If only . . . we could have a moratorium on crematorium funerals, whilst we re-design from scratch these very important places. As a mourner, you're only in one for half an hour - but I bet you can remember at least something about the place and the event long, long afterwards.
Well, with all due respect for the hard-working staff at crems, they are too often absolutely dire.
I'm afraid the ugly fact is that some (many? most?) crematorium "chapels" have as much atmosphere and aesthetic reward as a dentist's waiting room (also a place where people wait quietly and nervously for something they wish wasn't going to happen.) They are too often unsuited to a multi-faith and no faith population, on account of the large cross often fixed to the wall, or included in a window or doors.So tough, if you're Muslim, Jew, Hindu or atheist! (Not an anti-Christian statement, just a fact.)I work at one place that the council concerned should be ashamed of, at which everybody has to work hard to hide the fact that it's a relentless conveyor belt of ceremonies on each other's heels. It's tatty, too small, and guess what? It's located next to a rubbish recycling plant. Nice work, you planners. In fact, to save public money, why not amalgamate the two facilities, hey?
I'm lucky enough to work quite often at one that is a much pleasanter environment, with a 15-minute minimum gap between the half-hour time slots and a more spacious hall - or chapel, if you prefer the usual default term - which it shouldn't be.
Say after me "audience, mourners, hall, ceremony," not "congregation, chapel, service." There, it's not so difficult, is it? Non-religious people are expected to show respect for religious beliefs (even when they may strike some of us as barking mad), it's only fair for religious believers to show some sensitivity towards a non-religious view of life, especially at an important rite of passage like a funeral ceremony. At the better of the two crems mentioned above, they always take the cross off the wall for me without being asked, and pop it back for the next Christian ceremony, all very unobtrusive. At the other one, the cross would take ten minutes to take down. It's up on the wall in a niche, and you'd need a ladder. Ten minutes? You must be joking!
Luckily, the people who work at both of my regular crematoria are outstanding at their jobs, take them seriously, and do all they can to ensure the funeral is a dignified, smooth-running event.
Here's a few simple and I would like to think undeniable facts:
1. Cremations are getting more and more popular.
As new regs come into play, they will become more environmentally friendly than they are now. We tend to assume that a burial is more ecofriendly than a cremation. I'm told that it's not as simple as it seems: burial ecogood, cremation ecodbad, isn't accurate.Perhaps this isn't the place to go into this too much, but over time a grave generates methane, I'm afraid, folks, which, apparently, does eventually get into the atmosphere. And of course graves take up a lot of space. Cremations use a lot of fuel and generate much CO2 - just the once. I think people should have what they want, I'm not selling cremation to you, but I do about 9:1 cremations:burials. Crematoria are important places.
2. Too many crems have end to end half-hour slots.
Whilst half an hour is longer than it sounds,and for most of the mourners at most funerals, it's enough, it is a bare minumum. Crems that run them end to end really need to think again - which is worse, asking a family to wait an extra day, or shoving the family into the middle of a day-long queue of hearses, coffins and unhappy people? Very often the day overuns; one over-verbose officiant, one unexpectedly large audience or late family member, and the subsequent officiants and families have an added burden. Also the poor guy running things for the crem misses his lunch break. Why do they stack up a day's funerals so tightly? Can't be the money - can it?
3. What you can actually do in a crem ceremony is limited.
See 2 above. No you can't have a slide show, or too many candles, or live musicians in any number, because there isn't time. Unless you pay double and have an hour time allocation.
4. Officiants, priests etc need a little waiting room.
("vestry" it is called, on the Christian ecclesiastical model, of course...) very welcome too. Some are OK. Some - well, it's like waiting in a broom cupboard or a stationery store, it's obviously seen as overflow space. Not a good place in which to generate afeeling of ceremony and ritual.
5. Mourners need somewhere nice to wait, out of the weather.
It really doesn't need to be like an old-fashioned dentist's waiting room.
6. How about light, well-designed modern?
Default mode for fixtures and fittings around the place - formal, gloomy, oppressive, nervously neo-Gothic. How about calming, with some ordinary flowers? OK, so cash is short for councils - but how about a lick of paint and spotlessly clean? How about pleasant toilets, not basic with a bust hand-dryer? How about not too many adverts for all the extras the crem can supply - at extra cost? How about no anonymous leaflets on any subject at all?
7. "We find it works best if..."
"that's how we do it here, you see," from staff on occasion (not at my two main crems, happily.) The only answer is "well that's not how I do it, so please watch for my signal..." because it's not your ceremony, it's theirs, and mine acting on their behalf. So - watch me. Please.