A different kind of funeral

These are unusual times and with social distancing we will need to do everything differently for a season. Doctors are encouraging us to talk about dying.  A few months ago Claire’s Dad who is in his late 80s started thinking about instant cremation. Here is what he said way before the pandemic. Claire and family are deeply grateful to have had this conversation early. It might be useful for you and people you know?

“You will probably know, if you are reading this, that I have a problem with crematorium funerals. Many years ago, I was asked to do the eulogy for a BBC colleague, and it was without much doubt the worst address of my life. So this may have affected my judgement.

But I think that one of the most important aspects of any funeral/memorial is for friends and particularly family to say goodbye, in a way that marks the end of something and the beginning of something else.

Different cultures have different ways of doing this. In our culture until not that long ago, this was marked by the body in a coffin going into the ground, and soil going on top of the coffin, neither the coffin nor the body being seen again. A proper farewell.

Not everybody saw it that way. Some thought that their loved one was still there under the ground. When I was a churchwarden, one grieving mother was very insistent that her son’s grave plot should be in the sunshine because he liked being in the sunshine. And a grave is a place which many feel that they can visit to remember and sense the connection with their relative or friend. But a proper farewell has been said.

Today it is much more likely that people wish to be cremated, for many good reasons which I share. However, this normally involves a crematorium service/ceremony, which I find troubling.

  1. If there is also a service in church (or wherever), which is the goodbye event?
  2. If the crematorium service is the goodbye event, it is a pretty strange one. You arrive to see a wooden coffin (or wait for one to arrive). And when you leave it is still there. And who knows where or when it is going. And you have to identify this box, which you have never seen before, with a person whom you have known intimately for years. And you do this in a strange building which says nothing to you about either of you.
  3. If this isn’t the goodbye event, what is it for? It does not mark the moment of death nor the moment of cremation. You briefly pass by the coffin on its otherwise unseen and unknown journey from one to the other, for 30 minutes, at a time which has been specified to you to fit in a schedule.
  4. At a time when you have lost someone who is very dear to you, do you really want to be involved with (necessarily commercial) dealings with an undertaker about the logistics (how, when, where)?
  5. The significant moments for the people left behind are the moment of death, the moment the body is taken from you (a real goodbye), and the moment of its disposal. Not the time of the crematorium service, which is definitely not the time of actual cremation.

I think this needs a rethink. So I am attracted by the idea of direct cremation, which a number of undertakers perform, more or less well. I am particularly interested in the organisation Pure Cremation. It is possible to make an agreement with them in life. With such an agreement, they will come to your home or hospital at death, and respectfully take the body away. It will not go from undertaker to undertaker. They will tell the relatives of the moment of actual cremation, so that they can remember their relative when it really happens. And a proper and unique goodbye service/event can happen anywhere at any suitable date and time.

I think this is a no-brainer. What do you think?”

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