“Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth (…) He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his friends, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Mark 16, 5-7 (based on the Common English Bible translation).
This is an ode to all people who work behind the scenes of crematoria.
You may not always see or meet them, because they have a talent to act in silence. They know how to make themselves invisible so that you hardly notice their presence. And yet, they play an unmissable role in our final journey from body to dust.
They are the chapel attendants and the crematorium operators.
They make sure that the funeral service runs smoothly. They prepare the chapel, they set up tables, candles, easels and other props. They make sure the music is ready to play. And if the vicar or celebrant is running late they stay cool and steady.
After the service, crematorium operators witness the final journey of the body. They witness the transformation from coffin to ashes. With great care, they collect the remainders and put them at a safe place.
After the ashes have been scattered, some of them work as gardeners: they plant seeds on the fields where the remainders have found their place after a dance in the wind. They nourish the flowers that grow from these seeds, so that new life can grow on the place where the dead have found their final place of rest.
“Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe.”
The crematorium staff are like the young man in the white robe from the gospel of Mark. They are like angels, being present at the place where we have put the body of our beloved friend or family member to rest. They welcome us when we come back to look for the person we have lost, and point us at the place where they have become part of the earth.
“But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth (…) He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him.”
These angels make us realise that the people we mourn are not to be found at the place where we have said our final goodbyes. They know like no one else that it’s only crushed bones that remains.
“Go, tell his friends, that he is going ahead of you. You will see him there, just as he told you.”
They make us realise that we will find our loved ones when we go out in the world and live our lives. That we will find them when we catch up with family and friends, sharing our memories. That we will find them when we continue to live the love, fun and wisdom they have shared with us throughout their lives.
Let’s praise these angels in the funeral world!
If you know a brilliant crematorium staff member and you think he or she deserves a compliment, a big hug or a bottle of booze, go and give it to them.
You may even want to nominate your favourite crematorium staff member for a Good Funeral Award. Go to www.goodfuneralawards.co.uk and offer them a chance to win a ‘Death Oscar’. Submissions close 1st August 2016.