The items not for af­ter­life

Cre­ma­to­ria op­er­a­tors are clamp­ing down on what can stay in loved ones’ cas­kets, writes

The Southland Times - - FEATURES -

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.

WAR­WICK SMITH/STUFF

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’’.

WAR­WICK SMITH/STUFF

Coins, a stone, ti­ta­nium hip joints and nails from the coffins are some of the things that sur­vive the cre­ma­to­rium’s heat.

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