THREE-QUARTERS of British people will choose to be cremated - a
percentage figure that has remained fairly constant in recent
years. But many ashes remain unclaimed while families work through
their grief and decide what to do with them, leaving funeral
directors with an obligation to care for them, but often little
space to do so. In extreme cases, that can be for decades.
There are complex reasons for not collecting ashes, a funeral
director at the Essex firm of T. Cribb & Sons, Ann Honey, says.
"Often, I think, it is simply avoiding the finality of the very act
of collecting ashes. Sometimes, they don't want to, or can't, make
that decision. Sometimes, it's due to family problems: they just
"However, it is almost always a source of guilt. They haven't
forgotten they left the ashes: they just can't bring themselves to
Greater choice has increased the problem; so the idea of
providing a dedicated space where ashes can be stored with dignity
and respect has been welcomed. The first such facility in the UK is
Secure Haven, established earlier this year in a Grade II listed
barn in Essex. Ashes are stored in individual, custom-built wooden
storage cabinets for as long as required. Families can also visit
their ashes when the time is right for them.
The facility had a strong endorsement from the Dean of
Chelmsford, the Very Revd Nicholas Henshall, on a tour last month.
"Those who are responsible for funerals, in my experience, do an
excellent job," he said. "Bereaved people receive excellent
pastoral care, and funeral directors play a very significant role
that is not simply practical, but provides real emotional
"But what happens next? For many, there is a straightforward
answer to the question of what to do with the cremated remains.
They may be scattered or buried at a cemetery, interred in a
churchyard, placed in a columbarium, taken to a special place of
significance. For others, however, the choices are not so clear
The Dean cited his own family as an example of the dilemmas that
families faced: "Following the death of my mother-in-law, my
father-in-law was quite clear that he wanted to place her ashes in
three different special places - including a Scottish island, and a
place in Africa.
"But bereavement and managing a funeral are themselves hugely
demanding on the emotional resources of grieving people. My mother
died at the end of a long and appalling illness; there was indeed a
real sense of thanksgiving at her funeral. But I was aware that we
all felt numb; and it was only eight months later that I realised I
had been working through grief."
He describes Secure Haven as "a building full of light, which
invites you in. At its simplest, it is breathing-space for grieving
people, space to know that cremated remains are being appropriately
looked after while the journey of grief takes its course."