Funeral Service in Great Britain

Todd Van Beck's picture

My new bride Georgia and I returned from a week honeymoon yesterday afternoon. We spent 8 great days traveling England from Kent up to Oxfordshire. Our headquarters were at the Charing Cross Hotel next to Trafalgar Square and we were in the thick of activities.

I have enjoyed a fruitful and long association with many funeral directors in England for many years, and each and every trip I have made over to the Merry Old country I am always struck by the solidification and stability of funeral service in that country. American funeral service seems adicted to the flavor of the week, but not so in England. I am not in any way suggesting that American funeral service ought to imitate English funeral service, but, my friends, there are some points of difference which make me ponder the endless race that American funeral service is caught up in, a race where it seems nobody really knows where the finish line is.

First off, English funeral service is a thousand times less complicated than it is in the US. The English simplicity in funeral service is glaringly seen by the type of facilities that are used. Most times the funeral establishment is just that-- it is not a home, or a mansion, or a palace, it is a store front establishment, like any other business might use, be it the clothier, pharmacy, pub, or even a motor company. Their simple but tasteful facilities certainly contribute to the very reasonable charges that the typical English family encounters.

We saw a typical English funeral in Oxford and as always I was mighty impressed. The funeral directors were dressed in mourning attire, black coats, white shirt, gray vest, black and gray stripped tie, and stripped pants, respendent with silk top hats. It looked exactly the way I used to dress for a Heafey funeral 40 years ago. Also, they do not block out the interior of their funeral coaches with drapes. The coffin (few caskets are used) is up high enough that the public can see it clearly and the flowers are placed on top of the funeral coach.

I have a good friend of mine in Glasgow, Scotland, whose funeral faciility is possibly 3,000 sq. feet, and out of this single corner building he manages to run over 800 funerals a year. Very impressive.

One of the points that seems to baffle American funeral directors is the fact that there is no certification or licensure required to be a funeral director or embalmer in England. They have impressive voluntary certifications which many people use, but the government makes no requirements. The first time I was exposed to this system, I was shocked and challenged the wisdom of no license. The English funeral director shot right back at me and brought to my attention the baffling array of requirements from state and state to become licensed, which he suggested was ridiculous, and then he capped off the English position with this stunner - just look at how much unlicensed work goes on in every state in America. He had made his point.

Lastly, the English might have simple, quaint facilities, visible funeral coaches, classy funeral attire, and really reasonable funeral charges, but what the excell at is memorial masonry, monuments. Every time I visit Westminster Abbey I remind myself that I might be in a church, but where I really am is a cemetery. The English have a extremely high cremation rate, but interestingly, almost everybody is embalmed and they have a full-service traditional funeral. Throughout England, memorials are seen everywhere, which speaks to me that this wonderful group of people remember and revere their dead.

The dead in England seem not to be the cause of complication after complication as is the trend today in America. Of course in the end, people will care for their dead in a consistent manner with how they live their lives, so in American it is extremely fast, quick, whereas in England the funeral is much slower, simple, and body-centered.

This trip made me homesick for the good old days in American funeral service. Say - when exactly did dead bodies become a problem for us? Just a question. TVB



Congratulations on a great post, Todd!

Oh, yeah ... and on your WEDDING!! All the best to you and Georgia. She's a lucky lady!

Linda Budzinski