Posted by Charles Cowling
There are many unsung heroes of the funeral industry – people who work very hard for the bereaved but whose efforts go mostly unrecognised and unthanked unless they screw up bigtime. So let’s hear it today for crematorium chapel attendants.
All chapel attendants are not heroes. Some are surly, some indolent, some disillusioned by years of working for cost-cutting, ungrateful employers. It is doubtful whether the grieving public are ever aware of such, given what they have on their minds. The people most aware of chapel attendants are funeral directors and celebrants. Good chapel attendants make their lives smooth and cheerful; a bad one can really louse up your day.
It takes egregious malpractice for a chapel attendant to get noticed in a bad way. In 2002 the Guardian reported this:
Just as the first bars of Elgar’s Nimrod filled Yeovil crematorium at Gwyneth Samson’s funeral in August, the side door burst open and a member of staff walked in. “You’re out of time,” he said. “Everybody will have to leave the room.” The minister and the funeral director pleaded with the man, but he was adamant. “No, you’ve had your 20 minutes,” he shouted, pointing at the clock.
The man then marched across the room, threw open the exit doors and demanded once more that everyone should leave immediately. “The music was almost completely drowned out in the commotion,” says Colin Samson, the dead woman’s son. “Most people remained seated, too shocked to do anything. My father left, visibly upset, because he didn’t want anything more to do with the man. A few seconds later, we were again asked to leave the room. This time everybody did, except my wife and I who said we were going to wait till the music had finished. The man waited impatiently by my mother’s coffin as we stood to say our final goodbye.”
It was 11.29am when Samson left the room, and the next service was not due to start until noon. “Nothing had been achieved other than to desecrate my mother’s funeral,” he says. “I went to complain to the crematorium’s administration manager. We were told once more that only 20 minutes is allowed for a service and that nothing like this had ever happened before.”
Full story here.
In January this year the Altrincham Messenger reported this:
AN ALTRINCHAM crematorium technician has been jailed after admitting stealing grieving mourners’ donations.
Robert Booth, 53, from Oxmead Close in Padgate, Warrington, was sentenced to 12 weeks in jail after admitting five counts of theft at Trafford Magistrates’ Court on January 20.
Booth, who had worked as a technician at Dunham Massey crematorium for nine years, had been filmed stealing cash from the donation basket on October 27, November 5, 19 and 29, and December 2.
Full story here.
These are rare examples of chapel attendants at their worst. What of the best? What of the attendant who picks up every last petal from the funeral just finished, then hovers at the back ready with a glass of water for the person with a cough and a teddy for the child who runs out of patience as the committal gets under way? Well, the sad truth is that those chapel attendants who bring grace and humanity and a sense of occasion to their work, often against the odds, mostly go unnoticed. That’s the nature of unsung heroism, but it in no way devalues the role.
The good chapel attendant is a selfless, dedicated specialist, so we are dismayed to receive reports that there may be a move afoot in Dignity crems to de-specialise their chapel attendants and recycle them as jacks of all trades doing all manner of jobs around the crem including selling headstones. There’s a clear ethical conflict here: a chapel attendant should not be sizing up the buying power of the folk on the front row, serving them one minute, upselling them the next.
How very regrettable it would be to see a job which calls for a very special, decent and humane sort of person demeaned in this way.
Last year I asked for nominations for the Best Chapel Attendant in Britain Award and got nothing back from any of you. Here. I do hope you’ll do better this time around. Blessings are there to be counted.