one thing, the natural burial movement is growing. Part of the effect of that is to separate the committal from the celebration. The idea of having a fairly small-scale funeral based around the committal followed some months later by a memorial event used to be the preserve of public figures. But not for much longer, if Poppy Mardallhas anything to do with it.

Poppy left a well-paid job as an associate director of Sotheby’s last year to start Poppy’s Funerals, a service offering “simple cremation” and leaving it to the family to decide what kind of ceremony they wish to hold, free of the tyranny of a 40-minute crematorium slot.

What Poppy means by simple cremation is just that: she collects the body, stores it in the mortuary of an independent London FD and takes it by van to the crem for an early-morning committal-only slot, delivering the ashes to the family a few days later. She is at pains to stress that the whole process is undertaken with the care and respect it deserves. In fact, as she looks to recruit people to enable her to expand the service she offers, the prime personal quality she requires is kindness. We know about kindness, don’t we?

What does this mean for us as celebrants? At the moment, relatively little: Poppy’s Funerals only operates in Greater London, although she has had enquiries from families as far away asGlasgow. So far, most of the families she has worked for have elected to do their own thing, but that does not mean that as her business expands and is perhaps replicated in other parts of the country there will be no opportunities for us. In fact, Poppy anticipates a greater role for celebrants, as a more diverse clientele develops: organising and running a memorial event is not everybody’s forte, and the more people opt for this route the more will need help organising the ceremony.

What seems clear is that the traditional model of funeral is no longer the only game in town. But, just as the development of humanist and other non-religious ceremonies has obliged the churches to look again at their offering, we can expect the funeral trade – at least its more progressive members – to look again at theirs. If that means more flexibility to offer a more personalised service, we stand ready.

After all, the death rate is unlikely to decline, and whatever Dad’s last wishes might have been, few people are ready to put him out with the rubbish when the time comes.