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The Musings of a Crematorium Worker

Life , death and everything in between

Rain at the Crematorium

Sitting talking to an FD, rain pouring down outside the foyer doors, the chapel to our left, service in progress.

“Bet you’re glad you aren’t on a burial,” I say. He laughs, no doubt some poor colleague of his has drawn the short straw. Soaked to the skin, coat tails weighing a tonne. But this FD is ok, he’s on a cremation job with me. Luck of the draw, some other poor bastard out in it today.

This job is hard enough but when it rains, my god it gets you down in the dumps. We currently have a complete cremator refit. Our crematorium is not our own. We have engineers, electricians, brickies, people pipe fitting. Our quiet, humble, hard-working crematorium is not our own. All these guys are lovely, hardworking, and sensitive to the environment around them, they’ll happily leave the crematorium when we need them to (when people are coming into the crem to witness cremations) or when we have scheduled chapel services and they are going hell for leather drilling, trying to get the noise complete before the services starts. There is mess everywhere, rakes for the cremators aren’t where they are supposed to be, tools are scattered around in an order which make sense only to the workmen and there’s always someone in the place where you need to be working.

Our small space has transformed into a building site. You go from the serenity of the chapels, to the industrial side of cremation and that’s a drastic change when things are normal, but this time we have a building site on our hands. Your suit jacket shouldn’t touch the walls of a crematorium at the best of times due to the dust. Now you’re having to do dust inspections on your suit when you’ve had it on in the space they are working.

One of the two new, shiny cremators has just gone up and running. It has a bigger width so we can accept wider coffins. So we won’t be shitting ourselves half as much when you see a 33 inch coffin arrive at your chapel doors, knowing you won’t have to squeeze it into a 33 inch cremator door and chamber. You watch it scrape the sides of the cremator walls and you pray to the man upstairs whether you believe in him or not. And it is touch screen. Cremator technology is definitely coming on up in the world. Problem with it for me is it’s like having a new mobile phone; it does the same job as your old one but how it works is all different. I work through habit. I like knowing what buttons I am going to push before I have pushed them. I like having confidence in my own ability to know what to do when the shit hits the fan. I don’t like having to think about things. It will definitely take some getting used to. I will upload some before and after photos when the renovation is complete.

I hate change at the best of times. A few weeks back our fridge broke at work. What does this have to do with anything I hear you ask? Well, the fuckers changed it for a smaller one, that’s what. Who are these fuckers? The truth is, I haven’t actually got to the bottom of who is responsible yet. So we have had at least 15 workmen on site, plus our own 4 members of staff and they have traded us a fridge that is half the size. Half the capacity. It’s filled to the brim. My colleague can’t even fit his lunchbox in the fridge. His sandwiches are sitting amongst the carnage, crushed by cans of drinks. My hummus had fallen amongst the chaos the other day. I found it between a milk 5 days out of date and a mouldy old sandwich someone had forgotten about. Things are going off because nobody has a clue what is going on in there. It’s too small to keep control of all its contents

And this rain lately is just adding to my work woes. Two funeral exit songs summed it up, thunderstorms, lightening, biblical rain and we’re exiting to The sun will come out tomorrow And in the afternoon when the sky had gone even greyer after a day of heavy rain we walked out to Mr Blue Sky by ELO. Sometimes, you just have to have a small smile to yourself as this ying and yang world hits you with some irony.

The Knocking Coffin

We are in the car heading up to the NFE 2019. Next to me is my colleague who had an absolute nightmare this week. She’s the one who loves to jump out on us, scaring the shit out of us in and around the crematorium. She’s the one with nerves of steel. When we were younger a friend once jumped out on her in a Scream mask and she punched him on the nose.

