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These people in black scour obituaries all over Britain to go to strangers’ funerals
Straightening her best black jacket, Cheryl Johnson files past the coffin, pausing outside the church to read the wreath cards. She offers her sincerest condolences to the widow and her two daughters. Then promises to join them at the local gastro pub for a lunch buffet and to raise a toast to the dearly departed.
She has never met the dead man, and only found out about his cremation through the local paper’s obituaries
Cheryl, 69, tucks into a sausage roll at the wake and sips on her second glass of wine. She nods at the fond memories being shared about the deceased by his grieving family and friends. They have no idea this well-dressed grandmother-of-two is nursing a grave secret. She has never met the dead man, and only found out about his cremation through the local paper’s obituaries.
That’s because Cheryl is a funeral crasher, and this is the sixth stranger’s funeral she’s been to this month.
“It might sound strange, but funerals are a wonderful day out,” she says. “You get to meet new people, dress up, and there’s usually some fantastic food. It’s very much like a wedding with a celebratory atmosphere after all the emotion. Everyone wants to remember and celebrate the dead person’s life and they just assume that I knew them too. It’s never awkward.”
“I started doing this after a spell of funerals when members of family and a few friends died. I realised when there hadn’t been a funeral for a couple of months that I missed the company and having a reason to socialise.” She explains.
“I’m not being disrespectful. I’m honouring the dead by being there to celebrate their life. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t know them. I’m helping to give them a good send off.”
Women in black
Surprisingly, Cheryl is not alone. Theresa Doyle was caught going to several funerals a day around Slough and Berkshire, whilst ‘pilfering dead men’s sandwiches’.
Outraged mourners complained that the 65-year-old carries a black funeral outfit to change into, before going into church. She tags along to the wake and helps herself to heaps of food. Even bringing Tupperware containers along to take some home, and put in her freezer.
Mrs Doyle, who’s a funeral crasher of over 14 years, has even been accused of inventing stories about how she knows the deceased.
… the 65-year-old carries a black funeral outfit to change into. She tags along to the wake and helps herself to heaps of food
After crashing Margaret Whitehead’s daughter Catherine’s funeral, the pensioner said that she’d worked with Catherine as a waitress. “There were a lot of people at the funeral from Catherine’s work so I just assumed she was a colleague,” the distraught mother said. “But my daughter was never a waitress.”
“She [Doyle] was eating from the buffet like there was no tomorrow. At the end of the wake she took out a Tupperware box, filled it up with food and cycled off with it in the basket on her bicycle. She intrudes on people when they are upset and sad.” Margaret says.
Funeral crasher psychology
Psychologist Angela Mansi (CORR) identifies funeral crashers as ‘emotional vampires’. They suck up the energy and drama of the real mourners at the ceremony.
“There is clearly something missing from their own lives,” she says. “A funeral is a private, deeply emotional occasion. These crashers aren’t just there for the food – they want to be immersed in the grief and be around people who are mourning a loved one.
“They are an observer at a stranger’s funeral but there’s a real need for them being fulfilled by being there and that relates to emptiness and loneliness.”
A funeral is a private, deeply emotional occasion. These crashers aren’t just there for the food – they want to be immersed in the grief
Angela lectures on business and the ‘dark side’ of personality, at the University of Westminster. She says that funerals are a way for these often isolated, lonely people to become, temporarily, part of a community. “We used to have more established places for people to come together, such as churches, fayres and fetes,” she explains, “but there are less of them now.” She discusses.
“People are being further isolated by technology and more are living alone so funerals are one of the last ways we can pay homage to someone while joining in with others in a social ritual.”
The Grim Eater
A man dubbed the Grim Eater crashed up to four funerals a week and took home food in a doggy bag. Undertakers banned him from attending any more funerals.
“He was showing up to funeral after funeral and, without a doubt, he didn’t know the deceased,” Danny Langstraat from Harbour City Funeral Home, in Wellington, New Zealand, said. But after taking the crasher aside to warn him to stop, the undertakers took a photograph of him and circulated it to all their offices and colleagues.
