Facts of the Job
Job Title: Moirologist (Professional Mourner)
Average Pay: £15-20/hour
Qualification/Experience Needed: Nothing official
Can you cry on demand and are weirdly comfortable around death? Do you also think you can convincingly pull-off acting as a dead person’s distant relative without emotionally traumatising everyone at the funeral? Well then, as strange as this sounds, we might just have found the perfect job for you.
Ian Robertson founded Rent-a-Mourner in 2011, in Braintree, Essex. Now, Rent-a-Mourner has over 20 staff on its books, ready to go out and act really really sad about someone dying for a small fee. Before each job, the mourners-for-hire are given a brief about the deceased so that they’re able to talk to their friends and family as if they had actually known them. Here, they’ll agree a ‘story’ with the client as well as the main talking points so as to not be caught out by any of the mourning loved ones. Robertson says that the industry is growing in the UK, with their bookings up 50% year-on-year, and most their business coming from Hull for some weird reason. Now, with plans to expand, Robertson attributes his success partly to the influx of Middle Eastern and East Asian migrants to the UK, who are bringing their customs with them.
Across the Middle East and East Asia, various cultures at both a local and national level have a long history of ‘professional mourning’, just not in the way we have come to understand it. Rather than the understated, solemn affairs we’re more used to, funerals in other cultures often take a more lively or even celebratory approach to the death of a loved one. This has meant that professional mourners enacting grand displays of wailing and grieving have earned a place in a number of different cultures throughout history.
In China, professional mourning has been traced back to Emperor Wu of Han in around 100BC and was common throughout the dynastic reigns. Despite being condemned and eradicated as superstition during the Cultural Revolution, it has since started gaining a lot of traction again. Hu Xinglian, known professionally as Dingding Mao, is one of the most widely recognised professional mourners in China. She is known for her famous kusang – literally her crying and wailing. Hu Xinglian fell into the profession almost accidentally, after losing her job at a big department store over 10 years ago and just deciding to try something new. Since then, her fame has meant that she now takes requests all across the region, even being driven up to 600 miles in a Mercedes-Benz to offer her mourning services.
In Rajasthan, India, a rudaali (literally a ‘weeping woman’) is a lower-caste woman who will be hired to mourn the death of upper-caste males. The purpose of this is for the women to express grief in place of other family members who, due to their high social status, aren’t permitted to show any emotion in public.
Responsibilities and Duties
In the UK, rather than standing out with their brightly coloured funeral attire and wailing abilities, professional mourners have to be chameleons dressed entirely in black, able to fit perfectly into any sad or emotionally stressful situation. Depending on the client’s wishes, you may have to actively engage in conversation with the friends and family of the deceased, or you may find yourself in conversation regardless. This means that due to the highly emotional state of the people you’ll be dealing with, there is an incredible amount of responsibility to make sure that they feel completely at ease and you don’t say the wrong thing.
On top of making sure to be respectful and not put your foot in it, you’ve got to keep up the guise of being a friend of the deceased whilst making idle conversation. So you have to be both a convincing actor, as well as a master conversationalist. This is why pro mourners never attend a funeral alone, they always send at least two so they can always help each other out to sticky situations.
Other than that, you’re main duties will be to: make sure your timekeeping game is on point; stay calm and relaxed throughout; and commit everything you know about the deceased and their family to memory. If you can do all of this, then their shouldn’t be any problems and everyone’s final goodbyes will go off without a hitch.
Should You Become a Professional Mourner?
Well, it’s clear that, to be a professional mourner, you have to have a hefty amount of confidence, as well as a great deal of social skill. So if you’ve read up to this point and you’re not terrified at the idea of accidentally calling the deceased the wrong name and ruining an already tragic affair, then you’re probably as qualified as you’ll ever be. The downside is, however, that this isn’t something that there’s quite a big enough demand for in the UK yet, so you’re unlikely to make a full-time job out of it unless you’re setting up your own agency to rival Rent-a-Mourner. If you were incredibly proactive and willing to travel up and down the country, you could probably attend two funerals a day, each of which would typically take two to three hours, earning you up to £100.
So professional mourning could be a fairly lucrative career if the business was there to make it a full-time career, but in the UK right now that just doesn’t seem to be the case. Part-time, this could be a great way to earn some extra money, assuming that you don’t mind the stigma or that you just won’t tell your friends. So if that’s a possibility for you then either contact Rent-a-Mourner, go freelance, or even try and set-up your own agency; who knows, maybe we’ll all have professional mourners at our funerals in 20 years time and you managed to get in ahead of the curve.