The Dead Good Funerals Guide

Sue Gill and John Fox (Engineers of the Imagination, 1996)

The title of this book appealed to my sense of humour, but I bought it supposing it was about green or woodland funerals - ecological alternatives again. This aspect is mentioned but the main theme questions the current trend of pseudo-Victorian style funerals - why do so many of us believe we must have what has come to be the traditional and respectable funeral? And why are funerals so often an impersonal conveyor belt affair, remote from the lives and beliefs of both the bereaved and the deceased, and now extremely expensive?

The writers have been running their own business on alternative rites of passage for twenty five years, wanting to bring meaning back into them and to involve those concerned rather than have them be passive, and left with the unpleasantness of having had things done to them. The writers are not Christian and the book is not aimed at Christians or at believers of any other religious faith but at so many of those who have little or no religious belief and for whom, therefore, a traditional church funeral can feel alien or comfortless. From this angle the book is of little value to those whose faith is a comfort and support, however it is worth reading to understand the views of those who are not Christians, and it also offers ways of introducing personal touches into funeral ceremonies which need not be considered as flippant or as an offence to God. The book includes a description of the funeral of a lorry driver who wanted his coffin to be carried on the back of his flat top lorry. Why not? (Unless one is considering the parking problems at St Peter’s!) Also, does a home grown bunch of flowers have to mean stinginess and disrespect? Or could it be that the custom of buying expensive floral arrangements has caught on because all those concerned with the funeral business know bereaved people are unlikely to quibble about anything mercenary at a time like this?

Funeral customs from an earlier time and from other cultures are mentioned. There is a bit about the beliefs of other faiths, a chapter on what to do when some-one dies, and even one on the workings of a crematorium (which I have to admit to not reading!) There is a useful address list at the back of the book, including several on ‘green funerals’, which to my mind do not seem as deathly as traditional ones, even if I am writing as a Christian. The green ones have a lightness about them, no heavy coffins of tombstones, and no need for a glass boxed hearse - so much of the trappings of our traditional funerals seem as if they were designed to prevent the deceased from escaping! (In fact it dates from when people protected the deceased from being stolen). The book also suggests ways in which we can each design our own funeral which sounded rather macabre - but having had a go at it does, as the writers say, do much to take away the fear of one’s own end, and for me it emphasised instead a sense of eternal life.

I bought my copy from the Alternative Energy Centre in Wales. If it’s not in the main bookshops it seems the sort which might be bought through the Mushroom bookshop, or possibly at the Rainbow Centre on Mansfield Road. It cost me £10 or thereabouts.

Ann R Parker
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 31st October 1999