When he became an undertaker, Rupert Callender undertook to deal with the dead for the sake of the living. What Remains? is the brilliant, unforgettable story of the life and work of the world’s ﬁrst punk undertaker – but it is also a book about ordinary, everyday humanity and our capacity to face death with courage and compassion. To say goodbye to the people we love in our own way.
And in becoming the world’s first ‘punk undertaker’ and establishing the Green Funeral Company in Devon, Ru Callender and his partner Claire challenged the stilted, traditional, structured world of the funeral industry: fusing what he had learned from his own deeply personal experiences with death, with the surprising and profound answers and raw emotion he discovered in rave culture and ritual magick.
From his unresolved grief for his parents and his cultural ancestors to political and religious non-conformists, social outlaws, experimental pioneers and acid house culture, Ru Callender has taken an outsider ‘DIY’ ethos to help people navigate grief and death. He has carried coffins across windswept beaches, sat in pubs with caskets on beer-stained tables, helped children fire flaming arrows into their father’s funeral pyre, turned modern occult rituals into performance art and, with the KLF, is building the People’s Pyramid of bony bricks in Liverpool.
What Remains? is a deeply moving book that will change the way readers think about life, death and the all-important end-of-life experience. As Ru memorably says: “Death has shown me unimaginable horror, the unbreakable core of love and courage that lies at the heart of what it means to be human.”
Rupert Callender is a self taught ceremonial undertaker and writer who has worked in Devon and Cornwall since 1999. He and his ex partner Claire Phillips were described as “The best funeral directors of all time, by a country mile” by Charles Cowling.
They pioneered an immersive strip backed approach which threw out the usual trappings of the traditional funeral in favour of the shared experience. This risky approach has led to accolades from within the industry and without, and made them controversial figures in the establishment dominated world of the corporate funerals, and they have been written about by several authors including Tom Cox, John Doran, Miranda Sawyer and Peter Ross.
Rupert writes and takes most of the funeral ceremonies himself, and this grew into a wider writing career including performance art rituals. This has led to a partnership with Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, former members of the KLF, in which they are building a pyramid in Toxteth, Liverpool using bricks containing cremated human remains.
Rupert remains foremost an undertaker working in South Devon, and his company is called The Green Funeral Company.
He and Claire did a TED X talk entitled “Death, Grief, Ritual and Radical Funerals.”