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The Importance of Funerals

A different kind of funeral plan was devised after the death of the singer Cilla Black. It had nothing to do with her family, friends or millions of grieving fans. No, professional thieves hatched a plot to break into her house in Buckinghamshire during her funeral and make off with the many valuables it contained. They had cut a hole in the fence around the house, carefully choosing a secluded spot, and were waiting for Cilla’s funeral on August 20th in her home-town of Liverpool. Then they planned to slip through the fence, confident of finding a deserted house, plenty of time to work undisturbed and plenty of time to make their getaway.

But the hole was spotted in time and the plot has been foiled. The papers have reported Cilla’s oldest son Robert as saying: “I cannot believe someone would stoop so low at a time like this.” He’s right: it was a disgusting thing to do. Decent people would respect a grieving family, not attempt to exploit them at their most vulnerable. You don’t have to be religious to think that a funeral is a special event, a time when the bereaved should be given space and privacy. How would Cilla Black’s family and friends have felt if they had learned that, even while Cilla was being buried in Liverpool, her house was being broken into and her irreplaceable possessions and mementoes stolen by strangers?

But perhaps the lucky people in this story aren’t Cilla’s family. The lucky ones might be the would-be thieves. If they had succeeded in their unusual funeral plan, they would surely have united the nation in disgust and determination. Lots of police would have been after them and even other criminals would have been happy to see them caught. It would probably have been only a matter of time before they were behind bars. Then they would have gone on trial and received long sentences. They would probably have ended up cursing the day they decided to begin their plot.

But perhaps they will be caught even now. There is something very unpleasant about the idea of carefully planning to take criminal advantage of a funeral and the way it absorbs the time and attention of those attending it. But the normal kind of funeral plan is completely different. That’s not designed to exploit a funeral, but to enhance it. It’s very sensible to have a funeral plan that settles questions about cost, burial-site, service and so on in good time. Cilla Black herself certainly decided what kind of funeral she wanted and where it would take place. Those aren’t decisions you want to leave your family and friends to make after you pass away.

That is a time for grieving, not a time for deciding. After a death in the family you should be able to leave things in the hands of the professionals: the funeral directors, undertakers and celebrants who have decades of experience and can conduct things with the calm and dignity that are needed. All important decisions should have been settled before then, at a time when you can think carefully and without pressure. Whether we like it or not, for most of us money has to come into our calculations. Cilla herself had a long and successful career at the top of show-business and didn’t need to look for savings in her funeral plan. She could afford exactly the kind of funeral she wanted.

Most people aren’t in that fortunate position and cost will have to be part of their funeral plans. The price of funerals is rising faster than inflation. The burglary plot at Cilla’s house has been in the news and so has the story that charges for cremation have gone up sharply. Local authorities are having to install new equipment to meet new standards on pollution. These increasing costs are another good reason to make decisions in good time, when you can think calmly and clearly. Cilla’s family are grieving now, not making decisions or having to clean up after a burglary, and that’s the way it should be.