Hull funeral directors reveal secrets of end of life celebrations

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 15 May 2017

'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' by American rock n roll band The Platters seems an unusual choice of song to be played at a crematorium.

But Richard East, of Mike East and Family Funeral Directors, based in Southcoates Lane, east Hull, takes a rather philosophical view.

"It was actually my father-in-law's funeral that we played that song," he says, with a snigger. "He had a great sense of humour. There were people who probably took offence to it, but that choice of music suited him. We also sang 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life'.

"Funerals should be about the people who died. For some, Rod Stewart's 'Do You Think I'm Sexy? will be a better choice than 'Abide With Me.'

The funeral industry has come a long way since the drab Victorian times when relatives of the deceased dressed in black for a fixed number of months and traipsed behind horse-drawn carriages carrying coffins, although Richard does say the horses are back in fashion.

These days people have a wide choice of coffin materials from which to choose.

Richard says: "When I started, you had a choice of chipboard, mahogany or oak. Now can for anything from banana leaf and water hyacinth, which is every bit as flimsy as you'd imagine, to wool and oak.

"Some people feel like they are doing their relative a disservice, almost, if they don't spend thousands and thousands of pounds on a funeral.

"Others are quite happy to meet us at the crematorium, with a few roses on top of the coffin. Our job is to give people what they want."

Richard has been in the industry since 1988, telling us he "left school on the Friday and started work on the Monday", initially working for his grandpa Bill Brown, before his family opened their current business in 2003.

There will always be work for him, that much is certain.

But he has had to learn to adapt.

"People are now taking much more control of funerals," says Richard. "When I started out you'd pretty much tell them the date and time of the funeral. Now they decide."

People now go "shopping" for funerals, it seems.

"Back in the Eighties, if I did the funeral for, say, a Mr Smith, you could bet that I'd also do the funerals of everyone else in the family," says Richard. "That doesn't happen so often anymore. People will now ring around to find the cheapest. That is very common nowadays.

"It also means we're not just doing funerals in east Hull. We now arrange services in Willerby, Beverley, you name it."

Carl Jones, of Jones Funeral Directors in Country Road South, west Hull, has gone even further - to Lancashire, Devon and Kent in the past three months alone.

"We've even organised repatriations to Poland, Spain and Latvia, along others," says Carl, who opened his business with wife Julie last August.

POPULAR: Horse-drawn carriages are increasingly being ordered by families of the deceased

Savvy funeral directors are also selling deeply personal mementos of their loved ones.

"We now provide a wide range of funeral commemorative jewellery," says Carl. "We offer everything from rings to cufflinks, bracelets and charm beads."

Carl explains that a personals ashes are used to make such items. The most expensive item costs £12,500 - three times the cost of a funeral.

"That would be a diamond," he says. "A person's ashes can be compressed on the diamond creating a lovely piece of jewellery."

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, Carl is constantly looking at ways to stay one step ahead.

"In the next week or two we will be getting a special scanner," he says. "It will enable us to scan a person's fingerprints, save them on the computer, and put them onto pieces of jewellery. We believe we will be the only ones in Hull to offer this service."

Traditional, religious services have become the exception, as opposed to the norm.

"We are seeing a lot more celebratory services," says Richard. "Last week, for instance, we had our first religious funeral in a fortnight. The rest were celebrations of people's lives. When I first came into the industry anything other than a religious funeral was unheard of."

While Richard, as you might expect, is respectful of all faiths and the wishes of customers, he appears to personally favour the celebrations.

He says: "A funeral might be 30 minutes long. Twenty minutes might be taken up with readings from the good book. That only leaves ten minutes to sum up a person's 80 years.

"Celebrations of life allow people to really explore a person's life. A lot of families, we find, like that."

Bizarrely, given the distance to Scotland, it seems Hull folk are partial to the bagpipes.

"We get a lot of requests for a piper," says Richard. "Don't ask me why."

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