The reason why we have a sector of the economy called funeral undertaking is an accidental conjunction of two historical circumstances. If it were possible for funerals to be carried out de novo, then as a matter of course we would probably dig a hole in the garden for a deceased relative — or call on our local handyman to do so for us.
One of the historical reasons is that, during most of the 19th century three generations of factory workers and miners were too poor to buy a plot of land to bury their dead folk in, even if it was the size of a grave.
The other reason is a revival of religion in the later years of the 19th century when the economy started to prosper for most, but prodigiously so for the new middle class. The orthodox Anglican churches also started to revive to cater for them and the big church funerals of celebrities began to filter down to the new middle classes and then further downwards.
Given some unknown entrepreneur who put the two trends together — churches always have a pecuniary interest in holding funerals — then the social fashion began in earnest. The new sector of organising ceremonial funerals for all in churches or crematoria, for the religious and the non-religious, except for the very poorest, began is now a powerful social pressure.
However, such funerals have become very expensive and, for many, have overshot anything that is reasonable. It is reported in my morning paper that one man, John Wright, 71, is now digging a hole in his back garden for his mother’s body because he is refusing to pay an undertaker £2,800 ($4,000) plus a further £2,500 ($3,500) for her to have the full religious service.
There is no legal reason to prevent him so we can but hope that John Wright doesn’t strain himself too much in wanting to get his mother’s body out of the fridge at the undertaker’s — where she is costing a daily fee — as soon as possible.