Helen Martin: Deep pockets to foot bill for dear departed

The cost of funerals is increasing. Picture: Getty
The cost of funerals is increasing. Picture: Getty
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CITIZENS Advice Scotland has just published The Cost of Saying Goodbye, a report charting the rising costs of burials and cremations.

It was certainly timely for me as I organised my mother’s funeral earlier this month.

The whole family loved her dearly and were extremely saddened by her death, but none of us suffered the full shock of bereavement. She was 98 and for seven years had been cared for in a nursing home as her dementia, mobility and ability to communicate gradually diminished.

In the last days it appeared to family and staff that she had decided it was time to go. Somewhere in the back of her ailing mind she still had the ability to find the “off” switch, stop eating and slip away in her sleep. It was the best way to go, a blessed release.

With a pre-paid funeral plan, the funeral directors collected her and within a couple of days were at my home helping advise me of the next steps . . . and there were many. Even registering the death meant hunting out her birth certificate, her marriage certificate and collecting the medical certificate of death from the doctor.

Nowadays, registering a death is done by an appointment system which took days to arrange. After fighting through the Festival crowds to the Registrar’s offices, we discovered the medical certificate was invalid, so it was back to the surgery for a replacement and back again to the Registrar.

Communicating with the rest of the family, deciding on the crematorium with Mortonhall out of action, arranging the funeral service and which family members would take on each role from pall-bearing to readings, the details of the limo and the hearse, working out the order of service and how many would be needed, selecting flowers, attempting to estimate how many people would attend the “wake” and what catering would be required, booking the venue, finalising hymns, readings and music . . . it was all stressful enough for me, let alone someone who had suddenly lost a spouse or sibling at a comparatively young age and was suffering the full levels of shock and grief.

I simply didn’t know where to start, and if it hadn’t been for help from the funeral directors and the priest, I could never have managed. It may seem an inappropriate comparison but in organisational terms it isn’t that different from a wedding . . . yet it all has to be completed in about a week. It’s that efficiency, knowledge, professionalism, dignity and experience – not to mention sensitive diplomacy – that makes a good funeral director worth every penny.

One thing I didn’t have to worry about was money. A funeral costs thousands. And the worry over how to pay for it and manage the debt is especially cruel and distressing for families with a tight, or even non-existent, budget.

Later this year the Government is staging a conference on “funeral poverty” including how to develop more affordable options for the hard-pressed. Yet we surely don’t want to go down the road of “paupers’” funerals. Even if it involves a means test, debt-free financial help should be available to those in need to give a comparable, dignified, respectful farewell to their loved ones. We are all equal in death.

The bankers are in charge, not parliament

BANKS, particularly the Bank of England, remain oblivious to accusations of greed and public exploitation. The B of E’s publicly-funded pension scheme has doubled in input in the last five years.

Tax-payers now fund over half the pensionable salaries of the bank’s senior staff. Private employers pay about one eighth of that into our pensions, and meanwhile, the Bank’s fiscal policies on interest rates and quantitative easing have reduced the value of those private savings and pensions.

So the bank’s pensions are safe, while almost 6000 private schemes face a black hole of around £460 billion.

In short, bankers make MPs look like Mother Teresa. Time for the other Theresa to take action, or admit that bankers, like Mark “Carnage”, Carney (pictured) not Parliament, run the UK – to their own benefit.

Shouldn’t Humanists live and let live?

I HAVE a friend who is a leading member of the Humanist Society Scotland – a very nice man. And I have no problem with anyone who chooses to reject religion.

But the HSS is costing us all money by launching a legal challenge against the Government so that, as in England and Wales, 16 to 18-year-olds can opt out of religious observance in school without parental permission.

Regardless of the fact that many teenagers choose to dismiss religion either temporarily or permanently anyway, and at 18 they can do what they like, religious observance is quite simply, none of the HSS’s business. They are supposed to be a charity for the non-religious – not a protest group. What happened to “live and let live” or does that not conform to Humanist policy?

We need a law to punish idiots

USING a mobile phone while driving is extremely dangerous, as it is while cycling or walking across a road.

Cyclists, joggers and pedestrians who wear headphones aren’t too clever either as they won’t hear approaching traffic. Cycling round corners on pavements is obviously wrong.

Can’t we just simplify things by having one offence for irresponsible road use that covers all these idiots?