Direct Cremation by Toby Angel

We are delighted to bring you this thought-provoking and insightful Guest Blog from Toby Angel of Sacred Stones.

It’s a pleasure to have been asked to write a blog by whiteballoon but I have mixed feelings about the balance of opinion and critique I should write!

For clarities sake what is Direct Cremation (DC)?

Think simplicity. When someone dies, they are collected by the service provider (funeral director or specialist direct cremation company) taken into their care and, at a time of their choosing (in coordination with the crematorium) the cremation takes place with no one in attendance. Thereafter the ashes are returned to the next of kin.

There will be funeral directors who offer ‘DC plus’ type services (my term) whereby additional service elements (including access) are offered. This may be semantic, but to keep to the script this is not really a Direct Cremation.

All very simple. But spend any time investigating cremation options and you’ll be bombarded with references such as ‘no fuss’, ‘low cost’, ‘no frills’, ‘cheap’… none of which are remotely comforting or indeed really address the character of a Direct Cremation service.

Arguably, DC has been around for a long time, it’s just that funeral directors (FDs) haven’t branded this simple option or to our knowledge ever really promoted it. Indeed, there’s only one company that I can think of who’ve hit the big time through clever branding and marketing and they are Pure Cremation. To note there are countless DC providers, some are spin-offs from major FDs, and some are ‘virtual FDs’ utilising another firm’s logistical support.

Let’s back up a minute and review what a funeral director does. To summarise, they are experts at logistics. A good FD will listen and respect your wishes, they will not ‘up-sell’ or promote unnecessary services or expensive options. They certainly shouldn’t be worried about you using one of their limo’s. And they absolutely will not be in any hurry.

It is reasonable to think once we’ve said our physical goodbye, we must accept that our loved one must go somewhere and frankly why not focus on the memory of them living, laughing and being in our present.

But, and this is a significant BUT. In my personal experience the vacuum that sucks you in when you learn someone has died is very precious. It is the beginning of a new journey and no matter how much planning you may have undertaken it is likely to be a bumpy ride to an unknown destination.

Through our work we are invited to join intimate conversation and often feel challenged knowing we must not provide counselling on any level. We are simply not qualified to do so. Even a kind heart can deliver a ham-fisted message with clumsy words.

That all being said, we are regularly asked to recommend funeral directors. If DC is touched upon, I would offer a few comments which may appear modestly cautionary.

Firstly, time. Take your time and consider carefully that once you have elected the DC path, and the deceased has ‘left the building’ you will not see them again. This may not be an issue, however, consider that part of the grieving process may involve a sense of disbelief. It is therefore important to understand that viewing the deceased is valuable but will not be for everyone.

My first experience of sitting with a dead person was profound. My father-in-law had died in an armchair with a beer on the side table and his laptop on his knees. He looked incredibly peaceful, pale and of course very still. I said a few words and left the room knowing that this was a new chapter in our lives. 

It was important for all our family to gather and say their physical goodbye(s) and I don’t doubt had anyone not seen him they would have suffered some degree of emotional trauma. 

But this is my story, it may not translate and should not be seen as the ‘right path’. 

All I’d volunteer if you can say a physical goodbye do so. Don’t hurry or rush, do not think you must get the deceased out of the house ASAP.  Remember, you are the director!

In many cultures caring for the dead is a time honoured and significant part of life’s tapestry. It is educational and precious. This may include washing and brushing hair, providing clothes and or simply just being with the deceased at a time of your choosing. 

With a DC this is not an option. And I am sure, in fact I know many people who think this is a travesty and the ultimate in disrespect to the life and love shared. So again, tread carefully and with caution.

Having touched on simplicity let’s dance with the economics!

DC costs less than a ‘standard’ (whatever that means) funeral by some margin. Like all commercial enterprises an FD needs to make money. Yes, I just wrote that! They need to make money to invest in the services they provide, it’s important to ensure they can deliver a professional service to their clients and, ensure they look after their staff. But like all commercial enterprises some employ more integrity than others, and some will be commercially ambitious.

I’m not entirely sure what the ‘average’ cost of DC is but it would be in the range of £800 – £1,600. Somewhat less than the average cost of a cremation service which is circa £3,500 – £3,800. 

I don’t have an issue with DC, I know many families who have been more than happy with this option. However, I do take issue with companies who act like a ‘virtual’ FD. 

The Virtual Funeral Director is web-based and typically offers a service at the lower end of the cost spectrum. All the logistics are performed by a third party who may or may not be a credible and respected FD!

This all sounds rather distasteful but it’s a fact. Venture Capitalists are attracted to the fixed annual number of customers who are seemingly financially savvy and want a service for a lower fee. But is ‘cheap’ or ‘low-cost’ helping anyone in the long run? I’m not sure it is, and perhaps a topic for another blog!

Is this right or wrong?

That’s not for me to say. I know some in the industry think it an opportunity, some think it risks emotional damage (for the family) and a few believe it is commercially challenging for the service provider(s).

I did learn recently that a significant number, if not the majority, of savings plans taken out over the last year or so have ticked the box marked Direct Cremation. This confirms to me that DC, one of the most disruptive features in the funeral industry for some time, is here to stay. 

I’ll conclude in saying that the mission for any service provider is to ensure there is informed choice and complete transparency. DC may or may not be appropriate for your family so take time to consider the restrictive profile of what is the most precious of life experiences.

Thank you Toby, for sharing your thoughts on this really important subject.

Toby Angel is co-founder of Sacred Stones, creators and builders of beautiful handcrafted stone barrows.

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