When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kisses at the crematorium

After a funeral today, I had an interesting conversation with one of the staff - one of my fans, especially since I did a funeral for a family member.

He'd been listening, as he was chapel attendant today. He said he always enjoyed my funerals, and the ones that are conducted by my colleague, D. They're how funerals should be, said he. He was never keen on religion, but working at the crematorium and having to listen to so many religious funerals, he's even more atheist than before. I've heard the same complaint from other crematorium staff and funeral conductors (the people from the funeral directors who manage the event) ; religious funerals are all the same; they're irrelevant; they're more about God than about the person who's died; they're boring. Yes, I know they're not all bad, but I hear a lot of negative comments.

My friend said that, soon after he started working at the crematorium, there was a funeral that was to be led by a family member, an American preacher. He used the opportunity to preach hellfire and damnation, shouting at the mourners (several times) that they were all sinners. After about five minutes, the family had had enough. They told him to shut up and sit down. My friend said that made him wonder if his new job was going to be more interesting than he anticipated.

On the whole, however, it hasn't been that interesting. Day after day, week after week, he hears the same hymns, the same prayers, the same stuff about so-and-so going to be with Jesus. No wonder the staff tend to get quite excited when my colleague or I turn up. We aim to provide a ceremony that's relevant and unique, and we often include humorous anecdotes - so there are laughs too. Oh, and the music is better, I'm told. He was delighted when D turned up the other week and announced that the music included Ian Dury and the Blockheads - "There aren't half some clever bastards!"

My colleague, being male, probably doesn't get kissed very often away from home. I get kisses from clients and funeral directors, like the one I got today from the conductor waiting to do the funeral after mine. Few people can claim to enjoy job satisfaction and kisses.

I've been kissed by clergy too. A couple of retired clergy are old friends, including the one who did my parents' funerals. He once kissed me in the vestry, in front of a member of staff, who said in mock horror, "You kissed an atheist!" "That's all right," was the response, "it's not catching." I beg to differ.


Charles Cowling said...

Well bully for you, Margaret. I have never been kissed at the crem, not even by the campest of C of E vicars, and now I'm all eaten up, wondering why.

I feel for those vicars, being stared back at with round, hard, disbelieving eyes. It can't be easy. And they wouldn't be there if someone hadn't superstitiously asked for them to come and dispense a bit of ju-ju. I don't suppose they net a lot of souls, poor things.

As to sameyness, well, I have a feeling that there are a good many second-rate secular celebrants out there purveying a lot of sentimental tosh. In crems throughout the land today dead people were only in the next room, rushing past boulders, whispering softly down the ways or doing deft impressions of diamond glints on snow. They'll be doing it all again tomorrow.

People get the funerals they deserve, most of them. The more rigorous and discriminating have to scratch about for someone who's up to it -- someone with brains.

I have no doubt that that's why your crem crew look forward to you. For that and also for that quality you have which they define on cough medicine bottles: dry and tickly.

Snoggable, too, it seems. Woo-hoo!

Margaret said...

I've been called a lot of things, but never dry and tickly, before now. Thanks (I think) :-)