Many of us have heard about direct cremation. It’s the idea that your family are going to find creating a life celebration for you such a huge burden that you need to stop them doing it. Ideally, of course, this goes hand-in-hand with paying for it in advance. The truth is, that what you’re being encouraged to plan hurts! It hurts your family and friends because they don’t get to say goodbye. And this pain will be tinged with guilt, and guilt hurts for the long-term.
What is a direct cremation – really?
Under British law, when someone dies, you are obliged to dispose of their body in an appropriate manner. You are not required to have a funeral or ceremony. The ceremonial part of the process is there to offer comfort and hope to the people left behind. They are for the benefit of the grieving, not the dead.
When people are told about direct cremation, they are sold the idea that it will be less of a burden to their next of kin. I’d love to know what this is based on. Where are the facts that support this theory? Who have they interviewed and asked ‘was it a burden to plan the life celebration for your partner/mother/child?’
And what they don’t tell you is what is involved in a direct cremation. For a start, your family will be told they may not attend. Read that again, they are not permitted to attend. The people taking your body for cremation will be strangers, and you will be taken into the crematorium, with nobody who knew you present. Your coffin will sit, for about 3 minutes, while a piece of randomly chosen music plays. Then you will be moved to the area where the cremations take place and, usually within 24 hours, cremated.
Your family will then receive notification to collect your ashes, or they will receive them through the post. In a plastic bag inside an envelope.
A less painful compromise
We’re all aware that money matters. It feels like every decision we take these days is impacted by the cost of things. It’s understandable that many people want to make plans for their death that don’t place a financial burden on their loved ones. My main concern, is have you thought to discuss it with them before you take the decision for them? Have you asked your family how they would feel about no ceremony, no rituals to honour you, no gathering to support each other and share stories?
Perhaps there is a less painful compromise that you’ve not been told is an option. For example, did you know that you can hold a memorial service at a hotel or your favourite restaurant? How about a round of golf at your club or a gathering at your knitting circle? There are so many ways to hold a celebration of your life, or a traditional funeral, that don’t have to cost a fortune.
Start by talking to family or friends
Ask your family, talk to them and ask what they would like to happen when you die. Do they want a traditional ceremony and if so, how is that going to be paid for? There are lots of pre-payment options that don’t involve direct cremation.
Have a discussion about what they would find supportive and helpful. This service might be about you – but it is for them. They are the ones who are going to be in pain when you are dead, not you. This has to be about them. The idea that you are going to be a burden by allowing them to have what will help them deal with the loss they will be feeling, suddenly seems silly, right?
Ceremony and ritual ease the pain
Since humans have been on the earth, there are signs of them practicing rituals. From worshiping their gods to honouring their dead, the multitude of ways that ritual and ceremony are incorporated into our lives is endless. And this is at the core of grief and recovery from the deep pain when someone dies.
These elements that offer comfort, that feel like community and hope for the future are all integral to our lives. The need to help the living is one of the reasons many of us become Funeral Celebrants.
Not all direct cremation is the same
Many of the companies selling direct cremation are aware of the need to support families and in fact offer other options to direct cremation. They often work with a Celebrant to create a service for the family, and of course, this is no longer the simple ceremony at minimum cost. Adding a Celebrant will involve paying their fees although most people express surprise at how little Independent Celebrants charge for their services.
The very fact that these are offered by the companies telling you that you ‘don’t want a fancy funeral or to be a burden’ should tell you that, even they, know the implications and pain involved in not allowing your loved-ones to come together for a ceremony to honour your life.
If you’re still considering direct cremation, please, ask your family how they feel about it. Because although they are not legally obliged to honour your wishes, most families do. And many are left in pain because of them. Direct cremation hurts!