Monday, June 20, 2011

Touring the Underworld

It seems that any time you're talking about death, the old question always arises: burial or cremation? From there, the discussion will lead on to talking about the crematorium, what it's like, what really happens, and stories you've heard from a friend of a friend.

I'm sure you've heard some of them: that you can't be sure whose ashes you're getting; or that they take the bodies out of the coffins and resell the coffins; or that a pacemaker/bottle of whiskey/something random will explode in the crem.
As a minister, I've often led services up at Roselawn Crematorium in Belfast, and the staff had always been offering a tour to show me what it's really like. Recently I was able to take them up on the offer, and Pat, one of the attendants, showed me around.

Immediately, you can forget the preconceptions mentioned above. It's a very professional, dignified service Roselawn provide, and it was fascinating to see how it all works behind the scenes.

Normally, at the end of the service, the coffin is lowered from the chapel to the lower level. From there, it's transferred onto a trolley, and brought to one of the four (what's the word? ovens? incinerators? cremators?) ovens. Checks are made that the person's name matches the card taken from the register in the office, then the coffin is 'charged' or placed into the oven. The person's name card is then attached to the front of the oven. This means that you're very sure to receive your loved one's remains.

Roselawn has four ovens, which are fired up in preparation for the half-hourly interval committals, with the process taking about two hours. There's some heat involved, reaching temperatures of around 1000° Centigrade at its hottest, although the ovens are all monitored individually with their own computer system and screen for temperature/smoke/etc.

When the cremation has been completed, the remains are removed from the oven and placed in the container (whether a box or urn), to be either collected by the family or undertaker, or scattered by the staff in the gardens of remembrance. Again, the name is checked from the same card, so that you can be sure you're receiving the right remains.

There's really no mystery, and certainly no dodgy dealings in the underworld. It was very interesting to see what happens after the committal, and I'm very grateful to Pat and Eddie for showing me around. There is also the possibility of families or members of the public being shown the workings of the Crematorium, just contact the office to arrange it.

Photo by HeideKlein_OrangenKopf from Flickr.

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