Ashes to Admin: Tales from the Caseload of a Council Funeral Officer
By Evie King, published 2 March 2023 by Mirror Books
#non-fiction, #memoir, #funerals, #end-of-life-planning, #grief, #community
This book is for you if …. you’re curious about the realities of a very unusual job.
This book may not be for you if… you have a close experience of someone dying without family or in financial distress, or if you don’t wish to read about mental health challenges.
We first heard about this memoir on The Allusionist podcast, Episode 173, “Death”, when the host, Helen Zaltzman, interviewed the author, Evie King, on the language of death and dying. The title immediately draws one in; anybody who has been responsible for organising a funeral and finalising all the affairs of a person who has died knows exactly how much administration can be involved.
Evie King, though, is responsible for a very different kind of admin. Evie has been responsible for arranging meaningful, personal funerals for hundreds of people, and she has not known a single one of them. She is a council funeral officer in the UK. When somebody dies or is found dead and no family or friends take responsibility, it is up to her to arrange the funeral.
What makes this book so special, however, is the approach Evie takes. When she is assigned this role, the expectation is she will book a cremation, close down their various accounts, charge the cost to what’s left of the estate, if possible, and close the file. Evie is not given much training or context or even asked if this is something she’d like to do.
Fortunately, the sterile ‘book them, burn them, bill them’ approach is not one Evie can subscribe to. She instinctively sets out to do the best she possibly can for each person. Evie looks through their homes for any sign of hobbies, personal connections or history. She writes eulogies for every one of them. She researches them online, trying to find connections to people and places that might miss the person who has died.
In one memorable chapter, Evie must arrange the funeral for Carl. Carl has died alone, in troubled circumstances, seemingly estranged from the world. Her relentless determination to ensure that anyone connected to Carl has an opportunity to say goodbye results in rediscovering a connection to a garden club, family and an old flame. On the day of his funeral, the chapel is full of people and flowers. His club has brought them, including some from his own allotment which they have been caring for in his absence.
Other cases are not as lucky. It is up to Evie and the relationships she builds with the local priests, rabbis and others to create a service, even if it is only she and they who attend. Every single person she is assigned to has a funeral and someone to stop and care that they have died.
Evie also examines her own feelings about life and death, sharing her personal challenges that led her to take this role. Some of the chapters cover her experiences and cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. The extra layer of complexity and emotion this brings to her work is touchingly explored.
Ashes to Admin: Tales from the Caseload of a Council Funeral Officer is a wonderful story of how one person got thrown into the deep end of death care and came up swimming. It invites us to be part of something important and meaningful and shows how compassion and curiosity can make all the difference in a difficult situation.
Ashes to Admin: Tales from the Caseload of Council Funeral Officer is available from Booktopia and other good bookstores.
Review by Catherine Prosser
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