Whom do you picture being at your funeral? For most people, it is friends and family, loved ones coming to say goodbye. But what if you don’t have many friends or family? Is there a stigma attached with low funeral attendance? It seems like this may be the case in the UK.
Rent-A-Mourner is a legitimate service provider in Essex, England—their service simply provides actors to attend a funeral. Not only are their people well-trained in the art of mourning, they are also generally briefed on the life and personality of the deceased so that they do not seem out of place should a conversation strike up with another attendee. Furthermore, they’ll take any direction that the family of the deceased chooses to share—for example, staying clear of real attendees or mingling as friends.
It may seem strange to some, but this practice of rentable mourners is actually no new occurrence. In many parts of the world, including Africa, Asia and the Middle East, this is common practice, dating as far back as the 1800s. In some countries, in fact, this is a much-desired job that pays rather well. While not common practice in the United States, some funeral directors have observed that it is not entirely unheard of either, especially in the south. In Taiwan, the practice is so deeply entrenched in popular culture, that there is actually a famous mourner, known for her prowess at expressing grief on command.
It is not only for popularity’s sake that services such as these exist. More pragmatically, a person may not have many family members living or they may have newly relocated. In some Asian cultures it is believed that large and loud sendoffs are necessary for smooth crossover into the world beyond; this is a softer look at the practice—instead of being guided by vanity, hired mourners can also be considered a kindness, a way for even more people to be reached and touched by the deceased. Taiwan’s famous mourner explains that she is able to cry at every funeral because she listens to the stories around the room and connects with the grief that is surrounding her and in that way she is also affected by the death, also mourning the one who has passed.
While entirely unconventional in our culture, hiring mourners is simply another kind of tradition—it works for some and may seem entirely unnecessary by others. Some say that it is no different than burning money or offering animal sacrifices to commemorate or honor the death of a loved one. What do you think? Does this practice seem crass to you? Or Interesting? Would you ever consider hiring mourners?