Thursday, October 19, 2006

Visit to a crematorium

Last night I was reading poems by Fernando Pessoa. I was reflecting on his brilliant writing, his heteronyms, his encounters with Aleister Crowley, and also whether I was really into the next day’s visit to a crematorium with a handful of students of comparative religions or not. At 3 am I switched off my bedside light, put Pessoa’s poetry aside, and decided to see how I would think about the visit after some sleep.
Well, of course I did not want to miss the experience.
The tour the next day began from the cremation room itself. There were two huge silvery steel cremation ovens (made in Sweden) in the room. Inside of them it was around +900–1000 celcius degrees. That’s enough to burn an average dead in about an hour. Bigger bodies naturally burn a bit longer than smaller ones. We were also informed that bodies with cancer take some extra time to burn because of the disease. Those dead with pacemakers will cause little explosions inside the ovens if batteries are not taken away from the machines. We were allowed to take a look inside of those ovens from little shutters. Seeing a skeleton in flames is something you don’t see everyday.
Once the burning is finished the ashes are collected. Bigger parts of bones that have not burned totally are put through a machine that will make them into a powder. We saw some pieces of thightbone and such that were going to be processed. There was also an impressive collection of various pieces of metal that people have had in their bodies to keep broken bones together. Such pieces are becoming less frequent to be picked up from the ashes as metal is more often substituted with other materials in the use nowadays.
It did not surprise me that cremation has become more and more popular in comparison to the “traditional” coffin burial. But I was a bit surprised that cremation is actually more expensive choise over the two options (at least here in Southern Finland). But sure, it makes sense. In cremation you need to buy (and burn) the coffin in addition to buying just an urn for the ashes. And even if you make an urn yourself (which is all fine), you still need to pay the bill for that one hour in flames (which can be around 200 €). And of course there are payments about the gravesite as well. It made me wonder why people then prefer to be cremated if it can be even noticeably more expensive than just burying the dead in a coffin. Have people started to read more Edgar Allan Poe? Or to choose cremation for spiritual reasons? Or is the thought of dead rotting bodies six feet under categorically more terrifying to our more and more death-alienated Western minds than a thought of dead bodies quickly turned into a smoke and a tiny amount of ash?
Our very professional tour guide, the man who also worked at the crematorium, took us next to the cool store room for the dead that were on the line to be cremated. It was another plain and sterile room, this time with metal cabins and just slightly evident smell about the nature of the place. Some coffins were not in the cabins, marked with certificates and papers needed. From among the coffins one smaller vessel stood out. The information on top of it told about a child that was born dead. Among other things the room made me think what kind of things people put and were allowed by law to put with the dead inside of their coffins. The regulations didn’t sound very strict. I was informed that all kinds of objects from soft toys to jewelry are known to be put into coffins. No cases of cellular phones were known, though, at least they haven’t been called into before coffins were burned. What would you prefer to have with you in your coffin? Or does it really matter? And why?
The rest of the tour was about space available for the last rites. That was something I had seen numerous times before. While walking around in those rooms, my mind was reflecting on what I had experienced earlier on the tour - the reality of both natural and non-natural dimensions of human existence.


Blogger Afagddu said...

Dear Tapio,

In the UK, Cremation became legal, and then popular, because of the actions of a great and eccentric gentleman and trickster called William Price who used to live in a town very close to where I live.

6:02 am  
Blogger Tapio Kotkavuori said...

Dear Afagddu,

thanks for the interesting link!

12:24 pm  
Anonymous Avalonia said...

I wasn't sure are your questions rhetorical, but if not...

What would I like to take with me to the grave? The answer for me would be Tit-amulet.

According to my world-view, death is present in the very heart of life, and life is present in the core fo death, and Tit is a symbol for this. It also has very interesting historical uses.

4:47 pm  
Blogger Apotropos said...

wow, that was really interesting. I have always wanted to be cremated, although in space. To have my body launched into the sun, back to where it came from.

1:00 pm  
Blogger Tapio Kotkavuori said...

Dear all,

thank you for your comments.

This reminded me of something related:

Always look on the bright side of life, indeed.

5:45 pm  
Anonymous Oan said...

Brings me some memories I experienced at the time I was still in The Church...we actually visited a chapel and the room with dead bodes in it. It was something to be remembered, after all.
Oh well, at the time I'm listening to songs like Rytmihäiriö's "Pakko tappaa ihminen", so I'm really not in the mood to answer things like this :D But, always, look at the brighter sides of life! The funeral of Graham Chapman is quite an ideal funeral I've had in mind when the time comes for me to say the Big Goodbye :)

12:45 am  
Blogger Queen of Wands said...

Interesting article, thank you for sharing... It makes me want to visit a crematorium and explore for myself...
If I died tomorrow I definetely would prefer cremation over the traditional coffin burial, although I'm sure that in a few years there will be other new and faster ways of disposing the human body...

5:47 am  
Anonymous Nefretkheperi said...

Thank you for a thought-provoking post. When my body shuffles off this mortal coil I wish for it to somehow be returned from the earth from whence it came in such a manner that is ecologically friendly. I wouldn't mind being cremated if our crematoriums were enviro-friendly. Of late I've been thinking that I'd like to have whichever useful organs harvested and then the remains wrapped in clean linen and buried in the Namib desert.

There is also a vulture "restaurant" at Die Potberg (the southernmost vulture colony in Africa) and I quite fancy the idea of having my remains exposed to the birds. I rather doubt that National Parks will like that much!



2:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for a very interesting post. I read it out loud to my partner Julia. It gives new insight to the death process. I gave an eye towards the two urns we have that hold loved ones' ashes. I don't know about cost of cremation vs burial here in the States, but know that if you donate the body to science, the cremation cost is free, except for purchase of death certificates and shipping the ashes. That is what we did with our late Laura's body.

I think I don't care so much what they do with my body, though donation to science might be a worthy idea. So I don't care about what 'is in the coffin'. I'd rather my website be preserved,
as that is what will be left of this incarnation of mine.

"Out on a Limb"

10:40 pm  

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