Now that the sun has come out a bit and the Wimbledon quarter finals have been reached, the attraction of spending daylight time at conferences and seminars about funerals has waned a little – however, the GFG is nothing if not self sacrificing, so this week that’s just what we’ve been doing.
Also, having rather cheekily asked for a free ticket to the CBCE conference, which is organised by The Cremation Society of Great Britain and The Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities (who were not on friendly terms with us back in 2014, see here) – and kindly been given one, it would have been churlish not to go along.
So on Monday and Tuesday this week we joined members and delegates in Stratford-upon-Avon, and sat in on some really rather excellent talks. Among them were presentations from some good friends of the GFG and people whose work we are very interested in: – Dr. John Troyer PhD from the Centre for Death and Society spoke on the subject of ‘All things dead are new again’ and gave a fascinating insight into society’s approach to death since the 1970’s, that period of social and political upheaval with very bad fashion. Did you know, for instance, that between 1968 and 1972 there were around 1,200 books published on the subject of death and bereavement? There was a huge interest in debating death and end of life issues that is largely now overshadowed by more recent ideas of death being a taboo.
Dr. Brian Parsons, (who has lots of letters after his name – more about him here) illustrated the exceptional promotion of cremation in the South London area between 1914 and 1939 and how this was achieved, showing us advertisements and leaflets from early in the 20th century and demonstrating how society’s view of cremation in this part of the country was changed in a much faster way than elsewhere in the UK as crematoria sprang up in close proximity to each other. (By 1939, within an 11.5 mile radius of the offices of Frederick Paine in Kingston, there were six crematoria to choose from.
Sandy Sullivan from Resomation Ltd gave an update on the developments so far, as he continues to push for the necessary legislative change in the UK to enable the first installation to take place here. In the USA there are three Resomation units in operation and over 2,000 Resomations have been carried out. No longer partnered by Co-operative Funeralcare, Sandy has a new partner in The LBBC Group, and his enthusiasm is undimmed by the long years of trying to get a Resomation unit operative here in Britain.
A second fascinating presentation yesterday came from Tony Ennis, CEO of ecoLegacy, whose ecoLation process is described as a disruptive, next-generation, environmental and ethical alternative to burial and cremation. Using freezing, heat and pressure, the ecoLation process is a way of breaking down the body to an elemental level until the only thing left is biologically inert dust. Half a billion dollars of equipment is to be deployed in the introduction of ecoLation units in the next five years, with the first commercial unit to be launched in Dublin in October. We’ll be going to have a look at it for you.
James Norris, our good friend from Dead Social and the Digital Legacy Association gave warning about the need for preparation for our death online and explored how we remember those who have died through social media and their ongoing online presence. He talked about the resources available for professionals from the DLA and how these could be used as a soft approach to open conversations about death by asking, for example, whether you have a password / security code to access your phone, tablet or laptop (the vast majority of us do) and whether you have told anyone else what that is. Well, have you? If you haven’t, then the huge amount of information held on your devices won’t be accessible when you die.
Dr. Mary Ross-Davie, the Education Project Manager for Maternal Health, NHS Education for Scotland recounted the multi-agency coordinated response to the Rt. Hon. Lord Bonomy’s report on infant cremation, and the resulting introduction of a new Code of Practice and new guidance for professionals working with newly bereaved parents. Of particular note is the newly accepted definition of ashes ‘All that is left in the cremator at the end of the cremation process following the removal of any metal’ – irrespective of their composition.
There was a detailed and comprehensive presentation from Dr. Anne Eyre PhD. looking at dealing with disasters and the implications for death care professionals. Drawing on her personal and professional experience, Dr. Eyre talked in depth about the essential need, both social and symbolic, to re-identify the dead in any disaster situation as persons, not just bodies, and how critical it is that people bereaved by disaster be given choice and control. In disasters, a person becomes an object, one of the dead, and society insists that disaster victims be treated as persons, not bodies – a person-to-object-to-person transformation through painstaking efforts to re-personalise the dead.
“Every effort needs to be made to turn bodies into persons. In this process of personalization, considerable respect is shown in handling bodies.
It is clear that something very important and very fundamental is occurring, for the dead are not socially dead unless the right steps are taken leading to an individual’s funeral.
To the dead, it may not matter, but it does to the living… the living will, if at all possible, not let go of the dead until the body involved is respectfully converted back into an individual person.”
Other speakers were Leona McAllister from Plotbox, who told the delegates about how the future ‘Memorial Parks’ could look, and P. Scott Odom, director / architect from GoldenAge – Mausoleum Solutions Ltd. who talked about community mausoleums in the USA.
The long day yesterday ended for us with the Presidents Panel, where four representatives from different trade organisations (SAIF, FBCA, NAMM and the Co-operative Funeral Services Managers Association) gave their thoughts about various subjects to the room. It was time to pack up and come home.