12 Sep When Celebrants Go Downstairs at the Crematorium!
I was delighted to be invited to view behind the scenes at my local crematorium, unsure of exactly how much access I would have to the internal logistics I approached it with both anticipation and a little trepidation, unnecessarily so as it turned out. I was met with friendliness and understanding and a clear wish to educate me on the mysteries surrounding the cremation process undertaken at my local facility in Margam. I would like to thank the Superintendent for welcoming me into his World and all his staff for their support, openness, friendliness, welcoming and informative nature.
Hospitable and Welcoming
After a briefing I was shown downstairs and witnessed some of the modernisation’s that have been undertaken in recent years and the new machinery installed, all of which makes the process for the staff and our dearly departed slick, smooth and reverent. I watched on screen as a ceremony took place, the funeral directors accompanying the coffin, the assistant conducting proceedings and a minister delivering the service. Meanwhile, I waited for the coffin to be lowered from the catafalque to be received downstairs. I watched the process intently as the attendant diligently undertook the vital checks ensuring that no mistakes are made from the arrival into his care until he placed the ashes into their given container.
Well Trained, Diligent & Professional
I was surprised to learn that every member of the team is trained to undertake every aspect and role of a crematorium assistant which ultimately means that the cogs of the funeral train are never derailed! The facility was immaculately clean, and all environmentalists will be impressed by the sustainable and environmentally friendly way they operate with low emissions and high recycling – not the bodies obviously!
At Margam they adhere strictly to the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities Code of Conduct which you can view here:
As the coffin is transferred onto the charger the attendant firmly locks it into place ensuring that no mishaps can happen; the relevant information is then entered into the computer, final checks undertaken and when the green light flashes the furnace doors can safely be opened. The searing heat hits you, even though as an observer I am safely standing to the rear of the room. The thick metal door closes firmly shut allowing the blaze to engulf the coffin and commit our loved ones into the purifying flames of the furnace fire. I bid them a silent farewell as the attendant carries out further checks and inputs any mitigating factors into the computer. Hopefully he didn’t see the little tiny teeny tear I had to brush from my cheek.
How A Body is Cremated
If, at this point you want further details on how a body is cremated I direct you to the link below. My aim was only to understand the process from Funeral Director to crematorium. Death can be seen as a taboo and as a celebrant I want to be able to remove taboo’s and assure grieving families that their loved ones are dealt with professionally and reverently.
As the ashes cool, for the attendant, there is no time for a tea-break or lunch, depending on the itinerary his only consideration is ensuring that each and every coffin he handles is dealt with professionally efficiently and reverently. If he has a cuppa and a coffin starts its descent then that’s his priority, and rightly so, “I treat every person as I would want my loved ones treated” he tells me. I reflect gratefully in the knowledge that both my parents were met with such respect and mentally thank him for that.
It’s at this stage the ashes take on the beige, crushed consistency we associate as being the remains of our loved ones. A magnet removes any remaining metal pieces and the ashes are pounded into the crunchy sandy consistency we recognise as our loved one’s ashes. The remnants of a life to be delivered safely to its final resting space, be it below ground, into the winds to catch a Jetstream to some far away place or to be scattered on a river, lake or ocean to forever float with the flotsam, jetsam and driftwood of our waters.
I feel blessed to have watched and played a very small part in five final farewells from a new perspective, whispering a silent adieu to each one as they passed my way; but a special place is held in my heart for the first lady I saw committed at 10am, I followed her journey through this peaceful progression and watched as her ashes were decanted into a beautiful white box ready for collection by the undertaker a few hours later. Whilst I never knew this lady, having witnessed her final journey through this process from committal, cooling and cremulator I felt it only right that I bow my head in a minute’s quiet reflection, and as I did so a quote from Maya Angelou sprang to my mind – Everything in the universe has a rhythm and everyone dances to that rythym
I felt honoured to have briefly touched the lives of five families and had a hand in saying goodbye to their loved ones, as each passed before me I wished a speedy onward journey, no matter what their denomination or destination. Having been a mourner at the facility I was truly heartened knowing that my loved ones had been dealt with so efficiently and reverently once their coffins had left our care.
Funeral Myth Busters
Whilst discussing my visit with friends and families I was asked some weird and wonderful questions, to that end I can confidently inform you that coffins are not stacked up and sent into the furnace together, that would be logistically impossible; as would receiving the wrong ashes, you most certainly cannot be given the wrong ashes! The handles are not removed from the coffin nor is our loved one removed from within it for it to be used again!
A Celebrant Funeral
A Celebrant funeral can be anything you wish it to be – religious, non-religious, semi religious or spiritual. A celebration of life whether a cremation or a burial. It can be themed, colourful, visual and inclusive. It can be a on beach, in a woodland, park, crematorium or graveside. Celebrant funerals are tailored to the families, loved ones and the wishes of the departed. But always officiated with grace, style, dignity and With Love!
By eliminating mystery and talking about death, cremation, burial or loved ones wishes the unknown can be removed. I hope that my experiences have equipped me to better serve grieving families in their moment of need. If I can better understand the process I am better furnished to help the bereaved accept the process and help them move through the mountainous terrain of mourning. What I take from my visit is the knowledge that from the moment the process commences right through to the conclusion I can wholeheartedly say that our loved ones are treated with the upmost respect, reverence and dignity.
On returning home I was inspired to write these few lines about my experiences…
The golden orange dancing flames caress the tender material of the coffin
The intense blaze engulfing the life and loves contained within
The purifying fires reducing life’s remnants to glowing embers
The furnaces searing heat releasing the soul upwards
And as those flames cool and reduce our love to ashes
And as we weep our tears of bereavement
A beautiful sunset rises to welcome a new glistening star into the universe
To watch over us and wait to be reunited once more with the life and loves left behind
With Love KB