Noel McDermott, psychotherapist and international speaker, insists though that going to strangers’ funerals is normal and was only deemed inappropriate by the Victorians who wanted to sanitise death and everything surrounding it.
“In many cultures it’s still not unusual for an entire town to turn out for a funeral – even though many of the mourners will never have met the deceased,” he explains. “Grieving is what makes us human. In fact, the most defining moment of the human species transitioning from animals is when we began to start decorate public spaces around death and make graves.”
The romance in the morbid
Funerals are emotionally intense and many funeral crashers may crave that raw and deep intimacy and experience, Noel says.
And there can even be a surprising outcome to all that pent-up emotion – funerals can be highly erotic. “It’s well known that people often hook up at funerals,” he says. “There’s so much talk of death, and so much heightened emotion, that people want to be reminded of their mortality and will often engage in sexual intercourse as a way of reminding themselves they’re alive.”
… her date refused to reveal where he was taking her. Revealing to her only to: ‘wear a black dress and I’ll surprise you.’
One woman, who accidentally found herself crashing a funeral on a first date with a man she met on Tinder, didn’t think it was sexy though. The woman from Leeds whose tweets about the disastrous date went viral, was initially excited when her date refused to reveal where he was taking her. Revealing to her only to: ‘wear a black dress and I’ll surprise you.’
Her enthusiasm soon cooled when he picked her up and drove her to a crematorium for his grandmother’s funeral. Explaining how she felt, she explained, “He was holding my hand crying – I couldn’t leave.” Needless to say their romance is now dead.
Four weddings or a funeral
But there’s no reason why going to a funeral can’t be as enjoyable as going to a wedding, says writer Bridget Whelan. The 63-year-old from Brighton & Hove in Sussex, was brought up in Ireland. She says in Irish culture, funerals are seen as part of the rich tapestry of everyone’s social life.
“They can be a great social occasion,” Bridget says. “It’s a chance to meet lots of nice people and have some fantastic food and drink. It’s a bit like a wedding, and in Ireland it’s completely normal to go to the funeral of someone you hardly know or have never met. And, if you’re in your 50s or 60s a funeral can be the highlight of your social calendar.”
“…in Ireland it’s completely normal to go to the funeral of someone you hardly know”
“Everyone knows about the local funerals and everyone comes. Those that attended my father’s funeral included his chiropodist and my mother’s hairdresser. An old school friend of my uncle’s by marriage was there. He had never met my father. Why did he come? Because my uncle had lost a brother in law – that was enough reason.”
Bridget says there’s nothing to be ashamed of by letting people know you didn’t know the deceased. “My advice to anyone thinking of going to a funeral is go,” she insists. “Be honest and say if you didn’t know the deceased well. Explain you heard the news and wanted to let the bereaved know how sorry you were to hear it.”
How to crash a funeral
We’re absolutely not suggesting you should do this, but if you fancy funeral crashing/showing your respects, then The Other Side of Funerals shares the secrets of how to attend without attracting attention to yourself.
- Dress appropriately. Black clothing should enable entry to most funeral without a second glance. The key is to fit in without standing out.
- Pre-plan and research. Read obituary notices – often the family will include all the details you need, from the name of the deceased to the time and location of the service. You will also be able to work out if there is a wake.
- Act confident. This is perhaps the most important thing – just walk in as though you were meant to [be there].
- Be punctual but not early. Arriving late gets looks, but so does being the only one in the church as people arrive. However, if you walk in with the crowd then you are just one among many – which is usually 15 minutes before the funeral is due to start. As you enter, sign the condolence book and take an order of service.
- Blend in but don’t just stand about. Standing about awkwardly will get you noticed and then people are likely to question you. Stand in the crowd and talk to someone. Priests or nuns are good as they are experienced with funerals and are more causal than the average mourner.
- Go in pairs if possible. Being part of a duo is a lot easier than being alone. It will give you someone to talk with freely at the wake and someone to help come up with excuses or ideas if needed.
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