A New Way: The Modern Funeral
By Poppy Mardall
We’ve got ourselves in a pickle with funerals.
Christians have their beautiful old churches. Awe-inspiring places to hold a spiritually meaningful funeral. And they have Vicars. Wonderful people who have dedicated their lives to leading and supporting their congregations through loss and bereavement.
But what about our growing number who don’t have a specific religious faith? We don’t find meaning in the words, the style or the ritual of organised religion. But what do we have to replace it with?
We have the crematorium. Often architecturally interesting. Often staffed by caring people, doing everything in their power to accommodate our demands. Live music, dogs, alcohol, candles, incense. And there is great pressure on these hard-working staff, struggling like mad to waft out the smells of the incense, or clean up after the dog, knowing another family will be arriving in 10 minutes expecting to feel like they are the only family holding a funeral that day.
But the truth is they are the waiting rooms for cremation. They are the place we go to have a cremation. This is entirely what they were designed for. Most crematoria were designed between 1950 and 1970 when we held our funerals in church. The meaning, the wonder, the ceremony – this all happened in church. Then we went, or sometimes didn’t go, to the crematorium to have the body reduced to ash.
And we have celebrants. Great Scott! These people are magical. They are so capable! They are bursting with ideas for meaningful ceremony and ritual. They would chew off their right arm to help a family celebrate a life uniquely and with meaning.So there is no blaming the crematoria. They were designed to receive the bodies of the dead, on the hour every hour. They were not the main event. It’s true you can book a double slot, and often quite reasonably. So this reduces the time pressure. But you are still absolutely aware that a family has been there before you, and another will be there soon. You feel this as you process out of the chapel and see floral tributes to a ‘Brother’ when your funeral was for a Great Aunt.
But the truth is families don’t know much about celebrants until they walk into the funeral directors a few days after their mum has died. The family is assigned a celebrant by the funeral director. The celebrant might get to meet the family once or twice before the funeral, depending on how quickly the funeral director has introduced the two parties. By this stage, the logistics have been decided. The date, time and place of the funeral. The coffin. How it will be carried and by whom.
Are these aspects not central to the meaning of the ceremony? And isn’t the choice of celebrant probably THE most important decision in making a ceremony personal? It is a brave family who asks the funeral director for more recommendations and calls a number of celebrants to ensure they have the perfect person. And there is a degree of urgency. The funeral needs to happen. The body is waiting.
This process sacrifices the incredible potential of celebrants. Celebrants have so much to offer. They shouldn’t be drafted in at the final hour. They are the ceremony makers. They are the people connecting with families to make something of this sorry time.
Funeral directors should not be dictating to celebrants. It’s the equivalent of The Rolling Stones having their set list dictated by the Roadies. It’s the wrong way round.
So my first battle cry is ‘Get the ceremony out of the crematorium!’. Yes the coffin needs to go there if you want a cremation, but what has that got to do with a meaningful ceremony?
And my second is, ‘Give creative control to the people leading the ceremony!’ – the family and the celebrants, not the people organising the logistics of the body.
Poppy’s Funerals launched our ‘simple cremation’ service in June this year as one way of solving these problems. Our hope is that it will provide families with a simple way to make the funeral ceremony more personal, meaningful and generally better. We separate the cremation from the funeral ceremony. We do the work of a funeral director, taking responsibility for the simple, respectful and affordable cremation. All traditional funeral accessories are stripped away. We do not embalm. The coffins we use are unvarnished wooden coffins with calico lining. The family can of course accompany the coffin to the crematorium. We then deliver the ashes to the family so they can hold the funeral ceremony, celebration of life or memorial with the ashes wherever, whenever and however they want.
We are saying, liberate yourselves from holding the ceremony at the crematorium. You do not need professional funeral directors at your ceremony. You do not need to worry about time limits or paperwork. Take your time to find a celebrant (we’d love to help you) who is a perfect fit with your family. The body has been cremated so all time constraints are off. Take your time. Do it your way.
It would not suit a family who felt the presence of the body was essential to the funeral ceremony. But how many of us feel that?
A recent experience has shown me what is possible.
Mary approached us because she wanted a simple cremation for her husband Richard. Mary loved Richard dearly. But for Mary, when Richard died, his body became a shell.
She felt the crematorium was impersonal and alien, and not the best place to celebrate Richard’s life. She wanted his ashes, rather than his body, to be present at the celebration of life.
So Mary asked us to organise the simple and respectful cremation of Richard’s body, with no pomp or traditional funeral accessories, or their associated costs. And for us to return Richard’s ashes as soon as possible so she could get on with organising the celebration of his life.
With the ashes, Mary is now free to hold the celebration of Richard’s life wherever she wants. She might hold it in the pub, at home or in the garden. She is taking some time to make decisions and plan. And because the urgency of dealing with the body is over, she can. Everyone who loved Richard has some time to find the poem, write the eulogy, or learn the piece of music they want to play to honour their friend.
Mary contacted three celebrants to find the person who was just right. The celebrant she has chosen is helping her create a personal and meaningful ceremony to mark Richard’s life. There is no need for funeral directors to be present at the ceremony.
It will be a family, and celebrant-led affair.
Poppy’s Funerals was launched by Poppy Mardall because she wanted to help people take creative control of their funerals. Simple cremation costs £1,750. We cover Greater London and sometimes beyond.
See more about what we do at www.poppysfunerals.co.uk
Call us on 0203 589 4726 or email us at email@example.com