Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors, examines the outcomes of some recently reported issues regarding cremated remains
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors has been operating in Horsham, West Sussex, since 1855. The company now has offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and is highly-experienced as an independent and family-run business. Here, Community Co-Ordinator Becky reflects on some intriguing news stories which have recently been reported nationally…
As we see customers arranging cremations regularly, discussions around cremated remains also happen frequently in our offices. It’s unusual to see them in the news, though, so the two stories which have been reported during the end of 2019 caught my eye.
The first story was reported in October, and involved an instance of a family seeking permission for some cremated remains to be exhumed which had been interred in a churchyard. I found it an interesting case – the main article which was published is unfortunately by a publication which makes use of a paywall, so for ease, I’ve summarised the key points of the case: the person had died 16 years previously, sadly leaving behind a young family. During this time, a number of things have changed, one of which is that we now have the technology – and it’s become more cost-effective as time has gone on – to create memorial jewellery using cremated remains. The daughter of the Deceased person, who is now an adult herself, has decided that she would like a piece of jewellery to be made, using some of her father’s cremated remains, and therefore required permission to exhume them, extract the required amount, and return the remainder to their original resting place. Court documents insisted that the case remain anonymised, to protect the privacy of the family involved.
The case was referred to the Church of England’s Consistory Court, whereby the widow of the Deceased man reportedly argued the family’s case. It was claimed that the dead man, ‘would want us to do this for his beloved daughter’. However, the Consistory Court rarely grants permission for exhumation, as the Church of England decrees that a final resting place is indeed just that, unless there are ‘exceptional’ circumstances.
In this instance, Mark Hill QC, chancellor of the local diocese and judge of the Consistory Court revealed that he had, ‘the greatest of sympathy’ for the family in question. However, he did not regard the case to be exceptional enough, stating, ‘If changing fashions of mourning and the availability of alternative uses for cremated ashes were to justify the routine exhumation of human remains, the finality of Christian burial would be stripped of all its meaning.’
Though this decision may be something which the family in question – or others in a similar situation – find difficult to accept, it is understandable. Many people assume that innovation in the funeral industry is unlikely, but the opposite is the case: with an international focus on climate change and other environmental issues becoming important to consumers, changes in funeral practices have already occurred and are likely to continue for a variety of reasons. It’s important to remember that change is possible on two fronts, both from within an industry and from outside it. All businesses – no matter the sector in which they trade – are vulnerable to decisions made by government or other legislative bodies which may impact on how they must be run, for example.
In the funeral industry, we have already seen a rise in demand for ‘green burials’, which have necessitated an increase in production of coffins which are suitable for these requests. Alternative methods are being used internationally and may come to the UK, such as composting (allowed in parts of the US), Resomation (alkaline hydrolysis, commonly referred to as ‘water cremation’), cryomation, and other methods which may even yet be developed.
Given that none of us are able to predict the future accurately, it’s wise to discuss all available options fully. We find that this is best done prior to a loved one’s death, in order to ensure that this truly is a shared decision. With regard to cremated remains in particular, there is currently no stipulation that anything must be done post-cremation – ashes can be stored at home until a decision is made, or it may be that you wish to wait for a particular occasion in order to conduct a ceremony.
My own current wishes would reflect this idea: I’d like my cremated remains to be turned into fireworks and used in a single display, which isn’t terribly practical should the fireworks be ready for use in the middle of summer – I don’t want my friends and family to have to wait until late in the night to enjoy the fireworks! Due to this logistical consideration, I’ve stated that, should the fireworks be ready at this time of year, my family and friends may wait until a more appropriate time in order to organise and enjoy the display.
The second story to be reported by the media also involved a family whose relative’s cremated remains had been interred in a churchyard. However, the reasoning for wishing to exhume the ashes was different: the ashes had originally been interred 26 years ago, at the insistence of the Deceased person’s daughter-in-law. Not only has the Deceased lady’s son now divorced his ex-wife, but other members of the family have stated that the Deceased person’s wishes were not carried out.
The case was referred to the local diocese’s Consistory Court and, on this occasion, the decision of the judge was in the family’s favour. Charles Mynors, chancellor of the local diocese and judge of the Consistory Court noted that he considered the case to be ‘borderline’ but found the circumstances to be exceptional enough. Several family members had provided accounts reflecting that the wishes of their deceased relative were to have her ashes scattered, rather than interred.
Ultimately, both of these cases – and, undoubtedly, there are further incidences occurring – add weight to the argument for discussing and recording your wishes prior to the event of your death. As noted previously, the first case is slightly different, as it is partly developments in technology which have led to the change in circumstances regarding the person’s cremated remains. Situations such as that raised by the second case can be managed differently: this relies upon the person who has died having kept their wishes up to date, and made them available for friends or family members to follow; it also requires that the person who completes the paperwork pertaining to the funeral – and therefore assumes responsibility for the cremated remains – appreciates what they are taking on, and is clear on how to follow the Deceased person’s wishes.
At Freeman Brothers, we recognise that many people find discussing death to be a challenge. In order to help with this, we’ve created our ‘Big Deal, Small Talk’ leaflets. These can be completed alone or collaboratively, and include prompts in order to record the key pieces of information required in order to arrange a funeral. It may be that you have a strong idea of what you’d like, or it may be that you’d like to offer family and friends the opportunity to choose things which will suit them – the leaflet allows for either approach.
If you would like more information about this resource, or any upcoming events where our experienced team could help you to have this discussion, please get in touch.
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