Cremation urn by Sarah Walton
We can speculate why it is that, in so-called advanced societies, the conventional funeral as an event is something dead people are increasingly bypassing. The point is that it’s happening, and demand for direct cremation (deathbed to incinerator) is growing. It is growing especially among educated liberal thinkers, precisely the constituency which was the first to adopt cremation.
Direct cremation also makes very good sense to those who reckon cremation to be a very good way of preparing a body for a funeral. It may be extraordinary that we assign the identity of the person who’s died to a pile of pounded bone fragments, but we do. And having been so rendered, those bone fragments assume three very favourable properties that a dead body lacks: they are portable, durable and divisible. A family can hold their own funeral for ashes pretty much anywhere they like, whenever they like. No need for specialist help, no fancy cars, no hoopla. Once you’ve got your head around the notion, it can look very attractive.
For both these direct cremation groups, the no-funeralists and those espouse the ‘rite of secondary treatment,’ together with a third group, those who wish to hold their funeral in an alternative venue, cremation as we do it in the UK offers very poor value for money. Because, whether you like it or not, you pay both for the burning and also for rental of a ceremony space you’ve no need of. Even people using the slightly less expensive early-morning slots normally get 15 mins of ceremony space whether they want them or not.
Poor value for money may be irksome to the rich but it is disastrous for a fourth group: those who urgently need to work to a budget. Recent steep rises in the cremation fee, necessitated by the installation of new emissions abatement equipment, have made an already bad situation worse.
It doesn’t have to be like this. In the US you can ring a nice, proper man like Michael T Brown at Simplicity Memorial and he’ll arrange a direct cremation for you for $995 all in — around £660. Have a look at his website, he’s everything a funeral director ought to be – here. In the UK £660 probably wouldn’t cover the cremation, never mind the funeral director’s collection-packaging-delivery service.
Our British crems are, both, expensive ceremony spaces and inefficient incinerators of the dead. The case for uncoupling incineration equipment from crematoria is growing. An efficient, environmentally sensible incinerating plant is a standalone structure that services several crematoria and puts in a long shift.
It’s not going to happen overnight, is it? A ‘castrated’ crematorium becomes just another funeral venue. Our crems will fight to the death to retain their raison d’etre. We say that with respect to those who run our crematoria, many of whom are far more dedicated to the best interests of the bereaved than they are credited for.
There is a concession that crematoria might make now. A drop-off service and a cremation-only price. In terms of process there’s no need for bodies to be directly cremated, and those who have been funeral-ed elsewhere, to be carried into the chapel and placed on the catafalque. Take ’em round the back. To a seemly reception area — it doesn’t have to be very big, just decently appointed. Isn’t that a much better way of catering for those who have no need of, or cannot afford, the ceremony space?
In the east end of London, Quaker Social Action are working hard, with the help of some excellent volunteers and sympathetic funeral directors (let’s hear it for T Cribb and Sons), to enable people on low incomes to have affordable funerals. An affordable cremation fee would make a huge difference.
A drop-off service and a cremation-only fee. Simple, logical, obvious, fair. But for our crematoria the thin edge of the wedge, too — yes, there’s the rub.
There are so, so many vested interests standing in the way.
Quaker Social Action’s Down to Earth project here.