B.C. College of Midwives and Pashta MaryMoon, 65, to litigate ‘death midwife’ title this week
By Liam Britten
In a sworn affidavit, Pashta MaryMoon says her passion for alternative holistic death care began when she was a seven-year-old girl watching a 1950s western movie.
She described watching a scene with a pioneer’s wife whose husband had died. The fictional woman, all alone, had no choice but to care for his body herself, prepare it for burial, inter it and then comfort their grieving children.
“Young as I was, and with the benefit of hindsight, this ‘hands-on’ approach struck me as making more sense than conventional funeral practices,” MaryMoon, now 65, wrote.
“I am a Death Midwife; Death Midwifery is my vocation and it is what I do.”
The problem with MaryMoon’s vocation, in the eyes of the B.C. College of Midwives, is its name.
The college, which is the legal body regulating and overseeing the practice of midwifery in B.C., has sent several cease and desist letters to MaryMoon since 2016 demanding she stop using the term “midwife” to describe her services.
Now, it is turning to B.C. Supreme Court to compel her to drop it in a two-day hearing this week.
Cites history back to ancient Egypt
According to the college of midwives, its birth-focused registrants provide a “continuity of care and support throughout the childbearing experience.”
Before birth, they provide physical exams and diagnostic tests; during birth they can conduct normal vaginal deliveries; and they also provide postpartum care after birth.
MaryMoon says death midwifery honours the philosophy and tradition of traditional midwives as someone who “attends to birth or death.”
In a document submitted to the court, her friend Mia Shinbrot outlined the services MaryMoon provides.
Before death, she helps the dying plan at-home funerals and work through their grief; during the death itself, she organizes death vigils; and after the person has died, she takes care of paperwork, helps with the funeral and provides grief support.
MaryMoon, in her affidavit, said the dual role of a midwife stretches back into ancient times and claims its roots go as far back as recorded history, as evidenced by ancient Egyptian gods like Isis or the Bird-Headed Snake Goddess, which she claims have aspects of both life and death in their natures.
College wants to avoid confusion
In an affidavit of her own, college of midwives registrar Louise Aerts argued it is important to keep the term midwife legally reserved for college-certified midwives to avoid confusing or misleading members of the public.
Aerts declined to comment further for this story, saying the matter is before the courts, but in her submission, she noted that other holistic death practitioners call themselves “death doulas” or end-of-life doulas.”
Douglas College even has an End-of-Life Doula certificate program.
But MaryMoon, in response to that, said the term “death midwife” is the only title that accurately encapsulates her services and approach. She believes there is no chance of confusing her work with that of a college-certified midwife.
“When people hear ‘death midwife’ or ‘death midwifery,’ they automatically assume a philosophy about it, in part, because they’re familiar with birth midwives,” MaryMoon said.
“There’s no other term in our culture right now that that the public recognizes.”
She believes that without the title, people facing death will not know that they can take a different approach to dying.
She will ask the B.C. Supreme Court for an exemption to restrictions on the midwife title on Nov. 29 and 30.
When your old Aunt Petunia passes away, there’s a good chance her body will either be reduced to ash inside a purpose-built kiln or buried in an expensive (but not too expensive) wooden box next to the decaying remains of Uncle Harold.
If only she’d lived in another time, or another place, things could have been very different.
Different cultures have disposed of human remains in wide variety of ways, some a little more colourful than others.
And we might need to revisit some of them soon, because, let’s face it, we can’t keep packing our dead into prime real estate.
The history of the human funeral is a tough topic to study. Other animals typically have little to do with the remains of their loved ones, and if we go back far enough, our ancestors were no different.
So at some point in history we went from stepping around dead bodies to purposefully disposing of them. Identifying when this change took place is a bit of a challenge.
Several hundred thousand year old hominin bones found in a pit in Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains were once hypothesised to be the oldest evidence of a mortuary ritual, on account of being found among tools nobody in their right mind would throw down a hole.
