Need me to come and mourn a loved one? I’ll have my tears at the ready

Mourner, in Essex, are paying “professional mourners” to weep and mingle through a funeral service

Share

I’m a little ashamed to admit that, in the days when I used to be sent by the newsroom to report on big ceremonials, I once gatecrashed the funeral of Lew Grade.

Security was tight at the exequies of the great TV mogul, and as I drew near to the crematorium in my black coat, I doubted I could bluff my way in. But as I approached the invitation-checkers, an odd thing happened. An icy gust of wind scythed against my face (it was mid-December) and a salty tear sprang from my eye and coursed down my cheek. The bouncer looked at my stricken face and evident lachrymosity, marked me down as a sentimental family retainer, and let me through.

I bring up this 15-year-old memory because I’ve just discovered that I could have had an alternative career as a professional mourner. The ability to cry at someone else’s funeral has, it seems, become a lucrative revenue stream. Companies like Rent-a-Mourner, in Braintree, Essex, are paying “professional mourners” £45 an hour to weep through a funeral service. And they don’t stop at weeping. They’re given the details of the dead person’s life until they’re able to mingle with the rest of the congregation. A largely unlamented stiff can appear to warrant lots of sincere and noisy weeping.

The idea, of course, isn’t original. My Irish forbears on the Atlantic coast used routinely to sign up platoons of witchy ladies to attend the funerals of strangers and wail over the body in its open coffin. They were known as “keeners” (from the Irish word caoine for “wail”) and they’d rend the air with cries of, “Oh, he is gone from me, gone from me, and not another bright day will dawn in my lifetime…” for 20 minutes while the shattered widow would comfort herself, away from the racket, with a Jameson in the kitchen. Dickens’s Oliver Twist, you’ll remember, got a job for a while as a tragic-faced professional funeral appendage (though he stayed mostly silent). And the tradition is popular across the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It’s even on the rise in China.

It’s intriguing to think of Essex men and women being signed up to weep at the graveyards of Chinese or Libyan people and pretend to have known the deceased “professionally or socially”. But it suggests we’ve become an increasingly slippery society, with our “friends” who aren’t friends, our authors who sign people to write their books, our spouses who are encouraged to take our speeding points. A culture of shameless delegation is beginning to steal over us.

In the Guides groove

There’s been a boom in recruitment to the Girl Guides. Chief Guide Gill Slocombe says it reflects “a growing demand among girls and young women for a space of their own. There’s never been a greater need for a space where girls can share their thoughts and feelings with other girls without feeling they are being judged, pigeonholed or laughed at.” Isn’t that amazing?  Within living memory, the fastest way to get pigeonholed or laughed at by the cynical minxes of Eighth or Ninth grade was to join the Guides. Now they’ve become edgy, feminist, potential-fulfilling, ass-kicking. And that stuff about finding “a place of their own” has a familiar ring. Has Brown Owl turned into Virginia Woolf?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie