Christine Parker’s response to ‘Avoid the funeral sting: how to die for less than £1,000.’
Adam Forrest’s piece in the Guardian Online, 28 June, quoted the following:
‘”The way funerals have been done in this country is crap,” says Charles Cowling, who runs the Good Funeral Guide blog.’
Well, Mr Cowling, I am hugely insulted by your comment. I have been a funeral director for more than thirty years and I don’t believe I have ever organised a funeral which could be described as ‘crap.’
He goes on to say that there are a growing number of funeral companies offering an online budget funeral for under £1,000. So I asked myself: could we, as an established professional business, provide a funeral for that price?
The answer is yes, we could.
However, there are caveats to consider. Firstly, if you look up the word ‘funeral’ in any dictionary, the definition will refer to ceremony or ceremonies, and procession of mourners. So my question is this: “Are these online ‘funerals’ actually funerals, or are they simply a disposal service?”
I have looked at the websites of companies mentioned in the article, which appear to fall into two categories. There’s the high street funeral director, offering these as an additional service to their normal – or ‘crap’, as Mr Cowling would have it – arrangements.
In these cases, they have all of the premises, cars and infrastructure that are used for their ‘normal’ clients and the budget funeral is a loss leader. They will make a small profit or break even, and they can afford to do it for the advertising it brings.
The other type of firm appear to be solely online companies. They don’t seem to have any premises. They don’t need them as they leave the deceased in a hospital until they are ready to collect them and take them directly to the crematorium.
I presume they encoffin the remains at the hospital. Of course, that means they don’t have to supply the expensive mortuary that we have. Mine has fridges and a chill room which cost me in excess of £60,000 and has to be regularly maintained and inspected.
How much better to leave the remains in the hospital and get the already stretched NHS to foot the bill. I note that one web site includes information on what happens if the person dies at home or in a residential home. Then they call in the assistance of one of us highly contemptible professionals to bail them out and hire our facilities.
There are many reasons why traditional funerals cost as much as they do, and very little is down to the funeral director. At least that is true of independent firms like mine.
My costs have risen by from £1,100 for a basic simple funeral since 2004 to £1,735: £60 a year. Over that ten years, my local crematorium fees have risen by £347, Clergy fees by £68 and doctors’ cremation certificate fees by £59.
My overheads, rates, light, heat, vehicle costs, telephone, and postage have all risen by huge amounts over the past decade.
By the way, I refuse to pay minimum wage: I pay my staff a living wage and some. These people are on call twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year. They deserve a decent wage.
I send my staff on training courses and to seminars to improve their knowledge and performance. I belong to a trade body that regularly inspects both my premises and my professional practice. Being this good is not cheap.
So, yes: I could do a funeral for under £1,000. I could pay the crematorium, clergy and doctors’ fees – the total of £991 that they now charge in my area.
With the remaining £9 I will buy a coffin, fully fitted with handles, lining and wreath holders: I will provide a vehicle, preferably with very cheap fuel in the tank, drive to the crematorium and manhandle it myself into a cremator.
There won’t be anyone there to see how undignified this is so it really doesn’t matter and in any case I’m now working for free.
If a family comes to me and ask us to take a loved one directly to the crematorium with no service and no mourners we will do it at a reduced cost; but it won’t be under £1,000.
What it also won’t be is undignified.
The coffin will be transported in a hearse accompanied by our staff who will correctly carry the coffin into the crematorium via the chapel catafalque. It will not be transported in the back of a transit van and delivered ‘round the back’ by a bloke in a hurry.
Why? Because I don’t do crap funerals, Mr Cowling.
Disclaimer: This response is my own and does not represent the views of any organisation in which I hold office.