She was in the crematorium alone. The funeral service had taken place, the mourners had left the chapel and she removed the coffin onto the trolley and into the crematory. When there was a knock on wood. Fierce, strong, desperate. There must be someone at the door. So she walked to the door to check who wanted to come in. There wasn’t anybody there. So she returned to moving the deceased to their next destination on the charging bier where their journey into the cremator would shortly follow. Until she starts to move the coffin again. At that moment a more desperate; Knock. Knock. Knock. At this point my colleague has figured out there’s no one trying to get in. So someone must be trying to get out. She’s taken one step back. Two steps further away. And then abandoned the coffin altogether and legged it to where my boss was talking to two funeral bearers in the chapel waiting room.

‘Boss, we have a problem. We have a coffin knocking at me.’

The most fearless person I know was saying the most incomprehensible thing and had turned a ghostly pale. The FD steps in and says the deceased is definitely dead. She’s had a post-mortem. No chance of revival.

The conclusion to this is that the person was knocking on the internal door, not the outside door. They must have been scared to step past that door, not knowing what they would find. And their knocking was at the moments my colleague was touching the coffin.

The following day, news of her mistake travelled around our local FD’s. She’s had all the comments. ‘Shall I check this one isn’t alive?’ And she has been sang to ‘someone’s knocking at the door better open the lid, someone’s knocking at the door, better get it in the fridge.’

My unflappable friend who scares the shit out of us regularly had her dose of karma bite her on the arse this week. See you all at the NFE.

Coping With Busier Periods at the Crematorium – Fuel Poverty

I’ve just popped into the library to read my book and write part of a chapter for a book I’m working on and a local paper is there next to me. Innocent enough, except we all love to procrastinate before we do any work right? Well, three pages into the paper and I see the figures of the excess winter deaths in our local area and I’m thinking that will make a great blog post. I must admit, since my blog post about mourning a friend my motivation for my blog has waned somewhat. But here I am finding motivation to write about work when I should be relaxing and concentrating on other projects with my two weeks annual leave booked for my thirtieth birthday. I promised I wouldn’t even think about work but here I am.
The excess deaths due to cold homes in the winter of 2018 (locally) was 150. This was a 23% increase on the previous year. The article spoke of fuel poverty in London and the warmer home scheme funds available to tackle this growing crisis. As much as I would love to give an opinion on this that’s not why I am writing this piece. I’m here because sometimes I’m asked if we have a ‘busier’ period at the crematorium. Yes, we do. Summer is a quieter period for us, whereas winter? Strap yourself in because our feet don’t touch the ground. We are busy. Some cremation slots are free, where you may get a breather but mainly you’re working a chapel back to back all day, cremation cards queued in your pocket and my God you’re praying you get the name right. It’s made even more difficult by having two chapels adjacent to one another so if you’re in the chapel closest to the car park you tend to get everyone coming to you first. Make sure you’ve got your paperwork handy because I don’t think any human on earth can remember that many names, times and chapel locations. Sometimes even the funeral directors get it wrong and drive to the wrong chapel. If they’ve driven the hearse to the first chapel, you can wave them on and the family in the following cars are none the wiser. Not so good if they go to the second chapel further away and must make their way back around the one-way system with a funeral cortege, all in front of a group of mourners who did not belong to their congregation but for the funeral using that chapel next.
Busy days make my head spin. You’re working on slot times making sure all the needs of each funeral are met and this is usually given to us on our notes for the day if we have been informed by funeral directors. Just to give an idea of these requests; some need an easel for photographs, some request rows reserved for family, some request symbols of religious denominations are removed from sight, some need trestles for an open coffin. Some have given no requests at all but have very specific requests when they arrive. For all your planning you can’t cater for this and you must accept you lose time to these things. Everything is on the clock. We prefer not to faff because it eats into people’s slot time. And by the end of the day you breathe a sigh of relief. And that’s chapel attending. It’s worse when you are cremating. You have coffins coming to you, two every forty-five minutes. And contrary to popular belief, the cremation doesn’t take place behind the curtain or when the catafalque lowers. We retrieve the coffin from the catafalque and the deceased is moved to the fire or the fridge. Even if we had all three of our cremators going at the same time some coffins on busier days have to remain in refrigerated storage until a cremator becomes available. Or the cremation takes place the following day if there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Busier days can be made difficult if a service overruns due to too much content or a eulogy reader going off script. Good officiants will cater for these events and speed things up if necessary. There are events you can’t cater for. Recently we had a mourner taken ill during a service. Fortunately, the ambulance was on site very quickly and the lady was conscious and responsive on leaving with the ambulance. The family quite rightly wanted to finish their service and the skills of the minister was used to condense the remainder of the service to minimise the impact on following services. On instances like that you always look for a committal service (these are when a service has already taken place elsewhere and the deceased is being committed at the crematorium only) to get you back on track. However, if there isn’t this type of service throughout the day you just have to apologise for the delay and explain to each FD who will explain it to their families and make each arriving mourner aware of the situation (so they don’t wander into a funeral they aren’t here for and miss the one they are). It frazzles my brain when timings have all changed and you must concentrate on what service is taking place even though they are in another person’s time slot due to the delay. NEVER get a name wrong.
I can’t offer an opinion on how the government can prevent the elderly dying in their homes due to fuel poverty. I can’t even offer the scientific reason of why this country seems to get a damn site colder in the winter than it used to. But what I can say is there are hundreds of chapel attendants/crematorium workers running around and making sure we keep the high standards of business as usual, even when the winter strikes.

