The cost of dying

A survey says that it now costs, on average, £7000 to organise a funeral. About 7% of the grievers now ‘go green’ with a wicker or cardboard coffin, but these apparently cost more. It’s a racket, however you look at it. Undertakers are very good at their job (I don’t think I’ve ever heard of one being criticised, but perhaps I’m wrong – my two personal dealings with them were fine), but they cost the earth (possibly a very inapposite figure of speech, in that ‘earth’ features heavily in funeral services). When we arranged my mother’s funeral, we were given a brochure from which to pick a coffin, all with proud North-East names (e.g. ‘the Bamburgh’), but the shedloads of money we were spending at the time to do what she had wanted suddenly seemed puny in contrast with her life, which is where you become vulnerable putty in their capable hands. Jessica Mitford’s The American Way Of Death, perhaps her greatest book, applies over here as much as over there.

Incidentally, if you have an elderly parent, you will notice that the subject of funerals looms large in their conversations for about ten years before the event. It can become wearing. So here is a helpful hint: stop the conversation in its tracks, fetch a notebook, and insist on having the conversation in depth at that very moment. My mum and I had a very productive planning session on afternoon at her home, and, although I didn’t ask her to sign a contract (!), it did stop her turning the subject over repeatedly. If she raised it, I just said, “We’ve already sorted that out,” and we were able to have a decent natter about something else. And I think that was healthy and comforting for her. It is true that she did not choose the music for the crematorium, and quite what she would have made of ‘Let There Be Love’ (she was a Nat King Cole fan) and its toe-tappingly anachronistic equation of ‘chili con carne, sparkling champagne’ with high emotion, I do not know. We also added in Begin The Beguine, which she once mentioned to me was her favourite tune (the Artie Shaw version).

Luckily, both are quite suited to the kind of speakers you get in a crem. I suspect that my likely choices may fall foul of the authorities – something by the Animals maybe (‘We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place’?), and Cher, for whom I have always had a weakness (‘If I Could Turn Back Time’, perhaps, although ‘This Is A Song For The Lonely’ would suit choral singing). And also Guy Lombardo’s ‘Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)’: definitely that.

I would like my ashes to be buried in a Bamburgh paper bag, if you can get one under a tenner. No need to go crazy as with the the link you get if you click here. As the company says, rather unhappily, ” it’s not just the end-product that’s important to us: it’s how we get there”.


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