As 2019 fast approaches, so too does the new paradigm of funeral service.
We had the chance to sit down with Louise Winter, the owner of Poetic Endings, recently to find out where she thought the funeral profession was headed… and what’s wrong with the current state of affairs.
Louise shared her open and honest opinion, which brought up a lot of quite controversial topics up because she believes that by bringing these uncomfortable topics to the surface, we create space for change and transformation in our profession.
If you’re dedicated to the future of funerals and want to see our profession rise up to the needs of the families today, check out our interview with Louise, and share your opinion in the comments below!
Can you describe your first experience with a funeral service?
I didn’t attend my first funeral until I was 26, when my grandfather died. It was a very traditional experience with a very family oriented business. What I got that from experience is what [the funeral directors were] doing is very important, but the way they were doing it was not honoring how important it was. I didn’t feel empowered by the funeral. I didn’t feel that what was being done was serving us. I feel it needed to be done better.
Can you share your journey into funeral service? How did you get here, and why?
To cut a long story short, after this experience with my grandfather, I left my career and trained to become a funeral celebrant. In the UK, a funeral celebrant is someone who takes services from a non-religious perspective and works with families to create the funeral that they truly want. And [as a funeral celebrant], the more funeral directors I worked with, the more I became frustrated with the [way things were being done].
I worked with almost every funeral director in London; the good, the bad, and the really, really bad and learned what to do and what not do. Eventually, I trained to become a funeral director and worked with a very traditional company before launching Poetic Endings. I created Poetic Endings to try and create the type of funeral service that I believed needs to exist. A funeral service of the future, for the people of today who are looking for something that really fits their needs.
What do you differently at Poetic Endings?
I really, really listen to people. I [hold space for them to] get them in touch with what it is they want to do, and why they want to do it. Through this, we find out what’s important to them. This makes the funeral much less of a retail experience and much more of a genuinely helpful and therapeutic process that involves a lot of talking and working out what people really value.
What have you decided NOT to do at Poetic Endings?
In the UK, a lot of packages are sold, and we don’t do that. We simply offer the essentials that people need to have a funeral, and then families can choose whatever they’d like from there. We’re not interested in selling extra cars or upgrading coffins. I’m just interested in getting people to have the funeral they want to have.
What are you tired of seeing in the funeral profession? Channel your anger or overwhelm here for the sake of transformation!
I’m tired of seeing the amount of self congratulation and the sheer lack of emotional intelligence in this profession. There was just a report released in the UK revealing that some funeral directors have been charging extortionate prices and exploiting vulnerable bereaved people for years now. Thankfully, it’s all coming out and being addressed.
But, it’s not just the cost we need to address – we need to address quality. We really need some emotionally intelligent, empowered funeral professionals who are really looking after themselves in order to put together these special funerals. In my opinion, the existing profession needs a lot of helping getting to where they need to be.
What are the families of today looking for?
Transparency. Genuine choice. Someone who actually listens. A brilliant website. Honest information. Honesty. Not hiding behind outdated language. No more mawkish sentamentality. No exploitation. Just gentle honesty and sensitivity. Creativity. Funeral directors with an imagination. I think the success of Poetic Endings is testament to how many people are looking for those things.
Tell me about the funeral director of the future. What kind of funeral director is the market asking for?
The funeral director of the future will be honest, transparent and not using euphemisms. They won’t be focused on upgrading coffins and bothering about coffin linings and handles. Instead, actually really valuing the service and making it really special and personal. I think funeral directors are going to have to step-up and upgrade their website, put their prices online, and show a little bit of creativity, imagination and sensitivity.
If you were to re-create funeral education for professionals today, what would it include, that you don’t see already offered?
Emotional intelligence and boundaries. We really want to make sure we’re being helpful and not just projecting our own things onto bereaved people. Emotional intelligence is important as well. It’s about being able to create funerals that are emotionally what families need to move through their grief process.
If there is anything else you’d like to share?
If there was one last thing I’d say, I’d say it’s not about turning funerals into parties or about making everything a celebration. It’s truly about making things honest, ethical and useful. Those words are really, really needed in our profession, and that’s what I’m committed to offering.
About Louise Winter
Louise Winter is a writer, a progressive funeral director and the founder of Poetic Endings, a modern funeral service in London. She’s also the co-director of Life. Death. Whatever. – an award festival and community that exists to change the dialogue around death and dying. Her book will be published by Green Tree (Bloomsbury) in Spring 2020.