Tuesday 8 April 2008

The changing ceremonies of death

The modern funeral

Having not attended a funeral for 31 years, I never knew what to expect of a church service or the committal at the crematorium.

I soon found out that coffins do not get hoisted on the shoulders anymore; a special trolley/gurney was used to take the deceased to the altar.

Powderhouse Crematorium

After the church service we drove to the crematorium in a funeral cortège a few miles to the other end of town where my warped imagination could not help but notice the crematorium was on Powderhouse Lane, I would not have believed it if I had not seen it.

My fellow passengers in the car did not catch on to my thinking until later, it was just slightly less direct from being Ash Road, but the powder of the ash was what got me – one almost expected John Cleese to jump out from behind a tombstone but the solemnity of the occasion bored down that set of silly thoughts.

To earth or to ashes

I had never been to a crematorium and recently whilst chatting to a Dutch funeral director he opined that more people prefer to be buried than be cremated because they want a place for a memorial.

Whilst a crematorium and its grounds can offer places for remembrance and contemplation for loved ones, it looked like a poor imitation of the traditional cemetery – some innovation like remembrance walls and so on just looked so different.

The suddenness of ceremony

I also felt that a crematorium does not lend itself fully to the ceremony of ashes-to-ashes and dust-to-dust where everyone completely breaks down, the deepest emotions was probably at the eulogy where my pocket square absorbed secretions from my tear ducts.

I also learnt that wake-keeping ceremonies were more an Irish think than English, some even end with drinks and fights, I have never really understood the Nigerian version where the children stay up all night – it is stressful enough grieving for the dead.

We were part of a conveyor belt of commercial activity and so soon after the curtains closed we were ushered out to see the family flowers and commiserate with the family – like a doctor’s surgery, the NEXT sign must have lit up for those after and this was to go on till dusk.

We later retired to the village pub for drinks and some food, it was there after I had expressed my views about a crematorium on Powderhouse Lane that I was told the name of the funeral director is Mr. Cook.

Surely, someone was pulling my leg, but the truth is always just what it is – sometimes incredible.

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