Recent research has cast doubt on that thought, suggesting the much more gruesome explanation of cannibalism and leaving the question of just when our rituals first evolved up for debate.
The charred remains of an Australian Aboriginal woman near Lake Mungo represent the oldest cremation, at around 40,000 years old. So we’ve been disposing of the dead for at least as long as that.
Even if we can’t settle on an exact ‘when’, we’re left with the question of ‘why?’
Mortuary practices were well underway long before writing was a thing, so we can only speculate their reasons.
Eggener suggests the first burials might have been less than reverent, with those low on the social ladder being thrown into a pit while those higher up were given a fancy send-off.
At some point it’s possible that some viewed burial as a more appealing option, preferring it to being dried or eaten in plain sight.
Whatever the inspiration was, burials were relatively common by the time the first settlements appeared around 10,000 years ago. Cultures far and wide began to store their dead in shared locations, such as underground catacombs or suburban necropolises.
Today we see these kinds of landscapes as sombre spots for quiet contemplation. Yet this whole ‘rest in peace’ attitude has also varied throughout the centuries.
Eggener describes the medieval cemetery as a place where markets and fairs were often held, and farmers would graze their livestock (apparently grass grown over graves made for sweeter milk – try using that in your advertising these days!).
Our historical appreciation of the cemetery as a community centre began to lose its appeal by the end of the 19th century, coinciding with the rise in popularity of public parks and botanical gardens, says Eggener.
But even today there a range of funeral alternatives still in practice.
Various forms of so-called sky burial can still be found in remote parts of Tibet and Mongolia, for example, where bodies are deliberately left to the elements and scavengers to consume.
Katrina Spade wants to transform the U.S. funeral industry, making way for many more options for those facing death and for their families. She founded Recompose in 2017 to champion a dramatically new approach that reconnects death to natural cycles of life and engages people through meaningful participation. Ashoka’s Michael Zakaras caught up with Spade to learn more.
Michael Zakaras: What inspired your interest in the rituals and practices around death?
Katrina Spade: I had a moment around age 30 when I realized I was mortal, and I became curious about what would happen to my physical body when I died. Because my family is not religious and most of my friends aren’t either, I thought, what will they do? And I discovered that there are really just two options in the U.S.: cremation and conventional burial. Both practices poison the planet — this struck me as the wrong punctuation for lives lived in harmony with nature.
Zakaras: Why do we have just these two options?
Spade: Much of it is convention, it’s just the way things have been done. Take modern embalming. Many people think of it as a centuries-old tradition — but it became popular in the U.S. only during the Civil War. A couple of enterprising young people invented and marketed it to soldiers on the battlefield as a way to get their bodies home to their families — for advance payment. They used arsenic instead of formaldehyde back then. Today’s funeral practices, and many of our laws, are based on the dual practices of selling caskets and embalming bodies from 150 years ago.
Zakaras: How big is the funeral industry today?
Spade: About $20 billion dollars, and it’s an interesting industry, with many funeral homes passed down generation to generation and a few large corporations that own a lot of funeral homes. One of the things that’s so interesting is the idea that every person can “own” a piece of land for eternity, in the form of a cemetery plot. This is not a sustainable model, especially for cities with space constraints.
Zakaras: That’s a good point. How much land would you need to bury everyone in, say, New York City?
Spade: We’d need over 200 million square feet of land, or 7.5 square miles! And besides the land use, cemeteries are filled with metal, wood, concrete, and embalming fluid, a known carcinogen.
Many people consider cremation to be a more sustainable choice, and its popularity is rising: by 2035 an estimated 80% of Americans will be cremated. But actually, cremation is an energy-intensive process that releases greenhouse gases and particulates, emitting more than 600 million lbs of CO2 annually.
Zakaras: So what’s the alternative?
Spade: With Recompose, we asked ourselves how we could use nature — which has totally perfected the life/death cycle — as a model for human death care. We developed a way to transform bodies into soil, so that with our last gesture we can give back to the earth and reconnect with the natural cycles. We’re also aiming to provide ritual, to help people have a more direct and conscious experience around this really important event. As hard as it can be, the end of one’s life is a profound moment — for ourselves and for the friends and families we leave behind.
