She went to glory!

Charles 9 Comments

Some reflections here by Guardian commenter StoPeriyali on the way we do cremation in the UK:

Having been to several (far too many) crematorium services, I have always felt the moment when the curtain closes and they start to hoosh you all out ready for the next one, is utterly dismal, flat, anti-climactic, unsatisfying. You have to leave knowing the box is still just right there, behind a bit off curtain, and it feels like you’re abandoning the person right at the last bitter moment, and doesn’t feel any kind of closure, unlike if you could see the white heat and the coffin ignite.

When it’s me I would like to be put in old family dinghy with all my favourite treats and sentimentally valued stuff, set alight with something spectacularly flammable, and pushed off with sails set towards the Western horizon at sunset.”

This dismal process was what was putting me off cremating one of my late cats. Belize, a splendid Siamese, was the cat of my prime but she finally died during weather like the present and I couldn’t face digging a grave in the slushy mud. I took her to pets’ crematorium and the experience was quite the opposite from the standard human crematorium. I got to lay her out as if she were asleep – all curled up – and surrounded her with flowers. Then she was placed on a sheet of metal and slid into the cremation area (not so much an oven, more open). And then – by now H and S kicked in and this was being seen on a screen – she was seen to burst into flames. It was magnificent and I thought of Patroclus’ funeral pyre in the Iliad. She went to glory!

The kindness of the crematorium staff towards the owners of the pets was exemplary and the day which started out so sadly ended with the feeling I’d done the right thing by a well-loved pet. I think we probably need to actually see flames consuming the coffin to achieve the sense of closure (can’t think of a better expression but appreciate it’s become hackneyed )



  1. Charles

    Many of our Sikh and Hindu families go round (as they say in the theatrical world) and physically push the coffin in.

    I think it’s therapeutic, but the crems clearly hate it!

  2. Charles

    Do you know, Mr XX, I’ve had an English family do this. The crem cooled the cremator so that the wicker coffin would not spontaneously combust. They were very (unusually) accommodating. I remember a westernised Sikh lad watching his mother being so ‘charged’ and I think he was profoundly shocked. It was an old crem and the aesthetic was decidedly unfavourable to a good experience.

  3. Charles

    Dignity welcome the attendance of one family member at the ‘charging’ of the coffin but few take the opportunity.

    I have left instruction that my eldest daughter attends so that I do not enter the flames to the road report or phone-in pop quiz on ‘Pirate FM’. Seriously; and I don’t want my bones mashed up in a machine that sounds like a dentists drill!

  4. Charles

    Somewhat surprisingly, one of our local Plymouth crems was most obliging when we went backstage with a family just before Christmas. The cardboard coffin did indeed immediately burst into flames; it is not for the faint hearted, but a stirring sight.

  5. Charles

    I (as celebrant) got the hardest time from the funeral director. Having put it to ‘the family’ I rang to ask her to notify the crematorium. She instantly rang ‘the family’, apologised profusely for my crassness and promised I would never darken their door again. It took them a little time to establish that this was what they wanted to do.

  6. Charles

    The good people of Monmouthshire will be reading this is next weeks local paper…

    Cremations – Convenience at the expense of experience?

    Many people come away from a cremation service thinking I don’t want that when I go. So why do nearly three quarters of us go that way?

    A funeral is an important event and should not be hurried, processed or standardised.

    What attracts most people to Usk Castle Chase natural burial ground is the possibility of having a funeral with more space, time and individuality. And, after someone has died, allowing the healing landscape to help families along their grief journey in a place surrounded by trees and wildflowers.

    “Many of those who attended my wife’s funeral were surprised that a natural burial was possible and commented favourably on the whole experience – particularly in contrast to recent cremations in the family.”

  7. Charles

    I don’t think its the idea of cremation per se that’s the problem, some people will always prefer the idea of burial and others cremation. As has frequently been said elsewhere on this blog, its the quality of the experience. Time and space and freedom for the family to do as they wish. When Keith was in another incarnation he dealt with two Sikh families who asked for the cremated remains to be returned without having gone through the cremulator. Having established that they understood what they were asking for and what they would receive, he sorted it out with the crematorium who were surprised, but perfectly happy to comply. As I recall he got into trouble with his management, although to be fair he was always in trouble, it was just the depth that varied 🙂

  8. Charles

    Greetings to all on this page.

    I want to clarify my earlier comment and confirm Rupert’s point that the cremator is a highly skilled technician who has the prerogative to keep company with his choice of radio program – It would be great to hear the perspective of the cremator. There are quite profound social consequences for someone in this profession and I wonder sometimes if more could not be done with professional psychological support.

    My sadness is that when I was practicing in the chapel, I may have had time for a cup of tea say after the plucky 84 year old who dived into Suffolk reeds as she was strafed by a German Focker and then went on to nurse on the front line marry, have children who have children who sing ‘we love you Grandma’ and I drink my tea and watch the very last seconds of her mortal existence to the ‘whoops- whoops -ah’ Jingle for the wrong answer to a Kajagoogoo question on the Pirate FM morning Radio show.

    Did I weep? Do I weep? I don’t know.

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