If you watch a lot of daytime TV, it’s likely that during every commercial break you’ll be invited to ‘protect your loved ones’ by spending a few pence a week to cover the cost of a funeral.
It’s so easy, you should do it now and you get a free high-street store voucher to seal the deal.
The safety net of pre-paying for a funeral is becoming ever more common in the modern age, along with insurance for just about everything you can think of (and probably some you can’t. Insurers Lloyds of London once created a Death-by-Laughter policy for a confident comedy act in case someone in the audience died from laughing – BBC News).
But planning for a funeral is a business going back thousands of years. And the job of a funeral director involves education, creativity, science and business acumen.
The Original Pyramid Scheme?
Is arranging a funeral before you die a phenomenon from the modern age of advertising? History says not…
While pharaohs were entombed in glorious pyramids, ready to make their journey worry-free to the afterlife, noted Egyptologist Professor Flinders Petrie found evidence that an Egyptian soldier had been making payments to stone masons – the craftsmen responsible for creating pyramids, cemeteries and tombs. Its’s thought the soldier was paying instalments for his burial.
The after-life was a big thing for all in the world’s first civilisation.
Medieval European tradesmen formed guilds to support members who were too ill or old to work, and to help pay for burials.
And Burial Clubs were common in Victorian Britain. Tombstones and ornately carved memorials also became hugely popular during this era. Historian Julie-Marie Strange estimated that 19 million people were members of Victorian Burial Clubs.
These days, according to the Guardian, the pre-pay funeral industry in the UK is alive and well, worth a staggering £2bn.
But it’s no surprise because it seems every culture, civilisation or era has attended to the dead in some way…
… and there are three things they all have in common:
- A place of burial
- A memorial
- A ceremony, rites or ritual
That antlers and flower fragments were discovered in Neanderthal burial grounds, going back 60,000 BCE suggests that rituals or gifts have been a part of an evolving civilisation. It’s instinctive to commemorate the passing of a loved one.
But What About Funeral Directors?
A very high-profile theme when talking about funerals is the cost. Funeral payment plans are used to buy peace of mind and they also create newspaper headlines.
So, what are you getting by hiring the services of a funeral director? Being a funeral director involves a heady mix of creativity, empathy, emotional intelligence, science and education.
At one of the most devastating of times the funeral director and the team (there’s always a team) will arrange the funeral service, transportation, offer advice and support. This might include:
- Transporting the deceased from the hospital or other address to the funeral home
- Tending to the deceased and creating a private chapel where family can pay their last respects
- Registering the death and complete paperwork, along with other legal guidance
- Setting the time and date of the funeral
- Paying any required fees on your behalf
- Arranging the deceased’s journey to the service, and providing transport for mourners
Being A Funeral Director Can Be Hard…
Directing a funeral can be both emotionally challenging and physically challenging. There’s the environment of sadness, grief and sometimes anger from mourners, although those things don’t make it a morose occupation.
There’s a lot of leg work too. Flowers need moving, coffins carried…
… and just as with births, deaths can happen at any time too, so a funeral director might keep some odd hours while at work.
Funeral directors are often well educated, qualified in business management, pathology, biology or chemistry. Some learn Thanatology – the study of death in its various stages including the physical changes that happen before death occurs, post-mortem and the psychology of death and dying.
So there’s more to the process of burial than is immediately obvious.
Hiring A Funeral Director
Today there’s a variety of funerals including traditional church burials, direct cremation and eco-friendly woodland burials.
But when you hire a funeral director it’s worth checking that they are a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors or similar professional organisation, and as cost is a major talking point with any funeral ask for a quote that includes all elements, not just the funeral director’s fees. This might typically include church fees and cremation fees.
Get more than one quote and don’t be pressured into having services you don’t want you don’t want or need. After all, like Stephen King wrote in Pet Cemetery, “Death is a mystery, burial is a secret”.