Zakaras: If you are successful, what will look different in 10 years?
Spade: I’m hopeful that we will have many options for the end of life — from hospice care all the way through disposition. It won’t be the odd family who says, “Maybe we should have a home funeral” — it’ll be every family that says, “Okay, how are we approaching this? What feels right to us?” And it will be normal to ask: “What do I want my end of life to look like? What will happen to my body? Where do I want to be when I die?” These are things that should be up to us, but we’ve never really felt that we had the agency or the cultural support to decide them.
The funeral industry would like us to think that it’s difficult or impossible for us to care for our own after a death, but humans have been doing that for millennia. There are a lot of reasons to take back some of that work, the work of caring for the dead, because there’s so much beauty inherent in it and it’s such a personal thing.
Zakaras: Why is this a particularly important moment for this work?
Spade: There’s a growing realization of climate change, coupled with this incredible cohort of baby boomers — 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day — who are approaching the end of their life or seeing someone go through death and thinking, “Is this really the best we can do?” This is a generation that’s really good at saying “Wait a minute, we can do better than this.”
Zakaras: Do you ever get tired of talking about death?
Spade: I never do! We have such a long way to go, but a new relationship with death is totally possible. One of my favorite sayings is “Death is not an emergency.” This is a wonderful reminder that the very first thing we should do when someone dies is pause and take a deep breath and just be in the moment.
A “vampire burial” unearthed at a Roman site in Italy is evidence of ancient funeral practices to stop corpses rising from the dead, according to archaeologists.
The body of a 10-year-old child was buried ritualistically with a stone in its mouth, possibly out of fear it would return to spread disease to its community.
Known locally as the “Vampire of Lugnano”, evidence collected from the bones suggest the child was infected with malaria at the time it died.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s extremely eerie and weird,” said Professor David Soren, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona who has run excavations in the region for over three decades.
The remains are the latest unusual discovery to emerge from the Cemetery of Children, a site containing dozens of children’s bodies and evidence of witchcraft including toad bones, raven talons and bronze cauldrons.
Dated to a time in the fifth century when a deadly malaria outbreak swept across central Italy, archaeologists thought the cemetery had been set aside specifically for the babies and young children who would have been most vulnerable to the disease.
The “vampire” skeleton, which is of unknown sex, is the oldest child to be identified so far at the site.
It was one of five new burials discovered there over the summer, and was found placed underneath a makeshift tomb constructed from roof tiles.
“Knowing that two large roof tiles were used for this burial, I was expecting something unique to be found inside, perhaps a ‘double-inhumation’ – not uncommon for this cemetery – where a single burial contains two individuals,” said David Pickel, a PhD student a Stanford who directed the excavation.
“After removing the roof tiles, however, it became immediately clear to us that we were dealing with an older individual.”
The child’s open jaws and tooth marks on the surface of the stone were evidence that it had been placed in the mouth intentionally.
Similar burials have been documented from Venice to Northamptonshire, and along with dismembering bodies and forcing stakes through the heart are thought to be methods of preventing these “vampires” from returning to haunt the living.
“This is a very unusual mortuary treatment that you see in various forms in different cultures, especially in the Roman world, that could indicate there was a fear that this person might come back from the dead and try to spread disease to the living,” explained bioarchaeologist Jordan Wilson, another PhD student who examined the body.
Professoer Soren added: “We know that the Romans were very much concerned with this and would even go to the extent of employing witchcraft to keep the evil – whatever is contaminating the body – from coming out.”
An abscessed tooth, which can be a side effect of malaria, provided evidence that the child had been killed in the epidemic that struck so many of the cemetery’s inhabitants.
Elsewhere at the site, a three-year-old girl had been buried with stones weighing down her arms and feet – a practice also thought to prevent corpses from returning to life.
The researchers said these practices provide a fascinating insight into the thought processes of ancient Romans and their fears about life after death.
