Last week I was lucky enough to get shown around Burnley Crematorium – around all of it. I say lucky, and I understand some people might not like the thought of this, but lucky because I got to see exactly what happens when those curtains close and people have said their final goodbye.
And what I found was very comforting indeed. Each body passes through the process individually, so the ashes received by the family or friends are their loved one. The system follows a strict protocol and systems to ensure this happens. Additionally, if people place items in or on top of the coffin they are placed with the body for the whole process. Many families like to place a hat on top of the coffin, or a football scarf maybe, and unless it’s metal, this small token remains with the body. Finally, the staff are so respectful to what they do and what families entrust in them. This is a job that they do day in, day out, and its long days and very busy, but each member of staff cares so much about the dignity of the people in their care.
Taking the tour has given me the confidence to tell families and friends exactly what happens, if they wish to know. For some people this may bring great comfort and I hope it helps when they are given the ashes of their loved one’s.
You’re a what?
When you tell people what you do for a living, people often just nod and smile and then very quickly say: ‘Sorry, you’re a what?’
So you explain what a celebrant is and people either get very interested very quickly or feel very uncomfortable, which often comes with any conversation about death. However, the main thing in common both sides have is they always ask the question ‘why?’
Choosing to become a celebrant was a difficult one. First off, there’s the practicalities: becoming self-employed; having to understand tax returns; managing a website, but then there’s the things that really matters, the ‘what if’ things. What if I can’t do it? What if it’s a really difficult funereal, a young child, someone that reminds me of my beloved Granddad? What if emotionally, its gets too much?
During my training to become a celebrant we talked a lot about empathy. You need to be empathetic to do this job, you need to care and be passionate about it, and these are skills I believe to possess. So being a celebrant, you do because you care. You believe that people have the right to an honest, dignified goodbye for their loved ones.
However, this doesn’t tell you why I became a celebrant. Before becoming a celebrant I worked in a theatre and we had families often put a plaque in the theatre ‘in memory’ of a loved one. This was such a beautiful part of the job. People shared happy memories with you, reminisced over times spent together and it’s was a wonderful time spent with people who were going through the hardest time, but found an opportunity to remember. From doing this I knew I had to make the decision and take the step into becoming a celebrant. These families found a way to say goodbye in a personal way, the way they wanted and that helped them remember their loved ones for years to come. Becoming a celebrant was the opportunity to do this for many friends and family.