Article by: Jason Ryan Engler, Historian for the Cremation Association of North America
“Nobody wants to be forgotten” is a truism that bears repeating for those in the funeral profession. At worst, it is a cliché that many may consider over used. At best, it is an admonition and reminder of the possibility of our own existence being forgotten when we depart from this life.
As a cremationist by personal conviction, I often come in contact with funeral professionals who dislike what cremation creates – or, more realistically, does NOT create. As the historian for the Cremation Association of North America, I have done extensive research into our association’s past – and have realized a few ideas that cremationists have struggled with since cremation has been practiced in the US. To name a few: Unclaimed cremated remains; How to prevent scattering of cremated remains; Permanent Memorialization following cremation; Pricing.
Do any of these sound familiar? Obviously, cremation’s past was plagued with the same issues as cremation’s present and future. In reading the proceedings of almost 40-years-worth of annual conventions of the Cremation Association, I have learned some very important lessons that I can use in my daily dealings with families choosing cremation.
In my opinion, one of the biggest enemies cremation has ever seen is scattering. In cremation’s past, the crematory operators of the day frequently combatted scattering by refusing to pulverize cremated remains after they were removed from the cremation chamber. In other words, bone fragments were placed into the memorial urn rather than the reduced powder that is common in modern cases. This prevented the facilitation of scattering. Removing yourself from being a funeral professional, how would you like to be called upon to discard the human remains of someone that you have known and loved? The scattering process places undue grief on those called upon to do it. And, going a step further, once it is done – there’s no changing one’s mind.
The permanent cremation memorial is a necessity for future generations. Think of what has been learned about civilizations in ancient history by the study of their death practices! Scattering or keeping a loved one’s remains at home obliterates the possibility of future archaeologists and anthropologists learning about our culture. Paper dissolves, computers crash, but when a name is engraved on a permanent memorial urn made of material that will last, or on a stone marking a place of rest, these permanent, tangible signs provide stepping stones for future generations.
This doesn’t even take into account the importance of a family having closure during the grief process – giving their minds peace that there is finality to the death of someone they love.
It is the duty of the funeral professional to explain this importance to the families who are in our care. We must do all that we can do to maintain the heritage of our ever-changing culture. To do so is to fully serve those who call on us in times of need. It is, after all, what our life’s work is all about.
Jason Ryan Engler is a practicing funeral director in Northwest Arkansas and is the historian for the Cremation Association of North America. His interest and passion for the funeral profession and for cremation memorialization came at an early age, and put him on a journey of personally and professionally appreciating the beauty of the torch over the spade. Mr. Engler’s articles have appeared in regional and national funeral and cremation trade journals and he is author of the book Body to the Purifying Flame: A History of the Missouri Crematory, St. Louis, Missouri
. He has been requested by mortuary school instructors to share his knowledge with the future leaders and practitioners of the funeral profession. He is active in local trade associations and lends his knowledge of cremation, its history and products to his colleagues who have dubbed him “Mr. Cremation” – an honored title he dutifully and willingly accepts and enjoys. He may be reached at cremationhistorian(at)hotmail.com
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