“It’s a very human thing to have complicated feelings about the dead and wonder if that’s really the end,” said Ms Wilson.
“Anytime you can look at burials, they’re significant because they provide a window into ancient minds.”
With much of the cemetery still unexplored, the archaeologists intend to return to the site next summer to complete their excavations.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, a week after my father received a terminal cancer diagnosis, he asked my cousin to take him to a local mortuary where he made decisions about his burial and paid for his funeral. Following his death five months later, as a grieving only child, I was thankful my father had the foresight to plan ahead, as he had always done for other life events. His choice to preplan was a gift that prevented me from making emotional and costly decisions based in grief.
Death is a subject none of us want to confront. Talking about death causes us to face mortality and run head-on into the fact that we will not always be here. Yet death is inevitable and planning your funeral is a lot like planning for retirement. It requires honest evaluation and sometimes hard decisions, but it’s something that needs to be done.
Here are five reasons to overcome hesitancy and consider planning your funeral now:
1. Rising Costs
Each year, funeral costs continue to rise. Planning and paying for your funeral now is a way to avoid those increasing costs. According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the median cost for an adult funeral with viewing and burial, including vault, was $8,755 in 2017. For a funeral with viewing and cremation, the median cost was $6,260. These amounts do not include cemetery costs, monument or marker, pall flowers, obituary or other related expenses, which could raise the cost to between $10,000 and $12,000. However, consumers have options.
“Charges at all mortuaries are based on operating costs and overhead and are higher in larger metropolitan areas,” said Glenn Miller, manager at J.F. Floyd Mortuary in Spartanburg, S.C. “With a full-service mortuary, there are many options. All of our services are itemized, and families can choose what to include. Our fees are the same for a funeral at a church or at our chapel as long as it involves our standard five staff members.”
2. The Ability to Make Your Own Decisions
Most people like to feel in control over decisions that affect their lives, and often that extends to end-of-life decisions. While no one can predict the time and circumstances of death, many take comfort in knowing they’ve selected the type of burial, location and funeral they want. While many plan to make these decisions eventually, most never actually follow through.
“Emotions are the greatest deterrent to preplanning,” said Miller. “People often have the attitude that if they don’t talk about death, it won’t happen.”
If you approach funeral planning as you would a financial or business decision, you may be able to get beyond those difficult emotions. Many mortuary websites provide preplanning information. Other websites, such as Funeralwise, help calculate costs. Move beyond any superstitious notions that funeral planning hastens death, and take time to investigate.
If you’ve ever tried to plan a family reunion or holiday get-together, you know suggestions and opinions abound and conflict. When planning a funeral — factoring in intense emotions, personality conflicts and multiplying by the number of siblings — you potentially have a recipe for a family squabble.
“Many people are still traditional in their faith and type of funeral they want, while their children may not be,” said Miller. “Children think differently than their parents and often have a more contemporary approach to burial, funeral location, music and minister. Planning ahead documents your wishes.”
While you can’t guarantee family members will abide by your choices, preplanning documents your wishes and provides a benchmark.
4. To Reduce the Financial Burden
We all hope to leave assets for our children, yet a prolonged stay in a care facility can deplete savings. Remaining assets are often non-liquid, which doesn’t help with the immediate need to pay mortuary or crematorium costs. Prepaying for your funeral and associated costs eliminates or reduces the financial burden on those left behind. Most mortuaries provide incremental prepayment options over months or years.
5. Preplanning is a Gift to Loved Ones
Planning a funeral is a huge hurdle for grieving family members who may be physically and emotionally exhausted. If even some planning has been done ahead, the burden of making rapid, costly decisions is eased.
Sometimes planning occurs near the end of life, but any information given or selections made are gifts to those who will execute the funeral.
Sherry Cochran’s father made decisions about his funeral while in hospice care, with his wife and six children present.
