people have a pretty good idea of what funeral directors are about: we’re pin-striped,
high street social workers for the newly bereaved; guiding people through the
blistering initial stages of their loss; listening, advising and helping them
to arrange a meaningful funeral. And of course everyone knows our work with the
bereaved is inextricably linked with our altogether more mysterious status as temporary
custodians of the dead.
assume we spend our days wafting around dressed like characters from Dickens, but
the hectic reality is that funeral directing represents the Accident &
Emergency Department of death & bereavement. The funeral is only the
starting point of the grieving process; it’s the psychological equivalent of trauma
surgery before the journey to recovery can begin. As funeral directors our role
is to be first responders during the emotional emergency of bereavement, supporting
the wounded and gathering up the dead before getting the family on the road to
arranging the funeral and hopefully thereafter towards eventual healing.
unlike hospital casualty departments, where hustle & bustle is an accepted
feature, funeral directors feel obliged to maintain an unruffled composure and offer
calm, cosy offices where people are made to feel like they’re the only client. Really
we’re like swans (or maybe ducks): we appear to glide along serenely whilst our
little legs are paddling furiously beneath. The net result is that when it
comes to spending time lovingly tending to the dead or holding hands with
sobbing relatives, we rarely have the time. There will always be another family
once they’ve actually begun arranging the funeral most bereaved families rarely
want to engage with the process any more than is absolutely necessary anyway. They
just want to get the funeral arrangements made and in the meantime have the
body looked after. All the while they’re resigned to the assumption it’ll probably
cost them an arm and a leg for the privilege.
what do they actually get for the aforementioned arm and a leg? I could say I’ll
break it down, but that’ll put us back in A & E again…
don’t legally have to use a funeral director, but if you choose to do so then
he/she becomes your contractor. When you hire a building contractor to build
your house extension, loft conversion or divorce annexe (shed), you tell your
builder what you want and then you rely on their advice, expertise and
resources to make it a reality. It’s the same principal with funeral directors;
except we’re more reliable than builders.
funeral director will be your technical adviser throughout – advising on
everything from how to obtain a death certificate and register the death, right
through to things like music options available at your local crematorium. They
will also be fully conversant with specialist subjects, such as the regulations
& procedures entailed in repatriating Uncle Bert back to the UK after his
SAGA holiday to the Austrian Tyrol came to a tragic end following an incident with
a chalet maid and a pre-existing heart condition.
you’ve contracted a funeral director, they become your agent and act on your
behalf as principal liaison with necessary third parties such as cremation
& burial authorities; hospitals; coroners; etc. Less officially they will often
also act as goodwill ambassadors and/or UN peacekeepers if there’s a split in
Custodian of the body
days of having Grandma laid out in the front room are long gone. Indeed, who
even has a front room nowadays? So the funeral director will act as temporary
custodian of your loved one’s body. He or she will not only provide a 24 hour
removal service from the place of death, but also provide mortuary facilities
for anything between a few days and a few weeks. The funeral director will dress
and prepare the body for viewing and provide a suitable, private space where
you can spend time with your loved one if you wish.
Master of ceremonies
made all the arrangements, your funeral director will be there by your side on
the day of the funeral itself, acting as event co-ordinator and master of
ceremonies. They will oversee everything from ensuring the cortege arrives on
time (regardless of distance), through to acting as chief usher, car parking
attendant, crowd controller and flower handler when you get there.
An arm and a leg?
look behind the figures: equipping a ‘first call’ vehicle for efficient &
dignified body removal costs upwards of £3000. Equipping even the smallest
mortuary facility will cost circa £20,000. A used hearse is around £69,000,
whilst brand new models will weigh in at anything from £108,000 to £148,000. That’s
just the specialist items. Remember we still have to rent/purchase smart, conveniently
located premises with vehicle garaging and sufficient ground floor space to
accommodate a mortuary facility along with a separate viewing chapel; workshop/storage
space; a comfortable visitors’ reception area and an administration office. Then
add in utilities; telephone/computers; business rates; insurance, wages and the
associated costs of providing a reliable 24hr/365 day service. There’s also the
ever present menace of bad debts to be covered.
funeral directors are expensive. However, you get a lot for the money and I’d
argue that it’s us, not the AA, who represent Britain’s fourth emergency service.
We always offer cheaper options, but unfortunately funerals are a privately
James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors
of Nailsworth, Glos.
He is the author of “A Life In Death – Memoirs Of A
Cotswold Funeral Director”