Thursday September 7th was the Good Funeral Awards Ceremony known as the Oscars of the Funeral World. It was held in the Porchester Hall in Bayswater, a lovely wooden panelled room with swags of red velvet and glittering chandeliers. There was prosecco and an utterly amazing golden sculpture of a cake made by Wizard cakes and a gathering of many of the movers and shakers within a wide variety of parts of the world from caterers to celebrants, florists to funeral directors, burial ground managers and crematorium managers, those who care for the bodies of those who have died and many, many more. It is a chance to catch up on old friends, meet people who you may only know through email and celebrate all the good work that goes on year in year out and is seldom recognised.
Westmill woodland burial ground was shortlisted but did not win this year having been lucky enough to be selected in 2015 but I was also entered in my own right to the category of Most Outstanding Contribution to the Understanding of Death. When I saw the rather long shortlist I knew the competition was very impressive so I was utterly delighted to hear my name read out along with Lucy Coulbert of the Individual Funeral Company. She has worked tirelessly to make funeral directing more transparent and accountable and to tackle funeral poverty by working with government to review policy. We also know one another since she is based in Oxford and I am in Oxfordshire and we have worked together on a number of occasions. I couldn’t have chosen anyone better to share this award with.
I am so grateful to all those who contributed testimonials about the many aspects of my work. The judges cited a variety of things that had led to me being chosen focussing on the many areas in which I have tried to bring the conversation about death and dying from my current show Outside the Box to previous productions, the three festivals in Oxford, Death Cafes, death courses and work with students and schools, my celebrancy work and how we engage with families at Westmill. It is a huge honour to have this award and a very happy moment in my work in this field.
Aside from this I have to say that my most treasured memory is the citation for Jon Underwood who set up the Death Cafe movement in this country and who very suddenly died earlier this year. A special award was created for him and given out at the close of proceedings. His work was so modest and so important creating a seachange in people’s ability to talk about death and remembering him brought us back to what the heart of this work is all about – appreciating life, every day, every moment, being authentic, following our dreams and telling people we meet how much they mean to us. I know that far from being depressing working with death has sharpened my joy in life. Without night there is no day. Without sadness, no joy.