The Cotswold Funeral Director on: Cremations Without Funerals

Jul 17, 2013
The Cotswold Funeral Director on:  Cremations Without Funerals

“I always thought they just scooped it all up and gave you a bit.” My friend said. “That’s why I didn’t collect Grandma’s ashes afterwards. I thought I’d just end up scattering Tom, Dick and a little bit of Margaret.” 
Cremation is so wrapped up in modern myth and misunderstanding I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been asked if we “re-use the coffin?” or “is it really the right person’s ashes that you get back after cremation?”

 In reality the entire process of cremation is bound by strict regulations which themselves are enshrined in law. Take it from one who knows: EVERY cremation is individual (it’s physically impossible to cremate more than one person at a time) and an unbroken chain of identification is maintained throughout.

“Ah, but my mate down the pub said you re-use of coffins and recover the precious metals too.”

Er, how exactly? The entire coffin and its furnishings have to be cremated. Meanwhile, the precious metals in jewellery will vaporize at cremation temperatures. There’s nothing left apart from bone ash.
Newsflash: Treasury embarrassed by shock unemployment figures showing further 200 hundred pub bores made redundant after dull truth about cremation revealed. 

Modern myths aside, 70% of funerals in the UK are cremations. But people still regard crematoria as “being like conveyor belts.” The difficulty, as usual, is a mix of basic economics and now also expensive compliance with EU environmental regulations. A certain volume of cremations are required to keep a crematorium viable, but then with so many families using one facility in any given area, the challenge is to make best use of the limited time-slots.

So how do you plan a meaningful ceremony within a half-hour slot? There’s a simple answer – don’t try. Why bother? Nobody likes crematorium chapels anyway. There’s a very final and disenfranchising feel about watching those curtains close. You don’t get that with burial because the coffin is still in sight at the bottom of the grave and ultimately you choose when to walk away. Burial is a simple, natural concept anyone can understand and relate to, whilst cremation is overlaid with mystery and mechanical artificiality.

But who says you have to go to the crematorium? Granted, a church might not be appropriate - for all kinds of reasons, but there’s lots of other ways to say a proper goodbye. Remember, cremation is just a process – it’s not an end in itself, so why build the funeral around it? You see, the great thing about ashes is you don’t need special facilities to keep them in, you don’t need special vehicles to transport them in and you don’t need four bearers and a funeral director to carry them. 

By all means have a formal ceremony in a place of worship if that’s where your heart & mind take you. People underestimate the healing and comfort to be found in faith and tradition. But if you or the deceased don’t have a religious faith, or if your own sense of spirituality is completely individual to you, then do it on your own terms. Why not have an informal gathering in a beautiful place special to the deceased? Gather friends & family, take a picnic, maybe even take the dogs if you want. Say a few words, laugh, play music, do whatever you want; then scatter the ashes. No coffins, no hearses, no men in black… and far less expense.

I’ll give you a tip: search the internet for “direct cremation” or “simple cremation.” My own company offers a county-wide “simple cremation” package in Gloucestershire. The point I’m making is that there are plenty of reputable funeral companies out there offering fully legal, low-cost, dignified cremation-only services. 

“But is it right just to cremate someone without having a funeral?” I hear you ask.

Of course, the idea of not having a conventional funeral will never suit everyone. There’ll always be times when family, friends and communities need to gather in a formal way, with the coffin amongst them. But other times, for personal, practical and yes, even financial reasons, a simple/direct cremation might offer far greater possibilities for you.     

James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.

He is the author of “A Life In Death – Memoirs Of A Cotswold Funeral Director

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