“My father was a minister, and he openly discussed his funeral,” said Cochran, a retired attorney in Raleigh, N.C. “He chose the hymns, minister, mortuary, cemetery and told us any casket we chose was fine as long as it was plain and didn’t cost much. When your parent is willing to talk about end-of-life issues and make decisions, it teaches you how to approach death and provides closure.”
Flowers weren’t just for decoration at Victorian-era wakes.
“They were having people over to view the body so they had to try to keep the odors to a minimum,” said Edna Dieterle, with the historical re-enactment group, the Mourning Society of St. Louis.
Dieterle, 61, spent Saturday at historic Bellefontaine Cemetery in black dress and veil, as one of several people re-enacting a vigil at the gravesite of the Lindells, a family of five wiped out in a single week by a cholera epidemic that struck the city nearly exactly 152 years ago.
Although other historical enthusiasts hold cemetery tours or storytelling events, the Mourning Society has spent the last five years teaching people about Victorian funeral customs by bringing those customs back to life.
Re-creating mid-19th-century funerals is a hobby for Dieterle and her fellow mourners, but it’s also a way to connect people with the past through a shared experience, death, which was a pervasive part of daily life back then due, in part, to epidemics and unsanitary living conditions.
“People think Victorians were so focused on death, but they had so much of it to deal with,” said Dieterle, a nurse whose interest in historical medicine led her to learn more about diseases, death and funeral etiquette. “It was such a common visitor to homes in the 1860s. They weren’t morbid people, it was just reality.”
The Mourning Society also re-creates Victorian-style wakes at 19th-century homes, showcasing Dieterle’s creepy collection of mementos: jewelry made with the hair or teeth of a lost loved one, photos of dead children dressed in their Sunday best, black-and-white china painted with graveyard scenes that say “The Orphans” or “Mother’s Grave.”
Some of that collection — including instruments once used to “bleed” sick patients and recipes for funeral biscuits — will be on display at the Mourning Society’s event Oct. 26 at the Campbell House Museum in downtown St. Louis. Visitors will take part in a re-creation of the wake for Robert Campbell, a prominent businessman who died Oct. 16, 1879, in the family home. The house, which has its original furnishings, will be dimly lit by candlelight to set the mood as attendees learn about another killer that haunted the Victorians: diphtheria.
While October is prime time for the Mourning Society events, thanks to Halloween, members say their goal isn’t to spook spectators but to teach them.
“It has a somber atmosphere, but no one is jumping out of the coffin with a chainsaw,” said Katherine Kozemczak, another organizer with the Mourning Society.
“But if you think about it, dying of cholera is a pretty scary thing.”
Time to grieve
As opposed to current day, Victorian customs encouraged people to mourn their loved ones openly, intensely, and for elderly widows, permanently, Dieterle said.
They mimicked the United Kingdom’s Queen Victoria — the namesake of the era — who upon the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861 from suspected typhoid fever, plunged into deep mourning and wore black the remaining four decades of her life. The long-lived monarch ruled from 1837-1901.
“They focused on the grief, whereas nowadays we sometimes give advice to just move on,” Dieterle said. “The Victorians gave them time to mourn, time to grieve and time to heal.”
Women in mourning would wear special clothing — black dresses, veils, gloves and shawls, in addition to carrying parasols to block out the sun — for several months, if not a year or more. Women who couldn’t afford to buy funeral wear would dye an old dress with tea to stain it brown or gray. Men would wear armbands or brooches they could affix to regular clothing.
The homes of those in mourning would have their doors covered with black fabric, which, like the clothing, signaled to passers-by not to disturb them and muffled the sharpness of a knock on the door if they did.
“Whereas now, if you lose a loved one, people don’t know,” Dieterle said. “We’ve all had it happen where someone you haven’t seen in a while comes up and asks you how you’ve been, and you don’t want to talk about it. They could avoid those awkward situations.”
They may give people goosebumps these days, but Dieterle says there is logic behind every Victorian funeral custom.
“To us, now, they’re very sad, but for them it helped them focus on their grief, and they felt it was an appropriate thing to do,” Dieterle said.