Mourning a Friend

I lost a friend recently. We attended university together, we did the same course, we shared a period of our life doing something we both loved. We critiqued each other’s work in class, we did a group project in our first year together which she made enjoyable even though I hate group work. Outside of class we drank together, we had a similar circle of friends, she was the most out going of all of us and she was as vibrant as her hair. I was shy in those days and she was kind. Not just to me but to everybody. She was warm, and she was funny. We’d lost touch over the years, we liked each other’s Facebook status’s and we got on with our separate lives. She was someone I never forgot and always looked forward to meeting back up with when the inevitable university get together eventually happened. You know, the one we just never got around to organising.
One evening I’m singing in the kitchen preparing dinner with my partner. Good times you don’t realise you’re having until the Facebook message came through shattering the happiness.
My partner asking me if I’m ok.
Yes, I just need a minute. One of my uni friends has been killed.
How?
A hit and run.
The tears.
A fucking tragedy the world could’ve done without. The loss, the anger, the sheer unfairness of the most vibrant, kindest life being lost to some arsehole not driving a tonne of metal the way he should’ve been was something I never saw coming. I deal with death every day, I see these kinds of losses, but nothing prepared me for it being to one of the warmest people I knew. I often feel working in the bereavement industry sometimes robs me of my grieving process. But not her death. I mourned like we hadn’t lost touch.
That university reunion we never got around to organising was her funeral. We travelled to a part of the country she had settled in with her partner, not to say hello but to say our goodbye. A natural woodland burial where she will return to nature. A fitting funeral for someone who had the world’s best interests at heart.
I’m watching the funeral director, judging how well he conducts this funeral. The way he failed to warn us of markers protruding from the ground lacing this funeral with humour as some of us stumbled when they caught our feet. A giggle knowing she would’ve found it funny and called us silly fuckers.
After a brilliant eulogy from a celebrant we were invited to place an autumn leaf into her grave. My friend who I had travelled up with had brought along two leaves found at the university we attended. She asked me if I would like to have one and we walked up to her open grave and placed them in together. I watched them drift down and land on top of her coffin and the perfectness of that small gesture caught at my heart. It was like we had placed some of the best memories I’ve made in days when we had our whole lives ahead of us with her. I will never lose them and if there is such a thing as an afterlife she could go on her way with them too. She lived every fucking minute of her 28 years on this earth. 28 years of age. We think there’s always time. Time to meet up. Time to get reacquainted with old friends. Time to make more memories. Time before forever comes to an end. Until the clock measuring our time in this life ticks it’s last second and all we have is what we did before it stopped.
As the large crowd dispersed the six of us who attended university together (and a friend’s partner) stood in a circle with an ever so slight parting with our friend’s grave in view to me in the background. If I could draw I would sketch that scene because it was powerful to me. I knew the gravediggers were somewhere politely waiting for us to leave so they could do their job and go and enjoy their Saturday afternoon, while we stood and discussed our modes of transport to get back to the wake while life made us leave her behind.
Rest in peace my friend, your death will forever be mourned by us. In the years this life gives to us we have promised to meet up more. You will always be remembered, alcohol will be consumed in your name, we have promised to do something fun in your memory because you were the most adventurous person we knew.
Remember, there’s always time, until there’s no more seconds left in this life for us. Tomorrow isn’t always promised so be the best person you can be today. And live every damn minute, just like she did.

