If you’re involved in the funeral business promoting your services can be a delicate subject.
It’s not easy to get the public to think about funerals when they’re going about their daily business.
The Good Funeral Awards combines gravitas with humour, which, to date, has meant that we’ve secured coverage in local newspapers, on radio, television and social media.
We want to stimulate conversations about the type of funeral people want to choose. And we want to draw attention to the preparation that needs to go into planning your own funeral and the funerals of your loved ones.
In 2013 we’ve got Pat Butcher aka Pam St Clement to present the awards and we’ve got a whole weekend of lectures and discussions about the future direction of funeral world.
If you’d like to be associated with the pioneers, please download our list of sponsorship opportunities.
Last July, we were surprised when a TV production company called up to say they wanted to make a film about the first Good Funeral Awards.
For several weeks we were visited by cameramen, keen to follow us around as we put together the event.
They went on a frantic journey round the country recording all our nominees as they did their daily jobs.
On the night of the awards, the downstairs room in the Green House Hotel was transformed with cameras and staging. It was like a cauldron, because we got twice the numbers we were expecting.
It’s taken a long longer than we thought, but it’s been announced that the documentary will be broadcast on Thursday 18 July at 8pm on Sky 1 as the third part of as series of six programmes with the title, ‘Great Little Britons’.
You can see some of the big stars in ‘funeral world’.
We’ve seen a clip and it’s very amusing. Charles Cowling, the editor of the Good Funeral Guide features heavily.
Three weeks ago my stepfather collapsed and died suddenly at Manchester airport. He was returning from a visit to Bournemouth from the Isle of Man.
My mother had to return to the Isle of Man and make plans to recover the body and organise the funeral. They had been married for 18 months, which meant our two families had barely had a chance to get to know each other.
My stepfather had been raised in Peel, a small city on the west coast of the Isle of Man. He had been to school, got married, worked at the golf club, run a pub for a few years, been town clerk and on his death, he had been working in an office in the tiny ‘city’, which has its own cathedral.
So he was a public figure in a close-knit island community.
My mother was also born in the Isle of Man. She was brought up in the Church of England. As an adult, it wasn’t her church of choice, but in her later years she had worked an organist in the Church of England. She had played at many funerals, so she was familiar with the different styles.
My mother took responsibility for organising the funeral, and she was determined to use her knowledge.
Although my stepfather was not religious, she lined up four ministers of religion for the service. One to give the tribute – a man who knew Alan – another to host the ceremony, a representative of the Methodist church to make an address, (the religion he was born into) and a retired clergyman to give the commendation.
My mother wanted Bach, she also chose the Manx Fishermen’s Evening Hymn, Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Jehovah, and How Great Thou Art.
‘I want it to be as good as Mrs Thatcher’s’ she said in her bold way.
The organisation did cause division. The cremation was not organised after the service, but a week later, which some family members thought was inappropriate. My mother’s vision meant that the date revolved around the availability of the clergy and musicians and not necessarily for the convenience of all the family. There were other differences of opinion, but my mother chose to be decisive, rather than popular.
It was the first funeral I had attended for many years.
The coffin brought with pall bearers. I can’t remember having seen this done before, but it was very moving.
My mum had a soloist sing Ellan Vannin, the unofficial Manx national anthem.
I too was brought up in the Church of England, so to sing familiar hymns was a comforting thing to do. The tribute told me several things I didn’t know about the life story of Alan. There was a short sermon from a Methodist reverend.
Was it an appropriate service for a man who didn’t go to church?
The service was ‘high brow’ but that’s a paradox of British public life. We have access to the rituals, even though the culture that sustained them is disappearing.
Alan was a familiar figure in Peel. His death was a shock. Most people are not familiar with Anglican way of doing things, but the old rituals work beautifully.
There were about 300 people in the congregation. That meant it wasn’t a private funeral, but a public one. It was very dignified and impressive.
The Isle of Man has a distinctive community identity which is rare these days.
How many people in the C21st will have lives so deeply rooted in one place? How many of us will attract 300 people to our funeral? And how long will the Anglican church be able to maintain the quality of the rituals, when so few people are brought up to become familiar with them?
Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death begins by saying the world is a ‘theatre for heroism’. Our main task on this planet is to be heroic.
So we’re always looking for models. The makers of the documentary Senna created a superb blueprint.
The film is a masterpiece of selective storytelling.
Senna is an innocent young man who came to Britain to race go-karts. Then he graduated to the corrupt world of Formula 1.
Still, he managed to retain his integrity. He is compared to Alan Prost. Prost drives for points, while Senna drives for God.
We see how Senna, an unknown, overtakes a dozen drivers in terrible conditions in one of the Monaco Grand Prix.
While suffering from terrible physical discomfort, he overcomes his pain to win the Brazilian Grand Prix for his home fans.
Senna loves his family and his fellow drivers. He fights for their safety.
What is intensely moving about this film is the presentation of death as a triumphant event.
And in our narcissistic imaginations, isn’t that what we want it to be?
The eyes of the world are on Senna as he leads the San Marino Grand Prix and then he hits a wall at over 200mph.
Until a man is dead we can’t really judge him, because we don’t really know what can go wrong in his life.
But the moment we realise that Senna is dead, the picture begins to become clear. Here was a man who was truly ‘heroic’. Maybe he was even god-like.
This feeling is best communicated through the soundtrack composed by Antonio Pinto. The piece A Morte below accompanies the pictures of Senna’s broken car.
I love the way the music suggests mystical jackals appear when they realise the man is dead and they can take him on his transcendent journey.
Diane Athill suggested we should spend 20 minutes each day contemplating our own death. It’s difficult to find an appropriate way to do this, but to listen to Pinto’s soundtrack is a good place to start.
Archie Cochrane was a doctor famous for pioneering controlled experiments in medicine. He was interned at Elsterhorst a hospital for prisoners of war. A young Russian soldier was brought to his ward late at night. The man was in an awful condition and was screaming incessantly; Cochrane took him to his own room because he didn’t want him to wake up the rest of the ward.
But he felt he could do nothing for the man’s pain, which he blamed on pleurisy, an agonising deterioration of his lungs and lung cavity.
‘I had no morphia, just aspirin, which had no effect. I felt desperate. I knew very little Russian and there was nobody in the ward who did. I finally instinctively sat down on the bed and took him in my arms, and the screaming stopped almost at once. He died peacefully in my arms a few hours later. It was not the pleurisy that caused the screaming but loneliness. It was a wonderful education about the care of the dying.’