For example, photo shoots of dead loved ones?
“They might have been waiting for a special occasion to spend the money, and that might have been the special occasion, unfortunately,” she said.
Jewelry with something from a dead relative?
“I say all you moms in the group probably have a snippet of your baby’s first hair cut taped in a baby book,” Dieterle said. “They just took it one step further.”
Just as they are now, mourning customs were a stable hand guiding people through difficult times, especially during the cholera outbreaks, Dieterle said.
“There were so many people dying during this and people didn’t know what to do, but they had to get through it somehow,” she said.
For the first 24 hours after an apparent death in the Victorian Age, relatives would sit with the body day and night just to make sure the person was actually dead. Cholera, for example, would often make people so dehydrated that they wouldn’t have enough fluid in their veins to detect a pulse.
“The term ‘wake’ came from the experience of watching the body to make sure they didn’t wake up,” said John Avery, a retired funeral director who plays undertaker for the group. “Before there was embalming — which began during the Civil War — on occasion, someone would fall asleep and be thought to have died when in fact they may have gone into a coma.
“And people were very afraid of being buried alive, so they would have someone sit and watch.”
If the dead person didn’t come back to life, the family would then wash the body, using a special solution of vinegar and alum to keep the person’s skin taut and prevent it from discoloring. The hands-on involvement was part of the family’s grieving process, Avery said.
During the wake, the dead person was the life of the party. The body would be laid out on ice and adorned with flowers as the centerpiece of a candlelit room in which family and friends would gather.
A second funeral
At the Lindells’ second funeral, mourners and people interested in learning about the rituals gathered at Hotchkiss Chapel at the cemetery. Bob Ruby played hymns on the organ — “Abide with Me” for the procession, “Jesus Loves Me” during the service and “Nearer My God to Thee” for the recessional — while Tom Allen played the part of a minister.
The funeral re-creation began with the 23rd Psalm and included comforting words about everlasting life at a time of widespread sorrow. The sermon was written by Avery, a retired diaconal minister in the United Methodist Church, who led a procession to the family plot.
Pallbearers carried two antique coffins to the burial site. A white child’s coffin represented the one that held Peter Lindell, who died in infancy; a larger coffin was for his mother, Nancy. The service ended with more words of faith and comfort.
All five of the Lindells died of cholera within a week of each other and were buried Aug. 30, 1866, at Bellefontaine Cemetery. They were part of the family that owned property along the boulevard that now bears their name.
The cemetery was established after a severe cholera outbreak in 1849. During the 1866 epidemic, which killed more than 3,200 people, the cemetery buried 200 victims in August alone, said Daniel Fuller, cemetery event and volunteer coordinator.
Nearly half of the 87,000 people buried at Bellefontaine were interred from the Victorian Era to just before World War I, and much of the cemetery, dotted by towering, centuries-old trees, has remained virtually unchanged, Fuller said.
“That’s what makes the setting out here so good for this,” he said.
The Lindell family plot looks virtually the same as it did in 1866, though cemetery caretakers added plants on nearby graves to reflect Victorian tradition. Family plots back then would be outlined with plantings done by relatives, often ivy, which symbolized permanence; fragrant herbs such as sage and rosemary that invoked particular memories; and flowers, white for children’s graves to represent innocence, and red roses for love.
For people who missed the Mourning Society’s funeral re-creation Saturday, fear not. It will return the first Saturday of October next year, with a different theme.
While Mourning Society events may not be for everyone, there are those who return every year, Dieterle said.
“When you put it to life, you see schoolkids’ eyes light up, and they start asking all these questions about what they’re seeing in front of them,” she said. “They’re not going to get that out of a book.”
Working in cremations has taught me how important it is to make the most of life
By Catherine Powell
I usually get one of two reactions to my work as a cremation provider – either total fascination or a horrified escape to the other side of a room.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about funeral work, but it’s really all about people.
My husband and co-founder of Pure Cremation has been in funeral service for over 30 years, and I became a funeral arranger then a funeral director thanks to him.
