In response to some of our most frequently asked questions, we have written a series of posts on those topics which require further explanation
Freeman Brothers has been carrying out funerals in Sussex and Surrey since 1855. As we have been so long established as Funeral Directors, we have a good sense of some of the most common questions people have around funerals. Taking feedback from colleagues in Horsham, Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint as to what we are asked frequently, we have produced a series of blog posts addressing some of these issues.
Today, manager Abi Pattenden will be looking at some of the practicalities which we often encounter when discussing cremation services and what follows on from them.
One of the things Funeral Directors often find themselves being asked is whether the coffin is cremated along with the person who has died or whether it is removed and then re-used. This seems to be a very long-established myth as it is one of the things I remember being asked in my early days of working for Freeman Brothers and we still come across it with regularity now. It’s also hard to identify where this idea comes from. It saddens me to say but I think in the past, people tended to have a less positive view of funeral directors and the work they do, and I feel sure the roots of this idea come from there and have just been propagated over time.
There is a service available, particularly in the USA, where funeral directors ‘rent’ a more expensive or ornate-seeming ‘outer coffin’ to the family to be used for the funeral service, which is then removed afterwards, leaving the Deceased person to be cremated in the simpler coffin which they were always held within, which was concealed inside. However, this is not something I have ever been asked about. Similarly, there is a method of disposing of a body which is not yet legal in the UK called resomation, or water cremation. Instead of being lit, the person is subjected to a heated pressurised liquid. Coffins are not suitable for this procedure so the Deceased person is typically kept in a specially-designed shroud, which might again be placed in an outer rental casket for the purposes of meeting expectations during a funeral service. Knowledge of these might inform thoughts about re-use of coffins if they were better known, but I’m not sure how well-known they are.
The best way to answer this question is to say that funeral directors would never be able to ‘sell’ coffins if really it was for a rental – this would contravene legislation such as the Sale of Goods Act. Even something covert would be virtually impossible as it would involve the collaboration of crematorium staff which would make it unlikely to remain a secret. Most people working in funeral services feel a high moral obligation to the person who has died and their families and this includes people working in crematoria. They are unlikely to tolerate this kind of deception. All of this is aside from the fact that a lack of coffin would interfere with the cremation process itself.
Equally, we are sometimes asked about the removal of fittings or fixtures from the coffins prior to a cremation. These days, most funeral directors would obtain fittings which are specially designed to be cremated – you will notice that our coffin descriptions refer to fittings being ‘brassed’ rather than ‘brass’, for example – and so there is no need to do this, there have been occasions in the past, particularly when burials were more popular and some suppliers had not diversified, when a particular coffin might have been requested which, in fact, had components unsuitable for cremation. I remember a family very much wanting their late father to be cremated in a coffin which came supplied with a mattress which could not be cremated, and they did not like the quite similar alternative which was suitable for cremation. In instances such as these, we would have an honest and transparent conversation about the alternatives and what choices there were – in this specific case, we removed the mattress and lined the coffin prior to the gentleman being placed in it for his funeral. Because of our long-established history and professional excellence of our staff, we are prepared to have these conversations in the interest of honesty and transparency.
In both the cases mentioned above, it’s worth considering the detriment to our professional reputation which we would suffer if we were found to be acting in such a covert manner and whether we would want to take such a risk just in the interest of what would be a relatively small saving overall. You will see from our price lists that the coffin is usually not the majority of our invoice, and our service charge – usually the largest amount of our charges for most funerals – would not be affected by this in any case.
We are also asked about items that can be placed in the coffin, such as jewellery, keepsakes, and the remains of other family members or pets. The first thing to mention is that anything cremated will usually not survive the process. Some people believe metal and jewellery might come through the process but, while it may not be destroyed completely, it will certainly not retain its previous appearance. We would advise against anything large or bulky being placed in the coffin, as it may affect the cremation process, and of course flammable items are a no-no. Human ashes are not allowed (they can be mixed together afterwards, though, and we are happy to do this for you) but there is some flexibility over pets, particularly if a small amount was to be placed in the coffin loose or in a temporary container. As mentioned above, the biggest consideration should be the permanent loss of the item and the possibility of regretting its absence later.
People often want the ashes back quite soon after the funeral and ask us about this timescale so it’s important to note that the cremation process take several hours and may not happen immediately after the funeral. Some crematoria will ask for permission to keep the person for up to 72 hours before they are cremated (this is easily declined) – most people are cremated on the same day, though, but the ashes will probably not be ready that day and can never be guaranteed to be available until the following day. There are processes which go side by side with the cremation to ensure constant identification of the ashes (another question we are asked very frequently) and obviously enough time needs to be taken to ensure these are followed. For example, all the remains have to be sensitively removed from the cremator before the process can start again. The Crematorium also needs to prepare the Cremation Certificate, a document you will need if you wish the ashes to be placed in a churchyard, cemetery, or burial ground – and again this takes time.
Finally, it is worth noting that you are able to witness the cremation for either religious or personal reasons, and you are more than welcome to request this if it would put your mind at ease about any part of the process. Most crematoria are also happy to answer technical questions about their work, and if you would like us to help you with such a conversation, we would be pleased to do so.
Tel: 01403 254590
If you have an urgent query, please call 01403 254590. This number is answered by one our staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the quickest way to reach us.
Tel: 01403 785133
25 & 27 Brighton Road
Tel: 01293 540000
126 High Street
Tel: 01273 831497