Are Direct Cremations The Equivalent Of No Frills Budget Airlines?


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Direct cremations and burials provide people with the option to dispose of the body without fuss or frills whilst leaving them free to say goodbye how, where and when the time is right.

The direct option separates the disposal of the body from the ceremony to celebrate the life that has ended. David Bowie and the novelist Anita Brookner both requested that that their body was sent directly to the crematorium from the hospital or home with no funeral service. In the case of Anita Brookner her death notice in the Times stated: ‘At Anita’s request there will be no funeral.’

The precise number of direct cremations and burials in the UK is hard to come by. The National Association of Funeral Directors estimate that about three per cent of the annual deaths in the UK involve direct cremations and burials without funeral ceremonies.

So, what is behind the increasing interest in direct cremation? For some people, it’s money. The average cost of a funeral now stands at £3,456, having risen 80 per cent since 2004. Once the extras such as flowers, wreaths, catering and venue hire are included it can bring the bill up to £5,000 and above. Researchers at the University of Bath estimate one in five families struggle to meet the cost of funerals.

Companies specialising in direct cremations as well as some funeral directors offer this option for less money than a ‘traditional’ funeral. Recent news coverage as well as a quick Internet search suggests that a direct cremation can cost in the region of £1000.

Is this true? Some costs related to direct cremations are fixed. Two doctors have to certify the cause of death, which will cost a total of £164.00. The crematorium fee is unlikely to be less than £700.00. In addition, the body has to be presented to the crematorium in a simple coffin and unless you have a suitable vehicle there will be a charge for transportation of the body from a hospital or coroner’s mortuary to the crematorium. There may be other costs if the body was stored in a funeral director’s mortuary or if a pacemaker or artificial body part has to be removed. There is also some legal paper work to complete. As with all service offers, it’s important to check what is included in the quoted fee and what is not.

In most cases, direct burials when compared to direct cremations will cost considerable more because of the cost and preparation of the grave.

"Imagine"

The Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields, New York. John Lennon was cremated without a funeral. Yoko Ono requested a memorial ceremony to take place “everywhere and anywhere”. Photo: Bennett

A direct cremation will take place at a date and time chosen by the crematorium. The company or person organising the direct cremation will have no say over this. The ashes can be returned to those requesting them. 

The attractiveness of direct cremations is not just about affordability. The author of the Good Funeral Guide, Charles Cowling, has remarked that more people nowadays want to “separate the disposal of a corpse from the memorial event”, and many funerals are followed by events in which film, music, readings and speeches mark a person’s life. “Why not cut out the first bit and focus on the second?” A columnist from the Independent recently stated: “Seeing a coffin being lowered into the ground or disappearing behind curtains is a dramatic touch many people would be grateful not to have to go through, as their last physical connection with their loved one.” 

For thousands of years, funerals have been a means of expressing our beliefs; thoughts and feelings about death. The coffin, hearse, procession and funeral service in the crematorium or at the graveside is an important custom and ritual; potentially an important part of the grieving process and an essential part of a religious service. Doubts about direct cremations and burials are understandable. There are plenty of people who prefer the sober dignity of a traditional church funeral, or indeed a secular service that is solemn rather than celebratory.

David Bowie and Anita Brookner’s decision to opt for direct cremation has shone the spotlight on the subject and created talking points. I was interested to find out about the local situation.

A phone call with Steve Linde, Funeral Director at Crewe Funeral Service reveals that direct cremations and burials have been arranged alongside traditional funerals ever since he has worked in the profession; sometimes for financial reasons but more often out of choice. 

“We have very recently organised two direct cremations. As long as a request is legal and capable, we do what people want us to do.”

The Cheshire Living Well, Dying Well Partnership aims to inform and enable people to make choices about life, age, death and loss. Being clear about our preferences means that when we die, those people close to us know what we want to happen. Direct cremations and burials represent another option to consider and talk about with those people close to us. 

Andrew Bennett

Public Health and Wellbeing Worker (Associate)

The Cheshire Living Well, Dying Well Partnership

Thanks to colleagues and Steve Linde, Crewe Funeral Service