Doing Things Differently as a Funeral Director
Until recently, funeral directors were local family owned businesses serving the community. Although their names may carry on, many formerly independent funeral directors have now been taken over by the big players in the funeral industry like Co-op Funeralcare and Dignity. Arranging funerals has ceased to be a means of earning a livelihood by providing a vital community service. It has become a way of making profit rather than serving the community.
At the same time funeral costs have risen and more families are falling into ‘funeral poverty’ and finding it hard to pay for a funeral at a time when government support is drying up. Not surprisingly people are looking into less costly alternatives like direct cremation and wanting to cut down on unnecessary expenditure. This in turn has encouraged the demand for greater transparency in the pricing of funerals and the identification of hidden costs, commissions and mark-ups.
When Angela, Peter and myself came together to start Greenwood Funerals, we were motivated by a desire to do things differently and we took inspiration from the Natural Death Centre, the Good Funeral Guide and the Totnes based funeral company Heart and Soul. For us what matters most is to create a relationship of trust with the families who ask us to arrange a funeral on their behalf and to go the extra mile at a time at a time when people are undergoing the upheaval and distress that often accompanies a death.
The relationship is a professional business one. But it’s also one of kindness and empathy, knowing what people are going through as they come to terms with the death of someone close to them. For this reason, we always welcome the opportunty to meet a person before they die and to be present just after their death. Similarly we are always pleased when we are asked back by the same extended family to arrange a second, third or fourth funeral.
Early on, we took a decision to charge a fee for our professional services – that’s how we make our livelihood – and to pass on everything else at cost. We itemise everything in the estimate of costs and the final invoice which we give to families. That way there are no hidden surprises.
We also write a formal letter or email after our first full meeting summarising all that has been discussed and agreed so that everyone knows what’s happening and what they have said they will do, ourselves included. Death can be a time of huge uncertainty and it feels important to introduce elements of certainty rather like the stepping stones which are laid over a moorland stream so that you can cross without getting your feet wet or falling in.
Showing up as a human being
On a purely personal note, I believe that the essence of being a funeral director is to show up as a human being at a moment in people’s lives when they are having to navigate the emotional and practical changes brought on by a person’s death. That’s why I am frustrated with the conventions of the funeral industry as they seem designed to hide our humanity as funeral directors behind a dignified veneer.