Does History Really Repeat Itself? – Coffins on Moving Catafalques

Our West chapel was built in the 1930’s and opened in 1937. It was the only cremation chapel we had on site until the late 1960’s. The catafalque in that chapel is the type that lowers at point of committal (if the family wish for the coffin to disappear from view during the service). In the 1930’s cremation was not as popular as burial and the lowering of the coffin was meant to symbolise the lowering of the coffin into a grave.

With this type of catafalque, lining a coffin up correctly is paramount to a smooth descent. Too far either side and the coffin will tip into the hole created by the lowering bed. I have never seen this happen.  The more likely misalignment to happen is for the lid to catch as it lowers. The lid being wider than the base of the coffin is the main reason for this so if a funeral director looks at the base and sees that the coffin is safely on the bed they need to consider the wider lid. The other problem is the tapered back of the coffin. Modern coffins tend to have a 45-degree angle at the back and if the bearers at the foot of the coffin push it too far back this can cause the lid to catch at the rear of the hole created by the moving bed. It makes a very loud noise as the coffin eventually falls under its own weight and is very upsetting to the mourners who witness this. We’ve had this happen once in the five years I’ve been here, where the attendant was caught at the entrance of the chapel handing out orders of service, placed trust in the funeral director who frequents the crematorium often, and was stunned when at committal there was a loud bang. After this we inserted a bar at the back of the catafalque in an attempt to stop bearers pushing the coffin all the way to the rear of the catafalque.

In 1964 this very incident happened. We know this because in a recent cleaning up of our crematorium we came across some old files that included old typewritten letters, giving us a glimpse at the history of the walls within which we work. These letters included detailed accounts of the incident from the superintendent of the crematorium, the town clerk and a solicitor’s firm that the family had employed on their behalf due to the upsetting nature of the incident at their loved one’s funeral.
It is a fact that when the coffin is placed on the catafalque the coffin becomes the crematorium’s responsibility. A lot of funeral directors use this to absolve themselves of any blame when it comes to coffin placement. However, these letters quote “the code of cremation practice states in clause 2; the funeral director shall observe the regulations drawn up by the cremation authority. He is responsible for the provision of sufficient bearers to convey the coffin reverently from the hearse to the catafalque or deposited in the rest room or chapel of repose at the crematorium his responsibility towards it ceases, and that of the cremation authority begins.”

The letter from the solicitor to the FD states “We are instructed that the coffin was placed on the catafalque by bearers employed by your firm…” and goes on to say “as your firm were employed to undertake all aspects of the funeral and the incident occurred by reason of the negligent placing of the coffin on the catafalque by your employees and we should be obliged if you would let us have your observations. Although we understand that at some point in the ceremony the coffin passes under the control of the crematorium, this cannot absolve the undertakers from their responsibility for the negligent and unsupervised acts of their employees or from their overriding duty to ensure that the ceremony is conducted with untoward incident.”

I am, disappointingly, not privy to the funeral director’s response or the outcome of the incident. My guess is that all fees were waived.
In one of the letters from the superintendent in 1964 it states that it is quite obvious that the catafalque lowers and does not roll backwards (into the concrete wall), and the dimensions are 7ft 6 inches and the coffin all those decades ago was 6ft 3 inches. Plenty of room to centralise a coffin on the catafalque bed. But with new FD’s (whether new to the crematorium or new to the job) I warn them of the catafalque parameters the implications of a misaligned coffin, repeat it and keep an eye on their placement, as do my colleagues when they are in chapel. You get to know your FD’s and I like the ones who check it is on the moving bed after the bearers have placed the coffin. I like the one’s even more who check and then pull the coffin slightly forward toward them so they know it isn’t pushed all the way back. But as the history books (letters) show, always check the coffin line ups, don’t trust anyone. Not even professionals with valued reputations because we are all one coffin lid catching away from an absolute shit storm.

