Thinking About Direct Cremation?

I wrote about some of the potential benefits of direct cremation in a 2016 article following David Bowie’s no fuss cremation in New York followed by a ceremonial scattering in Bali

With direct cremations undoubtedly on the rise, I would like to revisit the topic to highlight some things to bear in mind from our experience of offering tailored funeral services over the last three years.

Direct cremation is a professional term, meaning the option to deliver the body for cremation separately from a funeral.

This option has economic advantages but also can allow for creative freedoms in how you choose to come together, express your grief and honour the person who has died.

Separating the practical from the ceremonial can give you time and space to create a highly personal and meaningful event.  For some, there is undoubtedly an appeal to a ‘no fuss’ send-off, but it’s worth considering the bigger picture of what is important when we respond to a death; be mindful that you don’t slip into funeral avoidance.

New national direct cremation companies are boldly using media… TV advertisements promote simple cremation services as a perfect answer for people who do not like funerals.

It is important that your funeral professionals commit to making the funeral process as positive as it can be for all. Be mindful that there is no template for how to feel and assumptions, must be avoided. Funerals can be hard, beautiful and real… they are an opportunity for people to come together to process a little of what has happened and lend support to one another.  Make sure you don’t deny yourself and those you care about this important opportunity.  A good funeral can have far-reaching emotional benefits for the grieving process.

The rise in direct cremations may very well be linked to a movement against the conventional conveyor belt funeral.  It can be used as a way of side-stepping an industry bent on enforcing a template upon you of how things should (in their opinion and according to their streamlined, marked-up options) be done.

Numerous independent undertakers have offered ‘no frills’ options for years, and the larger national chains are no longer being complacent.  Adopting the language and ideas of the alternative market, they are offering their own competitively priced zero frills, low cost, no service, no mourners options. However, this adaptation may be more about maintaining governance of the market, than truly responding to funeral poverty, or providing customers with real choice.

You may wish to consider protecting your autonomy throughout the process and be aware that if you choose a large conglomerate to conduct your direct cremation, then you may hand over all control of person who has died to the company you have employed.  Things will happen at places and timescales that they dictate.  Once you have chosen an extreme no frills package you are in danger of losing all flexibility from your funeral provider. The basic offering may not include any face-to-face time at all with a potentially supportive funeral professional. Shop around and find a undertaker whose style of support works for you as it is possible to find funeral professionals who will tailor even their most basic services.

Crematoriums are also adapting their offerings.  While some still insist that each direct cremation has the appropriate number of bearers and the coffin is carried through the chapel… others will now accept delivery of cremations throughout the day, making it possible for the body to be delivered through the back door on a trolley or bier when convenient.

Direct cremation is a “modern alternative to the traditional cremation funeral” but it’s not the only modern alternative for those who wish to keep things simple.  There is actually a big area between direct cremation and the conventional ‘conveyor belt’ funeral.  Arguably, it is in this area where much of ‘the good stuff’ can happen.

So don’t consider opting for a direct cremation as a way of avoiding stress and pain for yourself or for your family and friends.  It is the need to do something with the body that creates an opportunity for ritual and reflection.  Even just talking through the options may well be a profound and comforting moment of discovery and healing.

Keeping things simple can leave room to confront and understand your emotions, rather than worrying about elaborate logistics and practical details. You can still come along and bear witness to the body’s last moments as a whole vessel.  You might want to have a few private moments with the coffin, listen to a special piece of music, or offer single stem flowers.

There is a growing need for alternatives to the conventional style funeral.  Some of us smaller operators choose to run our businesses in a particularly flexible fashion, offering tailored ‘no fuss’ funerals, as well as A to B transport options.

Find funeral professionals who can respond in a timely fashion and who can offer support through the process to actually create a meaningful event near the time of the death.  Don’t let too much time slip by or it may become more difficult to create the right event plan.

Drawing inspiration from the Irish, a quick response time between death and funeral can be for the best… the time between death and funeral seems to be gradually drifting and expanding in some cases. Direct cremation potentially encourages this drift and at worst, may actually take the pressure off of doing anything at all… a decision with potentially long-term negative consequences.

I’ve overseen many direct cremations and though each follows a simple pattern, each has been part of a larger, unique and active process of mourning and celebration by the families.

My priority is to provide choice to people, not simply of cost-effective options, but the active power of choice that comes from understanding and participating in the whole process.

Tora Colwill, The Modern Funeral, Brighton

This article was orginally published in More to Death, the official magazine to The Natural Death Centre.


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