Time and space

by
24 October 2014

A new facility has opened in Essex to allow families to store cremated remains until they are ready to deal with them, Pat Ashworth reports

Buying time: an urn saved in a Secure Haven niche

Buying time: an urn saved in a Secure Haven niche

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 can't agree.

"However, it is almost always a source of guilt. They haven't forgotten they left the ashes: they just can't bring themselves to collect them."

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 support.

"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 cut."

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."

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