Dealing with death from Earl-y
Ian Griffith has been in the funeral business all his life.
His father, Earl Griffith, started Earl’s Funeral Home in 1973 and upon his death in 1993, Ian took over the Half Moon Fort, St Lucy business as funeral director.
“As a boy, from seven years old, I assisted with small jobs, and as I got older I would work during vacations,” Griffith said. He added that unlike many of his friends, he was never fearful and was always at ease in and around the funeral home.
“Children are never really afraid of anything unless someone puts it in their head, so it was never really anything that was in my head to fear death and bodies. I never bothered me at all.
“I used to go to funerals after school and on weekends, so when [my friends] saw me at 16 years old driving the family cars and moving the bodies, it was always a story to talk about. Always something interesting that they wanted to know,” Griffith said.
However, when he left Coleridge and Parry School in the 1980s, he actually began to pursue studies in another field – accounts – at the Barbados Community College. After completing that, and with his friends going on to university, Griffith said his obligations at the funeral home and school were simply not working out as he liked.
He decided to go full-time in the funeral business, later pursuing studies in mortuary science at the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service.
Griffith said that through the years, funeral services and preparations had changed drastically. Gone are the days when a funeral service would cost $1 500 or $2 000, involving the simple handling of the body and the casket. Nowadays, with the addition of obituaries, flowers, tents, leaflets and other items, costs had increased significantly.
“There was no programme. You brought your own hymn book. A lot of the frills that you have with funerals nowadays is what leads to the additional expenses.”
He said that in earlier years when someone was buried in an open casket or the oak or hardwoods, that was considered expensive or high-end. These things had become more the norm.
Yesterday, Earl’s Funeral Home held a church service to mark All Souls Day in remembrance of the dead. Griffith said they had been doing this for the past eight years.
“We started the service . . . to help those who lost someone who passed away. We thought it beneficial to help those persons who lost someone, to help with the bereavement process. By coming together with a similar experience, they have the opportunity to express their own feelings,” he said.
The undertaker also emphasized that the way people viewed funerals in terms of payments had also changed for the better.
“Barbadians are beginning to realize that death is something sure. Unlike years ago when you would have older persons passing away, you are seeing people dying at any age. Some really young people are dropping down dead,” he said.
Therefore, he explained, people were putting funds in place as a pre-planning measure, with some even taking out insurance.
He noted that while funeral costs had be paid up front in other Caribbean territories, in Barbados funeral homes still offered credit.
For Griffith, the hardest part of the job was not dealing with the dead, but having to deal with the various emotions of the grieving family; some of anger and guilt.
“A funeral is considered a rite of passage. It has to be dealt with in a dignified manner . . . . We have to make sure the emotions are borne out before the actual funeral. Then we still have to provide after-care.”
Griffith said he learnt from his own experiences, like when his father died and he had to prepare the body while dealing with his personal grief. He also prepared the body of his brother and best friend.
“That was very hard for me. That is when it hit home,” he said.