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
What is 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. It isn’t just China that has a history of professional mourning too. In ancient Egypt, “wailing women” were paid to cry and clutch at the dead body of the deceased.
In Western civilizations, professional mouring dates back to ancient Rome were the theatrics were in full force with some mourners even going as far to pull out their own hair. Here, the size of the funeral procession was also considered a measure of achievement (the larger, the better). However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, professional mourning died out – pun intended – in Europe until the 18th century. In Victorian England though, professional mourning was reignited under a new guise, “funeral mates”. Even Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens’ beloved character, featured as one.
Today, the practice of professional mourning is very much alive across the UK.
How do you become a professional mourner?
Oddly enough, there’s already a market here for professional mourners in the UK. So much so in fact that Rent a Mourner, the UK’s former professional mourning hub, has had to cease operations because of overwhelming demand – sob. Before their fond farewell though, the company did reveal that there bookings were up 50% year-on-year. So, there is money to be paid in professional mourning. Arguably, there is even more now that the market has opened up, making it the perfect time to start your own professional mourning business.
Ian Robertson, from Rent A Mourner, explained a little bit about the business before they shut shop. The most common reasons people requested a mourner was because the deceased had outlived family and friends, or didn’t have anyone else. A representative of the deceased would meet with the company and discuss the background details of the deceased. The company would then be able to provide an attendee to the service. It is a discretionary service with only the immediate family aware of their presence.
Robertson also goes one step further to explain that staff would meet with the client before the service to agree “the story.” The professional mourner will then be informed of the “deceased’s background, achievements, failures etc, so they can converse with other mourners with confidence.”
What does professional mourning involve?
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. Ultimately, you will be dealing with complete strangers and they may be in a highly emotional state, as such you will need to be confident and cool under pressure.
- 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. Previously, Rent a Mourner would ensure that at least two professionals attended each funeral so they can be of assistance to one another. This may be a tactic you would like to adopt in your own business too!
- Good timekeeping. An ideal mourner would have to possess great timekeeping, a good memory and be a relaxed and laid back individual too!
How to get work as a professional mourner
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.
But there is nothing to stop you earning money from professional mourning by setting up your own business.