Chaos at the Crematorium

Most of our days are quite sombre affairs, cremating and chapel attending funeral services.  Every now and again the mechanical side of what we do fails us, and it makes our day much more interesting.  If you have a cremator break down or malfunction when it is pre-heating or between cremations when there isn’t a body inside you’re ok, you can deal with it.  But one day last week was a whole different ball game.  The coffin I had just pulled from chapel was on the large side and I was told by the FD that it weighed twenty stone.  You must be more cautious when charging this size coffin in case you get a charging bier failure (the machine that pushes the coffin into the cremator).  This does happen occasionally, only last week my colleague and I was met with a bier failure for no apparent reason we could see, and it certainly speeds the heart rate up when a coffin is alight in front of you and you must manually take control of a situation which is usually safely handled by the charging bier.  It went in at one hell of an angle, but we safely got it in and closed the door. If that happens with a twenty stone coffin it is your worst nightmare.  But we were fine.  Coffin all charged safely I sat down for my lunch. Because our cremators run off one I.D fan my colleagues left it enough time for that first cremation to get to a safe stage and charged another coffin into the neighbouring cremator.

My boss is now meant to be at lunch, one of my colleagues is in back to back chapel services and my other colleague, who’s meant to be lead technician for the week, should be inputting details for that coffin just entered in the cremator. That was until she saw the flames coming out from the sides of the closed cremator door.  Yeah, that shouldn’t happen.  My colleague raced round to me in the mess room next door to one of our fire alarm panels and said, ‘we may need to evacuate.’

There was smoke flooding the crematorium but no sign of fire from our side.  My manager is on the phone to the people who can operate our cremator software from their smoke free office elsewhere in the UK because all suction has been removed from inside the cremator containing the large coffin.  This is bad.  No suction means all the gases from the cremation aren’t going through the filtration plant and are now being pumped out towards us inside the crematorium.

Our main concern is safety. There wasn’t a fire, yet.  We opened all the doors we could to allow the smoke to clear.  I’ve informed the FD whose funeral is in progress if the fire alarm goes off this won’t be a drill which I’m sure is not the words a funeral director wants to hear.  My colleague in chapel is ready to evacuate and my other colleague is at the other end of the crematorium cancelling the fire alarm. Because of the business we are in smoke is an everyday hazard, so we have three minutes to cancel any false alarms.  Now I’m at the other end of the crematorium with the other fire panel making sure a fire hasn’t broken out, so we don’t have to go into full alarm which I would have to do by hitting the break glass panel.

I don’t even want to think about the shit we breathed in before we got all the doors open.  I’m watching the cremator door, emergency fire door placed over it to stop the flames reaching out inside the crematorium again.  There’s music in the distance from the funeral in progress.  The fire panel keeps making a piercing sound every few seconds until my colleague cancels it at the other end. I’m there on the phone to her telling her it’s all safe my end.

While I’m standing by the open doors the FD from the funeral in progress comes over and tells me we have a fire in an ash tray in the flower area.  It sounds serious, but it usually means people have stuffed tissue in there, not paying attention to the fact that people will put their cigarettes in there and tissues are quite flammable.  It happens.  But all I’m thinking is ‘today of all days?’

The FD got one of his crew to stand by the open crematorium door because if someone had have wandered in, disregarding the smoking building, they would’ve been dismayed to see a coffin sat on a trolley, abandoned in the committal corridor while the very much alive members of staff sprang into action to make sure the funeral service in progress wasn’t disturbed and safe all at the same time.

