Saturday the 22nd of February the ends of the earth

"By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach 'to the ends of the earth'" (Acts 1:8) Pope Francis, Message for World Communications Day, 2014

Art of Dying Well raises concern over lack of funeral arrangement discussions

A consultant to the Art of Dying Well has voiced his concerns over the possibility that discussions between funeral directors and the bereaved to establish an appropriate funeral may not be occurring.

Paul Allcock, a funeral director based in Norwich, who is a consultant to the Art of Dying Well, said he fears that such discussions are no longer taking place because some people have clear ideas as to what they want in advance.

However, Mr Allcock pointed out that a “good funeral director” would always help them explore further.

His comments came in response to a survey carried out by the Co-op, which found that only a minority of people now want a traditional religious funeral, with most preferring friends and family to have a get-together, or not wanting a fuss made at all.

“This survey by the Co-op certainly reflects some of the many alternative choices that people now have when arranging a funeral,” Mr Allcock told The Catholic Universe. “It also gives an indication that fewer people than ever are now turning to their church for support at the time of bereavement.”

However, he said that in his own experiences “the majority of people still have the hope that there is something beyond this world for their loved one”.

“Death certainly brings on religious thoughts even when those bereaved have no regular interaction with religious practice,” he said.

Mr Allcock suggested that the findings from the Co-op’s survey of 4,000 adults and a number of Co-op funeral directors, which indicated that just one in 10 people wanted a traditional religious funeral, begs the question “what is leading their decision making?

“There is of course an almost endless amount of information that people can find on the internet, and subsequently there are often pre-conceived ideas that people have when making funeral arrangements.

“My fear is that due to people having clear ideas as to what they want in advance, that the discussions previously held with funeral directors to establish an appropriate funeral for both the deceased and the bereaved may not be occurring,” Mr Allcock said.

He explained that it is common for people to tell funeral directors what the arrangements will be rather than exploring what alternative options there are.

However, “a good funeral director would still explore the appropriate type of service with the persons responsible for making the arrangements, and this often leads to a review of whether or not the funeral should be religious or not,” he said.

“Many of the funerals led by a civil celebrant will include prayers and hymns which indicates that religious thoughts are still to the fore in peoples minds at the time of death, even when the funeral is not in a church.”

The Co-op said that use of pallbearers to carry coffins has fallen in the last five years, while there are also fewer obituaries.

However, Mr Allcock said he believes the majority of funeral directors are still using pall bearers.

“Indeed it is very common for family members to act as pall bearers as one of the final things they can do for the deceased. There may be some local customs where this is not the case or it may be that some funeral directors are cutting down on the use of pall bearers in an attempt to cut their costs,” he said.

Another possibility, he suggested, may be due to the ever-increasing number of funerals where the deceased is particularly large.

“This could cause a health and safety issue if mechanical assistance is not used. This is still rare though, and I can’t remember the last time I carried out a funeral without pall bearers,” he admitted.

Most of the Co-op’s undertakers said they have arranged a funeral where mourners wore bright clothing and half have known mourners to dress in jeans and tracksuits.

However, Mr Allcock pointed out that it has been common place for mourners to wear bright clothing for many years.

“This also bears no relation to the funeral ceremony,” he pointed out.

“A funeral should always reflect the life that the person has lived,” he continued. “And this is the case be it a funeral in church or elsewhere.

“For those who have lived their lives in the community of their church, there is no more appropriate funeral than one set within their own church.

“For those who no longer, or indeed never did attend church regularly, still doesn’t mean that a church funeral would not be appropriate for them.

“I just wonder how often this option is now explored as part of the funeral arrangements.”

Picture: Undated file photo of a funeral taking place. (PA).