Passing away at the age of 101 is a big achievement. Lady
Margaret Johnson, the widow of the High Court judge Sir William Johnson, did
that in early June 2016. She had been living with her son John Wright, the
child of a previous marriage, and he is now in charge of the funeral
arrangements. As you’d expect, Mr Wright is a good age himself: 71. But his
work on his mother’s burial will be more demanding than usual.
Why is that? Because he’s digging his mother’s grave himself
in his own back garden. It’s proving tough work, because the ground is hard
after a lot of hot weather and little rain. He didn’t want to do this, but he
says he refuses to pay funeral fees that he regards as excessive and
exploitative. When he went to a local undertaker’s, he was quoted the price of
£5,300 for a complete funeral, including £2,500 just for the hearse that would
take his mother from the mortuary to the chapel.
He found that price far too high and refused to pay it, but
he couldn’t find an acceptable price anywhere else. He calls funeral firms “a
cartel” that want to “strip every penny” from the pockets of grieving people
who are not thinking clearly. That’s why he decided to do everything himself.
He was a lawyer before he retired, so he used the internet to research the
regulations that cover do-it-yourself burials. First of all, you need
permission from the owner of the land on which you intend to dig the grave.
Next, you need a “Certificate of Authority for Burial” from the Registrar of
Births and Deaths, who has to be told of all births and deaths on British soil.
After that, you can go ahead and begin digging. The coffin
needs to be buried at least two feet deep, so Mr Wright will be digging to four
feet to leave a good margin. Graves also need to be a safe distance from wells,
springs, streams and ditches, so that decaying bodies don’t contaminate any
water. Mr Wright’s back garden meets all the requirements.
He’s also confident that the earth covering the coffin won’t
collapse, so it looks as though his do-it-yourself – and dig-it-yourself –
burial will do the two things he wants: save him a lot of money and give his
mother a dignified resting-place. But before his mother is safely in the
ground, he may have to take another step. Her body is presently being stored in
a funeral director’s refrigerator, but he is being charged fees for the storage
and may decide to buy a large refrigerator of his own and keep his mother’s
body there to save money.
He says that he never expected he would have to go to all
this trouble, but he’s obviously a determined and clear-thinking man. Why
should he pay a large sum of money when he doesn’t think he will be getting
value for money? By organizing a burial himself, he’s not being disrespectful
of neglectful of his mother. On the contrary: he is fulfilling his duty to her
with some hard work and initiative. He knew her for 71 years, so we can expect
that he’s acting in a way that she would have agreed with. And he won’t have to
travel to a churchyard to visit her grave: it will be only a short walk away
from his house.
This is an unusual and interesting story that’s been covered
by many news organizations. Millions of people will hear and read about it.
They may be re-considering their own ideas about what should happen to them
after they pass away. And Mr Wright’s story will actually give them an
advantage over Mr Wright. He’s carrying out a funeral plan, but it’s one that
he had to devise very quickly and unexpectedly, after his mother had already
passed away. Preparing a funeral plan well in advance of someone’s passing is
obviously better than that. We can give more thought to what we prefer and
discuss everything thoroughly with everyone who is going to be affected. If we
want a do-it-yourself funeral, we can prepare for that. If we want a more
traditional funeral, we can shop for the best price and value.
With a funeral plan in place, we’ll then have peace of mind.
And we can also save a lot of money, because with the right funeral plan we can
pay a fixed price. After that, we can be confident that there will no hidden
charges and no price rises, whatever happens to the economy in future. Mr
Wright will save himself a lot of money with his dig-it-yourself burial, but he
would no doubt have preferred to have made his mother’s funeral plan under less
pressure and in a less of a hurry.