Funerals. We love to spend money on them. Well, we don't love to spend money on them. But we're terrified not to. Most of us feel the amount of money we spend on a funeral correlates to a chart which measures how much we love the person who has died. In our grief we don't know what else to do.
The elaborate coffins. The embalming and chapel of rest. The limousines and teams of men in black. We can't help but buy the package. Do we really want these things? We don't want to be in this situation in the first place. In the undertaker's office, choosing a coffin from a catalogue.
But since we're here, we ought to buy the best (most expensive) coffin. We certainly can't buy the worst (cheapest). What message would that send the world?
This is why the average cost of a funeral in the UK is £3091. A recent report by Sun Life Direct and Bath University reveals The Government Funeral Payment System is being overwhelmed with applications for support to pay for funerals with the average sum awarded coming in at £1,217. Almost half of applicants are turned down.
The report concludes that we should begin saving for our funerals now. But surely the logical conclusion is to question why we spend so much on funerals in the first place. Are we getting value for our money? Why aren't we using alternative and more affordable means of transport to take the coffin to the crematorium? Why aren't we buying more affordable coffins? Why aren't more people taking control of the logistics of their funerals and buying only the services they need from the undertaker?
Think about it. How would you feel if someone you loved had to plan your funeral? Would you be urging them on from the other side, "Buy the most expensive coffin. Yes! I know you have a huge mortgage and your husband has just been made redundant. But you HAVE to get the thick quilted lining and I want three limousines. I demand to be transported by hearse. I've always loved hearses!" Does anyone think like this?
I'm pretty sure the answer is no. The reason we blow money on funerals and 92% of us only ever visit one undertaker is a mixture of the unstoppable pain we feel after a death, mixed with our complete inexperience of arranging a funeral, with a drop of terror at finding ourselves in an undertaker's shop decked out in the style of Oliver Twist. We will go along with anything they suggest. Which is insane. Because whilst undertakers are often lovely people, they rarely know your family or what respect and dignity mean to you. They are running a business and they need to pay for the costs of the fleet of hearses, the chapels of rest, the embalmer's salary. So they're going to encourage you to buy the whole package.
And some of us want the whole package. And that's great. If the limousines and the hearse and the formality and the embalming mean something to you, pay for them!
But what if they don't hold meaning for you? What if you want something simple?
It goes without saying you want a high standard of service, and care and dignity for the body. But you don't want the package. You just want the body of your mum to be respectfully and simply cremated. What you need from the undertaker might be something along the lines of: mortuary facilities, coffin and transport of the coffin to the crematorium.
Funeral directors commonly call this a Basic Funeral. It doesn't sound good does it? It sounds cheap and worrying. It's not far off 'pauper's funeral'. The message being - you're choosing a Basic Funeral because you can't afford anything more.
And 'basic funeral' is wrong anyway. You might be planning a knock your socks off funeral. The only thing basic about it is the services you want from the undertaker.
Let's look at it another way.
If I walk into the supermarket and buy a loaf of bread from the 'simple' range, am I buying something broken or shameful? Do I feel like a 'pauper' who can't afford anything better? No. I buy this bread because I like my bread to be simple. I don't want it stuffed with olives or topped with a Stilton crust.
If I walk to the supermarket with my own recyclable bag, does this mean I can't afford the cost of delivery? No. It means I want some fresh air and to collect my own bread.
When it comes to my bread, I won't be paying for services and products I don't want or need. A Stilton crust means nothing to me. I want to buy what I want to buy. And I am glad I have the choice.
The expense of the coffin, the level of decoration, the model of the vehicle - these details do not correlate to the amount we loved the person who died. These things do not inherently represent dignity or respect.
Dignity in my book means the respectful care of the body after death. It means saying goodbye to the person who has died in a fitting manner. No model of coffin or form of transport can represent love or respect.
When planning a funeral, it should be about getting what we want and need. And value for our money. Let's rethink our understanding of 'dignity' and the concept of a simple funeral and stop flushing cash down the toilet to show we care.
Follow Poppy Mardall on Twitter: www.twitter.com/poppysfunerals