“Just put me in the bin” – Contemporary issues around ashes and bodies
In 2018, we attended a conference organised by the Church of England. It was a beautiful day and hosted at the National Memorial Arboretum. The title of the conference was, ‘Just put me in the bin”. It’s interesting they chose this as it is something we hear quite often along with, ‘I want no fuss’. The conference itself focused on contemporary issues around ashes and bodies.
When we arrived we joined a marquee full of clergy and celebrants eager to hear more. During the day we enjoyed listening to speakers from both the church academia and funeral profession. At the end of it, we took away some interesting points. Now, looking back we are wondering if these are still relevant. Has anything changed? These were a few of the issues that got our attention on the day. We wanted to take a moment to reflect on them.
Memorials are important as places to go when there is no marked grave
This is something that is important. We don’t have markers on our graves with the exception of a few of our Scottish woodlands. This is because our ethos is keeping things as natural as possible. It allows our natural burial grounds to remain sustainable and natural. They continue to exist as wonderful, native habitats and a valued part of our beautiful countryside.
However, we do have simple memorials. These include places where people can put a plaque or plant a memorial tree. This works well because it gives us a place to focus our thoughts. Furthermore, we don’t have to worry if we can’t visit to clean a headstone or tidy up a grave. People visit when they want to, not because they feel they have to. There isn’t the worry of buying flowers, people enjoy our wildflowers instead. It is a place that focuses on life and remembering the good memories, not on death. Approaching burials this way also helps to stop practices that are not carbon. This includes importing granite headstones and cut flowers. It also means the people we love will always be in a special place that will not go to disrepair.
There will be 6.4 million deaths in the UK in the next decade (figures from 2018).
When we originally heard these figures we did not factor in a pandemic. For us, this last year has brought an added depth of understanding to this point. We know we are not immortal but the population is increasing, and therefore so will the number of deaths. Seeing these figures makes us realise we need better burial practices. This includes natural burial and eco-friendly cremation. Memorials that are locally sourced and flowers that are grown in the UK.
We need ways that we can live with the world both in life and death. Ways we can share the spaces we love and protect our native habitats and at the end of the day, make sure we have a world to live in. This is what these numbers mean to us, meaningful, personal, sustainable cremations and burials.
Funerals are seen as difficult to organise
“In some ways, we’re so free but we’re also a little bit lost” – Denise Inge
Planning a funeral is never easy. We think this point is still relevant, but arranging a funeral doesn’t have to be difficult. Having the right people around can help to make it a much better experience. This includes the funeral director, celebrant or minister you use and people like our custodians who are there to help and guide you.
The feedback we get from families that they have helped to make the process so much easier is wonderful. This is what we want people to know. While it is not an easy thing to do, planning a funeral doesn’t have to be difficult. We hope with a bit of guidance, love and care people will find that funerals can be a celebration of life.
Cremation is never the final rite – burial is final, cremation is the first stage
In this point, we wanted to share a few of the other items discussed. We found out that 80% of people take the ashes away from the crematorium. Ashes stored at home are often found in wardrobes after house clearances. Surprisingly, urns do get stolen in burglaries if the container appears valuable. Ultimately, what we do with someone ashes can fulfil the person’s identity.
What we realised was, ‘the place for the remains needs to have permanence’.
When families leave a burial they are saying that final goodbye. They still have a place they can return to, but they have laid their loved one to rest. With cremation, there are other decisions people need to make. It’s not always easy deciding what to do after. Scattering or interring ashes, like burial, has the same permanence. It can also give families a chance to say an intimate, personal goodbye after the whirlwind or organising the funeral. Some choose to combine this with a special farewell like a memorial tree planting or placing of a plaque.
Keeping ashes at home can be a comfort too. You may have plans to include ashes as part of your final arrangements. We know how important it is that those who want to be together, can be together. This is why we have the option to include ashes as part of a natural burial. In fact, we have extended this to pets ashes as this is something people would like. What is important here is that others are aware of your wishes, ensuring ashes are not left behind. If you have ashes in an urn consider what you want to happen when you are no longer there to look after them.
‘Direct Cremation’ separates the farewell from the disposal of remains
This is also true for direct burial and direct natural burial. These are other options people have become aware of since this conference took place. At the time the idea of direct cremation was starting to gain momentum and since then it has expanded to other areas.
For some having a direct cremation allows them to have the funeral at the interment or scatter of ashes. It gives families time to grieve and plan a celebration of life when they feel they can think clearly again. As we have seen, having the funeral at a later date by the graveside or with ashes is just as personal, meaningful. It’s also a way you can honour someone’s wishes if they did not want a funeral or any fuss.
Sometimes doing it this way can help the ‘flow’ of a funeral. This is useful if there is a split gathering or family that would miss the funeral or wake. This is something the last year has highlighted. The restrictions in funeral numbers and wakes has meant families had to have simple send-offs. They had no other choice, and for some, this was the ideal. But others have decided to have a memorial or the funeral at a later date with those that couldn’t be there. It’s important people know these are options so they can choose how they do things.
Finally, a quote we took away from the day, which has remained with us, was from Thomas Lynch, a funeral director and writer:
A good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be. – Thomas Lynch