I sat down yesterday afternoon to write a review of Powell and Family, a brand new funeral home in Droitwich. In a supersaturated funeral industry, here’s one to watch. There’s a Darwinian clearout of superfluous undertakers already under way, and evolution is likely to favour the Powells. Check out their website.
As I thought of things to write I scanned the comments coming in about this post concerning the desirability of ritual in funeral ceremonies. Here’s the joy of blogging. However hard you think a thing through you can never in a lifetime predict the responses or arrive at the sorts of insights generated by the GFG’s Usual Suspects. They were on coruscating form. We are incredibly lucky to have them.
The Powells attach great value to personalisation and, unusually in their business, they see the need to work collaboratively not only with their clients but also with celebrants. Bravo.
Personalisation is a much-bandied word in Funeralworld. It is the reaction against one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter funerals, especially funerals conducted according to the rite of the Church of England. Is this the fault of the rite? I don’t know. I suspect that if you throw a good ritual over a dead person it will mould itself to the contours of that person’s unique personality. It fails when it knows next to nothing of the dead person and does away with the sensuous element which so appealed to Jenni Russell. A fullblooded ritual can fall on disbelieving ears and still do a pretty good job.
So I would suggest that the problem isn’t one-size-fits-all funerals, it is could-be-anybody funerals. And while the move towards personalisation unquestionably addresses this problem it may not go far enough.
Personalisation offers descriptors of a person – football fan, nature lover, motorcyclist, whatever. But however typical, these descriptors tend to be outward manifestations of identity, emblematic but also generic; they tell us no more than that the dead person was ‘one of them’. A funeral which has merely been accessorised in this way is likely to fall short of being personal.
A person’s identity isn’t definable by a single person. You are not who you think you are, you are everything that other people think you are. You don’t have a single identity, you have multiple, complex, contradictory identities. So a really personal funeral is not one in which the identity of the dead person is cleverly encapsulated by a single biographising eulogiser but, instead, one in which their identity is refracted through the many people who knew them.
If that is so, then a personal funeral is an ensemble performance. It is one where many people answer a duty to get out of their seats and bear witness in their own way to what the dead person meant to them and will go on meaning to them. Proper commemoration is likely to result not in a single version of a person but a rather marvellous kaleidoscope of versions, some contradictory, all valid.
In practical terms this is very difficult to achieve without the whole shooting match lurching off into embarrassment, sentimentality, irrelevance, rambling, mumbling, tedium, egotism, euphemism, trivialisation, bluffness or tonguetiedness.
Usual Suspects, over to you.