I had a lovely morning today conducting a funeral service. Oh, I know lots of people don’t get that this can be satisfying but to me I can’t really think of a more lovely way of spending a morning than committing someone who has died at a great age into the love of God. The fact that the person who had died had in large part lived to make the world more beautiful only made it more lovely.
I was struck by a brief conversation with the undertaker before the service went in. This wasn’t a busy funeral – the person who had died had outlived most of those who might once have come to celebrate her life. As the coffin was being taken out of the hearse, I was surprised to see three members of the undertaker’s staff join him in lifting the coffin onto their shoulders.
“Oh, you don’t use a trolley?” I asked in surprise.
The answer that I got was wonderful –
“No, Mr Holdsworth, trolleys are for supermarkets, we always carry the coffin in”.
I cannot tell you how pleased I was to hear this.
So many funerals seem to involve a squeaky and undignified trolley. I even have to insist sometimes that the coffin is lifted onto proper tressels during the funeral itself. There’s many a person in the funeral business who would leave a coffin on the trolley throughout.
Am I alone in thinking that there’s not much dignity in a coffin on wheels?
I know there will be exceptions where a trolley is necessary and I guess that, in an industry that has seen costs soaring, it is going to cost more if one has to pay the pallbearers but I do prefer a coffin to be carried into church rather than pushed.
At some crematoria where I’ve officiated the presumption is so much in favour of wheels that a kind of roll-on, roll-off trolley has become an integral part of the proceedings.
We don’t talk that much about death, though there are some valiant attempts to get us to do so. There’s the death café movement that gathers people to talk about death and I seem to remember an initiative in the Church of England called Grave Talk which was an attempt to build up a conversation.
I know that any undertakers will arrange for pallbearers to carry a coffin in properly if you ask them. That’s what undertakers do – they undertake to make the arrangements for you. I’m someone who mourns the transformation of undertakers into “funeral directors” – the very term seems to imply that the business knows better than either the celebrant who has probably got a bit of experience on how to do things properly, the relatives (who may, if they are feeling particular grief may well feel better for being involved in the funeral planning and service) and indeed the wishes of the person who has died if they did the sensible thing and left instructions.
The joy today was finding a company which just don’t normally use a trolley as policy. It is a small thing but an important one.
Funeral trolleys always remind me of the wobbly nave altar in St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth, which itself always looked as though it had been purloined from a hospital porter.
Now where did undertakers’ trolleys come from? And why do people put up with them?
They are hideous. Always hideous.
No. No. Away ye trolley-bearers.
And congratulations to Sim and Son for their trolley-free policy.
(I’m happy to link to any other undertakers in the West of Scotland who never use a trolley)