Brighton funeral director Philip Evans Jr. has helped hundreds of people through the most difficult times in their lives and dealing with bereavement on a regular basis has given him a detailed insight into the different ways it can affect people.
As part of his four years of training to become a funeral celebrant he looked at how death, funerals, bereavement and mourning are dealt with in different cultures across the globe.
From the exuberance of the jazz funerals in New Orleans to the macabre (at least to western sensitivities) of Tibetan sky burials.
From traditional cremations and burials
Philip opened Sussex Funeral Services in September 2011, and it has quickly established itself as a reliable, friendly and compassionate provider of a wide range of services, from traditional cremations and burials to body repatriation and it can arrange for some of the more unusual ceremonies including sending a loved one’s ashes up in a skyrocket.
Philip said: “We take care of all arrangements, whether the customer wants a traditional or an alternative ceremony. People are increasingly going for more alternative service these days and as a qualified funeral celebrant I can take secular, spiritual and partially religious services. If clients choose me to take care of their loved ones they often spend the time to get to know me and I get to know them ensuring a more intimate personal service.
“As an independent funeral director and funeral celebrant I spend a lot more time meeting family members, going through the life story of their loved one and preparing a suitable service that reflects the personality of the person who’s died. The emphasis is very much on the celebration of life.”
The Sussex Funerals website reflects Philip’s personal approach and includes sections on bereavement, charities and an on-going blog series exploring some of the many different funeral traditions from around the world.
From the sombre to the jubilant
One interesting example is the jazz funeral of New Orleans. It goes from the sombre to the jubilant celebrating the life of the deceased and involves whole communities and strangers. As the service takes place in the church an entire brass band waits outside and when the coffin is brought to the hearse the band will typically play a number of slow funeral dirges as they follow the hearse to the site of the burial, but when they leaving the cemetery, however, the band plays more upbeat tunes as those present begin to sing and dance. The band then takes to the streets of New Orleans again, this time the crowd celebrates the life of the deceased and his or her moving on to a better place.
Another more recent trend that has been developed in the United States is burial at sea, specifically at the Atlantis Reef, about 5km of the coast of the Florida Keys. The reef was originally created as a safe haven for marine life but now one area has been set aside as an art installation, resembling the fabled lost city of Atlantis. The Neptune Society offers the option of having your loved one’s ashes included in one of the sculptures that dot the seabed.
The ashes are mixed with cement and used to create new structures to be added to the reef. They will form the foundational bed onto which thousands of different forms of aquatic life will eventually make their homes.
The reef is teeming with life, including many species of endangered marine life. Over the passing decades its concrete structures will be rendered unrecognisable by the natural coral formations which have already begun to overtake the underwater city, but it will be nice to know that, preserved at the very heart of the reef, your loved one’s remains still stand – a true testament to life after death.
The Sussex Funerals site also charts funeral rituals and a number of tribal cultures that different significantly from western funerary practices. One example is that of Australian aboriginals, laying the body on a platform and covering it with branches and leaves and then leaving it to decay naturally, it is believed this process frees the spirit of the deceased. The funeral rites can last for months, and often involve ceremonies with singing and dancing, and relatives speaking with the spirit. After decay of the body, the bones are collected, cleaned, and painted with red ochre and placed in a small wooden coffin, marked with totemic symbols, and then placed in the fork of a tree, where for the next two to three months it will be watched over by the keeper of the bones.
Finally the bones are broken up and placed in a hollowed-out log, which will be placed upright in the ground and allowed to rot.
Lamas lead a funeral procession to the ritual grounds
Another fascinating practice that differs culturally from our own is Jhator or sky burial, a ceremony stemming from the Buddhist belief in reincarnation. Following a death, the body is laid out for a period of three days, during which time monks chant and pray. The day before the sky burial, the body is washed and wrapped in white cloth. At dawn Lamas lead a funeral procession to the ritual grounds, which are located high in the hills. The body is then unwrapped and dismembered in precise patterns, which are then laid out for the already-circling birds of prey in an exact order, to ensure the entire body is eaten and the soul is freed.
Although Sussex Funeral Services cannot arrange the majority of these more unusual services, there are many other personal ways of saying goodbye to your loved ones that Philip can help with, which are more acceptable in our western culture.
“Most people, especially men, say they don’t want a fuss. Many people are a bit embarrassed about how much they want to spend and it’s usually as little as possible, but they want something that is appropriate and individual to themselves.
People still want the traditional service,
“We even cater for the DIY funeral service where the family arrange the service themselves, do all the paperwork themselves, they may even want to collect the body from the hospital themselves. Clients might be looking for advice, for a coffin, for storage, sometimes I’ve provided an estate vehicle to take the body from the mortuary to the crematorium, other times I’ve collected the body from the hospital.
A lot of people still want the traditional service, they may not be practicing Christians but they still have a faith and want that element of their loved one’s life to be reflected in the service.
“The Natural Burial Ground at Clayton Wood is a popular choice these days, while horse and carriage funerals are nowadays very few and far between.
“Our budget friendly options are the most popular choice; we call them our No Fuss Options. “We look after the loved one, or they may not even be a loved one, for example, there could be a break down in the relationship and they feel obliged to take care of the funeral, but they don’t want to spend too much. In such cases we take care of the body and transport it to the crematorium for an early morning carry in, without a service. Providing therefore a no fuss arrangement.
“It’s about catering for people’s needs without making them feel pressured into something they don’t want and that their loved one wouldn’t have wanted.” For more information contact Sussexfunerals.com