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  • Writer's pictureJacqueline Jouannet

The Punk Undertaker

I recently came back from a festival. Miraculously the weather was pretty good and I mostly avoided getting drenched.


A highlight for me was a talk by Ru Callender aka 'The Punk Undertaker'. His website is here https://rucallender.com/ . Ru has written a wonderful book titled, "What Remains? Life, death and the human art of undertaking" full of stories and anecdotes both from his own experience of bereavement and those of his clients.


Ru describes coming to a realisation one day that his calling was to be an undertaker; a role he sees as having as having huge significance in supporting the bereaved to grieve well and to mark the death of their important person in a genuine way. The 'death industry' now seems to cash in on the bereaved with catalogues of expensive coffins, hearses, horse-drawn carriages and other expenses that are beyond the means of many people. Hence the rise of 'direct cremations' (the cremation of a person with no-one present. The ashes are returned to the family after the event), something that Ru vehemently opposes. Direct cremations can be seen as the only option for some families, due to financial constraints. 'Radical Undertakers' like Ru, can offer important information and options for families who may not be aware of their choices.


Ru has conducted funerals in pubs, on beaches and at raves. He empowers the living with the facts they need to take control of what happens to their loved one after death. Did you know that friends and families could arrange funerals entirely themselves, including the cremation and the burial? Perhaps naively, I did not. It seems in some western cultures that death is often taken out of the hands of family and friends and entrusted to 'experts'. In these cases, the art of tending to and observing the dead body, a process that can assist the beginning of a healthy grief process, has been lost.


My own father died in a wonderful hospice, where he had been cared for with such tenderness. I was not present at the moment of death, although I had been there a few hours prior. I asked if I could see his body and it was not possible as he had been taken away to be attended to by the funeral directors. Looking back, I regret this missed opportunity, but did not understand that I had other options.


At the festival book store, Ru signed my book and we had a brief chat. He seemed to embody such a gentle, empathic kindness. I can imagine how attentive and supportive he would be in ensuring a meaningful funeral which holds deep significance to the bereaved and helps them begin the work of grief.



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