Laura Joyce, partner on our Arts Council funded ‘Dead Fashionable’ project, reflects on some of its teachings in the wake of Covid-19.
One of the reasons that Sarah and I decided to work together on a project, was because of our shared interest in social justice, the death industry, and poverty. We wanted to create a space for reflection and discussion around contemporary funeral poverty, focussing on the object of the shroud.
Coffin Works’ collection is focussed on more durable objects such as caskets, coffins, coffin jewellery, as well as preserved working machinery etc. The nature of shrouds mean that they are intrinsically temporary, they biodegrade, and disappear. This means that they are one of the greenest forms of burial, and also one of the cheapest, simplest, and perhaps most meaningful. The shroud project aimed to fill the gap in the collection.
Though mourners have cultural, religious, and personal requirements for funerals, there are many confusions about what is legally required, a confusion that is occasionally exploited when dealing with vulnerable, bereaved people.
As we have experienced Covid-19, we have seen a stark divide between those on the lowest incomes, and the highest. Funerals have sharply increased, though often with limited attendance. A funeral is a moment of temporary relief, time out to process grief that is so rarely available in busy, precarious, overworked lives. It is so important that funerals are available to everyone, to mark the passing of each life. An associated issue to funeral poverty is the bereavement leave gap, where grieving parents are allowed only two weeks of paid leave, and those on lower incomes have no choice but to return to work once that time is up.
A simple wooden coffin, or a woollen shroud, is all that is needed for a funeral. The act of washing and tending a loved one who has passed, and wrapping them in cloth, is just as meaningful as a grand ceremony and is a ritual as old as recorded history. But no one should be unable to grieve their loved ones in the way that they want and need to, simply because they can’t afford to, and no one should be forced into debt. Put simply, a humane society must be judged on its treatment of its most vulnerable, not least in death.
Further Reading on Funeral Poverty and Green Burial:
• What is Funeral Poverty?
• Funeral Poverty Grows
• Reduce Funeral Poverty
• Funeral Poverty Crisis
• Funeral Poverty Reference Group (Scotland)
• Parliament Research Briefings on Funeral Poverty
• Quakers on Funeral Poverty
• Alternative Death Practices
• Bereavement Leave Gap
• MPs on Funeral Poverty
• Support for Funeral Poverty
• Charity Funds Help Bereaved
• Funeral Poverty in the UK
• Fair Funerals Pledge
• Surging Funeral Poverty in the UK
• Help with Funeral Costs
• Breaking the “Rules” on Funerals
Laura Joyce, Project Partner