The items not for afterlife
Crematoria operators are clamping down on what can stay in loved ones’ caskets, writes
Crash helmets, bottles of spirits, surfboards and garden tools are among the items some people want to pop in the casket when a loved one dies.
While funeral directors and crematorium operators respect it can be an important gesture to help people say goodbye, there are limits on how much memorabilia can go into the cremator.
Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand president Gary Taylor said most crematoria had a list of prohibited items, but a Palmerston North proposal to include jewellery had him baffled.
There were logical reasons for most of the items on most council and crematorium lists, Taylor said.
They did not like things that would explode, damage the equipment, endanger the safety of staff, or put out toxic fumes.
Explosions have happened, with crematorium staff in Bolton in the UK recently left terrified by an exploding coconut.
Pacemakers were in a category of their own, with standard medical forms needing to be signed off, as anyone who read the first lines of Iain Banks’ The Crow Road – ‘‘It was the day my grandmother exploded’’ – would understand.
Typical lists of troublesome items included alcohol, batteries, hard hats including helmets, lighters, metal, motorcycle leathers, polystyrene foam, rubber, plastics, electronics, aerosols, ammunition, prosthetic limbs, wetsuits and mattresses.
Palmerston North funeral director and private crematorium operator Andrew Beauchamp said most of the things on a proposed Palmerston North list made a lot of sense, but including jewellery was ‘‘a bit unusual’’.
He said a simple gold wedding ring, for example, was no problem, although he could envisage a necklace of large glass beads would be.
The glass face on a watch might be OK, but the funeral director would remove spectacles.
Glass melted and solidified into the cremator floor.
Chipping it off damaged the bricks, and hastened the need for expensive repairs or replacement.
Beauchamp said it was up to funeral directors to have sensitive conversations with families, allowing them to choose how their loved one was dressed, but explaining how items placed in the casket or on top of it might have to be removed after the funeral.
Hastings District Council allows jewellery, and explains what happens with banned items this way: ‘‘Should you wish to place these types of items, then the crematorium would be happy to either dispose of them reverently, or give them back to the funeral director.’’
Whakatane District Council includes jewellery on a list of items caskets for cremation should not contain, but public affairs manager Ross Boreham said it was a guideline rather than a prohibition.
Jewellery does not feature on the New Plymouth District Council list of prohibited items.
Staff had worked with funeral directors, who had mostly cooperated about ensuring there were no items that could explode, damage the cremator, or release carcinogens or fumes that would cause a breach of a resource consent.
But staff were in an awkward position because they were not the ones who closed the casket and knew for sure what was inside.
With cremation being the most common choice for people, the council did not want to risk putting something in the cremator that could put it out of commission.
Anthony Beauchamp from Beauchamp Funeral Home in Palmerston North says including jewellery on a list of items allowed in caskets earmarked for cremation is ‘‘unusual’’.
Coins, a stone, titanium hip joints and nails from the coffins are some of the things that survive the crematorium’s heat.