Some do find it shocking that, as a woman, I have personally collected the deceased but, in reality, my job gives me the opportunity to make a real difference to people at a crucial moment in their lives, and even to delight them.
While many people are quite squeamish about the idea of the job, I assure you the jokes are worse.
When you get into the industry, I think you need to be prepared to hear, ‘That’s a dying trade isn’t it?’ or ‘You’ll never go out of business!’ – but it’s all part of the job.
We give simple, dignified care to the person who has died, including collecting them from their place of death and getting them to the crematorium, where they will have an unattended cremation.
Compared to traditional funerals, there are a few key differences with the type of cremation we do.
We never embalm the deceased – it isn’t necessary because of temperature controlled facilities.
We also use a metal detector wand to quickly check for any implants that the family, and even doctors, are unaware of – several types can be hazardous during cremation. For example, pacemakers explode violently and so need to be removed before cremation.
Understandably, human cremation is very tightly regulated, with each person cremated individually, and the handling of the ashes is strictly monitored to avoid mix-ups.
To make sure there are no mistakes, everyone we look after gets a wristband with a unique identifying code that’s also displayed on the coffin lid, any jewellery bag and the ashes container.
Once checked and identified, each person is gently placed, just as they are, into an eco-coffin, which is made from natural, untreated pine, and is much more dignified than the typical mortuary tray where the body is exposed.
When all the paperwork is complete, the coffin is taken to a licensed crematorium.
The vast majority of our families don’t attend the committal at all, but a few do.
On these occasions, there can be just a handful of people in the room, which can be very moving indeed, and I consider it a real privilege to be a witness to these goodbyes.
Some of them are very emotional, particularly if the deceased is young or the circumstances of the death were tragic, but I’ve seen laughter and gratitude as well as tears.
Once the coffin is transferred into the crematory – a superheated furnace with space for just one body – the cremation itself can take up to 2 hours to complete.
Afterwards, any metal parts such as as surgical pins and joints are removed, and the remains are processed to a fine powder to make the ashes that people are familiar with.
The final stage of our care is the hand delivery of the ashes to the family, so that they can be laid to rest somewhere special, and there’s often a memorial service with the ashes instead of the coffin as the focal point.
Cremation actually allows people to better celebrate someone’s true personality separately and the send offs can be very unique, like burning arrows and Viking costumes.
There are two particularly surprising and lovely things that I remember.
The first was watching two daughters dance and play air guitar to Spirit In The Sky in the crematorium chapel as they said a private goodbye to their dad.
I was also able to give a terminally ill lady some joy, just by agreeing to include the ashes caskets of her beloved dogs in her coffin. Sadly, she passed a few weeks later.
It is moments like these that you see how people respond to a tragic event, and this is uplifting and inspiring in equal measure. These instances make me love my job.
I see my job as looking after the living, through excellent and compassionate care of the dead.
We’re here to support families through a traumatic event, and we see first-hand the extra worry that comes from having no idea what their relative wanted.
I’ve always believed that talking about our own end and arranging our own funerals makes a positive difference when it matters most. And it can be a really liberating experience!
This job certainly teaches you about life and how important it is to make the most of it. I’ve also learned what a difference it makes to leave a few clear instructions for your funeral, so your family can feel they ‘got it right’.
The families we look after are doing exactly what mum or dad asked for: a no-fuss, low cost funeral that leaves more to spend on the celebration of life, or to a good cause.
While a qualification isn’t necessary in the UK for a job like ours, great attention to detail, superb listening skills, and problem solving – whether practical or emotional – are essential.
Pay-wise, our drivers get a basic salary of more than £18,000 and lots of overtime on top!
The administration team salaries start at around £24,000, both are considerably higher than traditional funeral firms, where the starting salaries for a funeral arranger can vary between £15K to £19K.
Admittedly, direct cremation is not for everyone.
However, we do make a real difference, offering a liberating alternative that’s perfect for anyone who doesn’t want a traditional funeral.