Radio review: A fresh take on the world of undertaking

Nuala McCann

A Life's Work Radio 4

Louise sounds too young to be in the funeral business. She's 31 and she's an undertaker.

She's also a breath of fresh air - intelligent, thoughtful and keenly motivated. She set up her own business, Poetic Endings, after the death of her grandfather.

“I had the sense we were doing something really important, but how we were doing it wasn't serving our grief,” she said.

The Victorians were not great with sex but they were great with death, she said.

Then came the world wars and things changed.

“My generation embrace not drinking and going to juice bars, therapy, mindfulness, yoga... we deal with our feelings,” she said.

There is no denying death but the word deceased is banned from her business, said Louise.

“We call people by name ... we use death, died and dead. We say those words really sensitively ... using words like passed away and fallen asleep don't help anyone. The real taboo is talking about emotion, death is full of difficult emotion.”

Undertaker David chatted about the “Eastenders effect” – some women dress like they're going to a nightclub, not a funeral, he said. A man arrived at a funeral recently and was not wearing socks. It didn't go unnoticed, he said.

Jenny, the third undertaker, was given the task of burying Richard III after his remains were found in a Leicester parking lot. It was a huge undertaking, she said and she'd never dreamed that this might happen.

“When I was 13, I'd walked over him many times on the way to the school dinner hall,” she said.

It proved a theatrical occasion with people lining the streets and throwing roses at the coffin.

A Life's Work brings together three people from the same profession but of different generations.

Each offers a fresh and interesting take on their world... listen again for midwives and diplomats.

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