This recent hot weather we’ve had has taught me to never leave an open door, no matter how obvious it is a funeral service is going on.  In this country where it is hot for two weeks of the year and the other fifty are rain we don’t have air-conditioning, so the minister asked for the doors open to allow a breeze through.  No problem.  Coffin is being carried down the aisle, I am standing with my back to the exit doors making sure I’m an obstacle for anyone thinking about coming in. It didn’t work.  I received a tap on my shoulder, I turned, missing out my dignified bow to the deceased as they passed me by because someone is asking me where the other chapel is.  Silently I am seething, the family are all taking their seats in the front pew beside me.  I silently point towards the other direction, he steps back, and I close the doors.  No breeze for this congregation today in case anyone decides to pop their head through the door again.

I extinguish the fire in the ash tray with a jug of water we keep in the vestry which comes in very handy on these occasions, I return to my spot by the fire panel with the warning sounds getting fewer and fewer, the funeral in progress exits having no idea what is going on behind the scenes, a few minutes later another funeral enters the chapel, normality is resuming, there’s suction in the cremator, the smoke has dispersed and we’re through the other side. No harm done other than a lunch break missed and a charred cremator door.

We’ve done it.  Only to return to the mess room to discover our manager, in all the chaos, had left the tap running for his washing up.  The water is slowly starting to overflow onto the floor and at least we know if the worst had have happened and the building had gone up in flames our mess room would’ve survived the worst of it. 

When anyone asked me how my day was I said ‘chaotic.’  We are ducks, on the surface calm and smooth, but beneath the surface is a set of legs rapidly turning keeping us all in motion.  What a day that was. 

 

A Stranger’s Loss

This evening I discovered a poem I wrote at university about a funeral I saw heading towards the crematorium I now work at.  It’s been a while since my last post so I thought I would share it. 

A Stranger’s Loss

The driver in the next lane is becoming restless

as we pause to let her pass

She’s at the front

She leads them all

in a slow remorseful crawl

they follow

Black tinted glass hides their tears

but their loss leads the parade

The driver next to me does not care

but it’s ok

I know all she was

I won’t remember her tomorrow

for I didn’t even know her name

but the flowers read:

‘MUM’

By her grave they’ll weep

I’ll be home igniting the stove

as they light a candle for the deceased

We all live

We all die

Yet something stuck in my throat

as your final procession passed me by

 

Half a Decade at the Crematorium – a Girl In a Man’s World

This week I celebrated half a decade working at the crematorium.  I was the youngest member of our team then and I am the youngest member still. When I first started I was often told I was rather young to be doing this job.  I was told it then and I still get told this now. 

The general stereotype of this industry is older males, not females, and definitely not young females.  When I first started it was very much a male dominated world.  In some ways it still is.  There are funeral directors who do not employ females as funeral directors or as their pall bearers.  This maybe because there are so few, but the way the industry has taken huge strides in equality in recent years this is very unlikely.   I’m not saying they are sexist, I’m just saying they have the ladies as office staff but not on their front line. 

Another local FD has recently employed their first female bearer and has three female funeral directors on their staff, when I first started it was only one.  And that lady was the first female funeral director they had ever had. 

There were very few female funeral directors when I first started.  I get on with the guys like a house on fire and never really paid attention to sometimes being the only female in chapel affiliated with the staffing of the funeral.  It’s only now when it is a female funeral director, a female officiant and myself when I notice how much the industry has changed because this never happened five years ago.

In my first year at the crematorium, I was standing waiting for the funeral director to page down with the hearse and the family limousines when I was approached by a lady who was to be part of the upcoming funerals congregation.  She asked me if I worked here and was I to be carrying the coffin.  When I said yes I did indeed work here but no I would not be carrying the coffin, relief flooded her face. “Thank God,” she said, “the females carry us into the world, the men must carry us out.”

Being very new I didn’t know if this ideology was something a lot of people had, but I’ve never forgotten it.  And just for the record, I don’t agree with her opinion.  She clearly felt very strongly about this, even though she wasn’t a close family member.  And lucky for her, an all male funeral crew arrived.

