Direct Cremation……. what is behind that request?

It is a legal requirement in the UK that a body is disposed of in the right way and there are strict regulations around that, as you can imagine. However, there is no legal requirement to have a funeral ceremony or service! That is the same whether someone has a preference for a cremation or a burial.

However, those that opt for a burial are, generally, more aligned to a religious belief so it is almost unthinkable that someone would be buried without there being a service.

What is a Direct Cremation?

But for those not religiously minded and who want less ‘fuss’ and expense, it appears to make sense to just have the simplest and most basic of funerals: a cremation with no ceremony. And, there is a growing move towards this type of cremation. Called different names by different funeral plan providers and Funeral Directors, the universal term that seems to be understood by most is a ‘direct cremation’. 

A direct cremation is simply a cremation with no funeral service, so no ceremony performed beforehand, and no attendees. The deceased is placed in a simple coffin at the Funeral Home and the deceased is cremated on a date and time that is convenient for the crematorium and the Funeral Director. That detail is not shared with the family and once the process is complete, they will receive a call from the Funeral Director to advise them that the ashes are ready to be collected. They are then free to do with them as they wish. 

Why Choose a Direct Cremation?

Whilst a direct cremation can seem the best way to go from one person’s perspective, that preference isn’t always shared by others. This short document seeks to look at this from all perspectives as there are both up sides and down sides:

PROs:

  • Firstly, and a big driver for many, is the lower cost. A direct cremation in the UK is around £1,500 as opposed to £4,000-ish for a cremation funeral and service
  • It is a faster and simpler process as there is less planning and fewer details to have to make decisions on so can happen within a few days
  • Some may say it allows the family to focus on grieving rather than spending time on funeral arrangements

CONs:

  • The family surrenders all control – they cannot select the coffin, date or time of the cremation. It all happens in the background and the first thing a family hears is when the ashes are ready to be collected
  • There is no opportunity for the family to formally say their goodbyes, which is a fundamental and very important part of the grieving process

In my humble opinion, there are 2 core reasons why someone chooses a direct cremation:

Money. Yes, it is considerably cheaper. However, I would counter that by saying that there are ways to cut down funeral costs. For example, a service or ceremony doesn’t have to be in a crematorium. A service can be conducted anywhere – even your own back garden, then the coffin can be taken off to the crematorium for cremation. Doing it this way means you have had a simple service and said your goodbyes. There are other ways of bringing the costs down: you don’t have to choose the best coffin, or have any flowers etc etc…. However, it is still likely to cost more than a direct cremation. But, and as a celebrant you may expect me to say this, a family is left with the ashes after a direct cremation and often they will have a ceremony anyway when they scatter or inter them, particularly if they missed out on a funeral service before the cremation! So if cost is the main driver, I would suggest this is looked at in the larger perspective as often, there is little difference.

The other reason for a direct cremation is that your loved one doesn’t want a funeral. This is an interesting one as in my experience this reasoning can be a whole bucket of things! ‘’I don’t want a funeral’’ can be interpreted as; ‘I don’t want you to have to spend time organising my send off!’, or, ‘who would come to my funeral anyway?’. Maybe they have negative recollections of past funerals they have attended…..? Maybe they just mean they don’t want anything too ostentatious or too religious……? There could be a whole plethora of meanings behind the simple statement of not wanting a funeral, so it is key that the family know what their loved one really means when they say this. Marking someone’s dying doesn’t have to look like a funeral, and you don’t have to call it one. The simple, non-religious services that I conduct might be perfectly acceptable once an understanding of what is possible is made clear. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Talk ‘Funerals’!

Funerals are NOT what they used to be. 80% of them now are non religious with a huge focus on celebrating a life. They can be beautifully funny and endearing, peppered with lovely stories about the personality. They are not the heavy, dark ceremonies that some people envisage. So have those open and honest conversations about someone’s wishes. Understand why they want what they want, maybe break some myths and make some decisions that enable everyone to be satisfied with the plan. And, more importantly, decisions that enable the family to grieve properly, knowing the real underlying reasons behind your loved one’s request.

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