Just the other day, Jegs and I attended the wake of her Auntie Gloria in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. The wake was at the small chapel of Sto. Angel, one of the Barangays of Sta. Cruz. We got there about 9 a.m., so there were very few people. When we got there, Jegs’ other Auntie, Purita (who happened to be Jegs’ godmother) right away started sobbing on Jegs’ shoulders. Of course, this was not time to be absolutely happy, even if logically one should because a loved one has ceased suffering. Anyway, after a couple of minutes of inquiry, Jegs apparently started talking to her Auntie about internment possibilities. Naturally, burial has been scheduled in the next few days.
Nevertheless, Jegs seemed to have subtly brought up the concept of cremation to her Auntie Purita, who appeared to have become interested.
Both Jegs and I believe in the concept and practicality of cremation, so we know what to do when the other goes. In fact, we do have two chambers (spaces) in a columbarium in Los Baños. But I’m digressing. I’d like to share some information with readers regarding cremation as an option.
For the uninitiated, and from a technical point of view, cremation is the process of reducing a dead body to basic chemical compounds in the form of gases and bone fragments, according to Wikipedia. The place to cremate (burn) dead bodies is called crematorium or crematory, which is actually a furnace that generates very high temperatures, normally from 870-980oC. To produce this heat, a crematorium utilizes electricity or gas. Modern furnaces, or crematoria, have sophisticated controls that ensure clean burning and have automatic monitors of the cremation process. Normally the body burns at the rate of 45 kg per hour.
Wikipedia tells us that cremation dates back about 20,000 years based on archaeological evidence found at Mungo Lake in Australia. Similar archaeological evidences have been found in the Middle East and Europe, dating back to the Early Bronze Age (c. 2000BC). Then, during the Iron Age (which came after the Bronze Age), inhumation, or the practice of burying the dead, became common practice once more. Still, cremation didn’t completely disappear, until finally Christianity frowned upon it during the 5th Century mainly through the influence of Judaism and Christianity’s attempt to abolish the Graeco-Roman pagan rituals. When inhumation was a general practice, cremation was sometimes used as part of the punishment for heretics (recall your European history when witches were burned at the stakes?).
Cremation in Modern Times
According to Wikipedia, cremation once more became popular when in 1873, Professor Brunetti presented a cremation chamber at the Vienna Exposition. A year after, in 1874, Queen Victoria’s own surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson, together with his colleagues, founded the Cremation Society of Great Britain. Then the first crematoria in Europe were built in 1878 in England and in Germany. The first North American crematorium was built in 1876 by Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne in Pensylvannia, while the second one was built by Charles Winslow in Salt Lake City on July 31, 1877.
Cremation was declared legal in England and Wales when Dr. William Price was unsuccessfully prosecuted for cremating his son toward the end of the 19th century, then followed by a series of events that led to the formal legalization of cremation. These events included the first official cremation that took place in Woking, England in 1885, then about ten cremations took place in 1886, followed by the building of a crematorium in Manchester in 1892, and another one in Glasgow in 1895, then another one in Liverpool in 1896. Finally, England passed the Cremation Act of 1902.
It is said that some protestant churches accepted cremation arguing that “God can resurrect a bowl of ashes just as conveniently as he can resurrect a bowl of dust.” Still, the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1908 was critical of these efforts, referring to them as “sinister movement” and associating them with Freemasonry, even if said Catholic encyclopedia said “there is nothing directly opposed to any dogma of the Church in the practice of cremation.” Finally, in 1963, Pope Paul VI lifted the ban on cremation, and in 1966 allowed Catholic priests to officiate at cremation ceremonies.
Today, crematories have largely improved. In fact, there are crematories that are fully automated with PLC (programmable logic controller) touchscreens, where the weight and the name of the deceased have to be entered before the start-button is pressed (Wikipedia).
It’s not true that you’ll burn completely and what would be left of you are only ashes. For the most part, your large bones wouldn’t burn completely. In fact, there would be fragments of bones, while very clean and white, wouldn’t completely burn. What they do is grind these pieces of bones until they look like fine sand. These are the materials they deposit in small containers, like zip-lock bag, which is deposited in the urn. When you are sure that you don’t like to see the container that holds the bone “ashes” anymore, seal the urn. If it’s a marble urn, seal it with mighty bond or epoxy, and you’ll have it well kept in the urn. You can bury the urn if you like to, or perhaps put it in a place where you can always see it, or even broadcast your “ashes” in the sea or perhaps in the atmosphere. But the most common place to deposit the urn is in the Columbarium, or the house where urns are deposited in chambers, usually, a maximum of two urns per chamber.
Cremation is a Personal Thing
Cremation, I consider, is a very personal thing. For Jegs and myself, we chose cremation for ourselves when the time comes for many reasons. For example, for practical reasons, it is far cheaper than inhumation, or burial in the ground. When I sold my lot in the Memorial Garden about 15 years ago, the rate during that time was P26,000 per lot of 4’x8’ and up to 6 feet under. Now, if you want to, you can construct a tomb as well as put a roof above. Or, as in most Philippine cemeteries today, construct a family mausoleum. All these can cost upwards to P500,000. Cremation? Just about P50,000. And that already includes an urn made of brass or marble, and a chamber in the Columbarium. There are a lot of reasons associated with cremation that Jegs and I both like but which we rather not openly discuss. Point is, we’ll let you be according to your own personal beliefs and preferences.
There is a psychological issue for me, personally, though. Like, when buried you’d slowly decay and mix with the dirt beneath. I can’t, and I won’t, imagine myself in that condition. Too depressing to think of yourself as very dead and have rotted, mixing with the dirt underground. In a beautiful urn, you’d look majestic all the time, especially when the urn stands next to a framed picture of you which has greatly benefited from Adobe Photoshop.