Today I was a student of the crematory. Learning all things from the temperature gauges and raking: (the act of raking the skeletal remains from the cremator into a catchment below), to the amazing ways ashes can be both stored and released.
‘Big Ben’, with his bushy grey beard and belly laugh, has been a cremator operator for over fifteen years and was delighted to teach me all he knew and was happy for me to follow him around the place. I watched skulls break open in the heat of flames, metal hips and screws from a wooden leg be collected into a bucket and bones get sifted through in search for any other metal bits and pieces that were left behind. I watched bones get transformed to powder and people who were only walking down the street a week ago get poured into sparkly urns. Glamorous looking caskets were engulfed in flames and I even witnessed a potential ‘Fat Fire.’
Yes, you read correctly, a Fat Fire.
‘We aren’t actually allowed to call them Fat Fires anymore,’ Ben continued to educate me, puffing and sweating, extinguishing the flames that bellowed from behind the huge, metal door of the cremator. ‘We must call them Pressure Fires.’
Thud! Bang! Rumble!
It sounded like a thunderstorm thumping within the giant machine. Black ash and smoke stained the area around the cremator, all because Mr. Lionel enjoyed a few too many tacos while he was alive.
‘Does this happen often?’ I could feel my jaw was at my knees, but in too much shock to bring it back up where it belonged. I felt my eyes widen as the final flames we dissipated.
‘All the time,’ Big Ben chuckled taking off his hard hat and wiping his sooty face with his forearm. ‘The obese need to spend a day in the crematory rather than read diet books. One look at a Fat Fire, err… excuse me, I mean a Pressure Fire, would turn them right off that next chinese buffet!’
Pressure Fire Under control and melted fat disposed of, I wandered into the staff room where complimentary scones were on offer for funeral directors.
Just when I thought I had seen it all, mid bite with jam and cream on my nose, I noticed three giant seashells in the urn room leaning against a wall on the floor.
‘Oh! They’re new! Just in!’ Big Ben startled me, walking in and grabbing a scone. Mouth full, he grabbed one and held out to me.
With sticky fingers I held onto the foam like, blue seashell. ‘They are for families who want ashes scattered at sea. Instead of flying all over the place when you set them free in the wind, the ashes are put in a plastic bag and then put inside the shell. It’s then thrown into the water and after a few hours, it dissolves. Pretty neat, hey!’
Thud! Bang! Rumble!
‘Shit!’ and off he flew, back to the cremator to save the day. Or the cemetery grounds anyway.
For some time, nibbling on scones, I wandered around the room brimming with urns, overlooking the rolling hills of headstones and fountains.
Some urns were breathtaking; one was made completely of Himalayan salt. Others were tiny, the size of my thumb for when families wish to share the ashes, a portion for all. Some were glistening with golden finishes, others bright pink and covered in glitter. I felt like a child, scanning the aisles of a toy store. I was amazed at all of the wonderful and beautiful ways the human body can be retained and eliminated.
Life is magical, and forever surprising us. And as the giant seashells and glittery urns reminded me, farewell really can be, if you choose it, an adventurous affair also.