I’ve seen the likes of Poppy’s, run by Poppy Mardall and based in tooting, begin their journey in the funeral industry.  I remember the first time I met Poppy and saw the creative control she was allowing families when making choices to piece together the perfect funeral for their loved one.  It was refreshing to see because she was so different from all the others I had come to know.  I had a lot of respect and admiration for the vision she saw for her future in the funeral industry.

I’ve seen so much change in tradition from funerals being sombre, staff dressed all in black, entry song, reflection song and exit piece of music occasions to really being reflective of people’s lives.  Coffin’s don’t have to be traditional, funeral director’s don’t have to wear black suits, officiants don’t have to be downbeat talking of a funeral being solely a sad occasion, music doesn’t have to be beginning, during and end and the staff don’t all have to be older males.  This change is all positive in giving families choice when choosing the best way to honour their loved one.  It has been an honour to be a part of it.  Here’s to making the half a decade a full one.

 

In The Light and The Dark of The Crematorium

Across the UK some crematoriums employ different people to do the different daily jobs, one person does the cremating one person does the chapel attending.  That isn’t how it is at our crematorium, we do both.  We have a dual role.  We do (roughly) two weeks chapel attending and two weeks cremating.  I like it, and I don’t favour one role over another.

Chapel attending, wearing a clean three-piece suit, ensuring the chapel is perfect.  It’s ready and solemn.  The hymn books are all in place on each pew, the very real looking artificial flowers are swivelled round to their correct positions, no tissues have been poked between the hymn books (or pews) from a previous mourner, nothing is on the floor (not even a petal of a flower), no evidence of any previous funeral services exists and we’re ready to meet the next family and their funeral director.  In one chapel we have 133 seats with a set of windows that align the length of the rows.  In the other, it seats about 75 and has many stained-glass windows and there’s a time of day when the officiant would be struck with the beams of the sun, looking rather holier than thou but blinded by the light.  Both chapels are filled with light and I wish the sun came out a little more in this country, it would set a better light for each solemn occasion.  People are ushered away from the foyer near the chapels to provide quiet and tranquillity inside.  The only noise inside a chapel should be the officiant, the people providing eulogy’s, music and silence.

The rotation from chapel attending to cremating is very different.  There aren’t any windows for starters.  It is a dark dingy space where we cremate the deceased and turn cremated calcified remains into ashes.  The dust created from what we do is substantial, it is impossible to keep clean, no matter how many times our boss runs a finger over a surface and tells us it’s dirty.  We mop, and we dust, and we clean surfaces, but the dust just resettles.  A war between us and the dust, and we are always on the losing side.  We wear different clothes and are provided with overcoats.  The noise from the fans can be overpowering if you’ve never heard them before.  When we start up the unabated cremator, rarely used, its like a jet starting up. 

Yet none of the noise or the dirt touches the chapels, even though they share the same building.  They are two ends of a spectrum sharing bricks and mortar.  Then there comes the day when you are short staffed and are in chapel and you’re having to cremate as well. The cremator pre heat time over ran and you were late getting out of chapel to rake out a completed cremation. That day, of all days, you’re running to a schedule because a later funeral has asked to witness the cremation.  Everything must be ready for that funeral, the service must end, and that cremator must be ready and waiting so things must get done.  You’re in your chapel clothes, you take off your suit jacket and put on your heatproof gloves and face visor.  Your waistcoat and white shirt sleeves are exposed.  I know I should really have put on my overcoat, but that would have been precious seconds wasted in an already tight schedule.

I charge the next coffin, satisfied I’ve done all I can to keep things running to time, I take off the gloves and visor and put on my jacket and re-enter chapel to greet the next funeral. As I reach out to take the orders of service from the funeral director the cuffs on my sleeves fall beneath my suit jacket and I see it.  My heatproof gloves have left a stain on my crisp white shirt sleeves.  This happens often, and I still don’t learn my lesson and I am constantly standing in chapel with that little bit of dark from the crematorium in the light of the chapels, trying to hide it with my suit sleeves.

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