Professional mourners – or moirologists to give them their official title – have been in practice for well over 2,000 years. Now you can even find them in parts of the UK. In fact the number of bookings for professional mourners has gone up by 50% in the last year! Here’s how you can become one.
- What is a professional mourner?
- How do you become one?
- What does professional mourning involve?
- How to get work as a professional mourner
Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Chinese cultures have a common history of professional mourning, with grieving and wailing common at Chinese ceremonies.
In fact, professional wailing has been a Chinese custom since the time of Emperor Wu of Han (156BC to 87BC) and was common during the Northern and Southern dynasties. It was stamped out during the Cultural Revolution but is currently enjoying a revival.
With the number of Chinese nationals in Britain increasing every year it’s worth noting that more professional mourners may be needed here in years to come!
Oddly enough, there’s already a market here for professional mourners in the UK. Rent a Mourner, based in Essex, have a staff of 22, who all attend the funerals of strangers for different reasons. Ian Robertson from Rent a Mourner explains that while the idea might seem unfamiliar to the British, it is an idea that people are willing to consider:
“We were actually inspired by the market growth in China. The Middle Eastern way is to provide wailers – crying women – as opposed to the quiet, dignified methods we use. It is growing in the UK – our bookings are up 50% year on year.”
The company, Robertson explains, has a cross section of society as clients – the most common causes for people requesting a mourner was because the deceased had outlived family and friends, or didn’t have any. A representative of the deceased meets the company and discusses the background details of the deceased and the company are then able to provide an attendee to the service. It is a discretionary service with only the immediate family aware of their presence.
“Our staff will meet with the client beforehand and agree ‘the story’, so our staff will either have known the deceased professionally or socially. They will be informed of the deceased’s background, achievements, failures etc so they can converse with other mourners with confidence.”
A great deal of social skill is required to be a professional mourner, with the role not simply a case of ‘making up the numbers’. It’s essential to be able to engage with fellow mourners and be part of the occasion.
- You need to be confident in social situations. You will be dealing with complete strangers and they may be in a highly emotional state. “Our staff have to be confident people, who are cool under pressure,” says Robertson. “It’s not always easy to pretend you know somebody is such circumstances, especially after having a few sherries at the wake!”
- You need to be a good conversationalist. The ability to engage with others easily and to understand the discretion that is required in such a situation are very important in professional mourners. Robertson says: “We tend to ensure at least two staff members attend each funeral so they can help each other during the funeral and wake. Our staff members are all good conversationalists and well educated, so they can hold a conversation with anybody.”
- Good timekeeping. An ideal mourner would have to possess great timekeeping, a good memory and be a relaxed, laid back individual!
At the moment there’s not really enough demand in any area to get you full-time work as a mourner. It’s not the sort of thing you can treat as a career at the moment.
You also have the issue of time and distance to get from one funeral to another.
However, it may be possible to attend two funerals a day, charging for four or five hours a day. This should amount to about £60-90 a day.
“Most of our mourners contacted us directly after finding the web site” says Ian Robertson. “We haven’t had the need to advertise or use an agency – so I am not sure how this would work. I would be most interested to try it at some point in the near future to gauge public reaction.”