I spend my life hanging around crematoria, so they don’t hold any fear for me any more, but that wasn’t always the case. When I went to the funerals of family members or friends (thankfully a rare occasion), I always felt slightly intimidated.
So, I hope my thoughts below might help you through.
First things first, a crematorium is not a religious place. Religion often ‘happens’ there, but that is through choice, so there is no special reverence required, you don’t have to doff your cap or bow. (Most ‘crems’ will remove the cross from the front if that’s what you want).
Because of what the building is used for, most people tend to show dignity and respect, not only for the dead, but for the living who have come there to mourn. Beyond this, just behave as you would normally.
If you’re worried about the upcoming funeral, go and do a ‘recce’ in advance, you can roam around the grounds to your hearts content and while you’re there suss out the car parking and where the toilets are. If your concerns are deeper, or you have specific questions you want answered, call up the office beforehand and one of the chapel attendants will meet you and have a chat. In my experience they’re lovely people and only too happy to help.
On the day, those closest to the deceased usually arrive by limo, but it’s not compulsory (driving yourself there is a lot cheaper, though not as dramatic).
Normal form is that the hearse stops at the bottom of the driveway, the lead Funeral Director gets out and walks up in front of the car to the doors of the crem.
There’s normally a couple of minutes of ‘hoo-hah’ while the admin is sorted (taking in of the flowers and checking they’ve brought the right coffin…no, honestly).
They’ll leave you sitting in the limo until all this is done, unless it’s a baking hot day.
Normally, they’ll give you a little briefing on what’s about to happen. Whoever is leading the service walks in first (me!), followed by the coffin and then closest family/friends, with the rest of the mourners coming along in their wake. Your opening music will play during this, on a loop, so that if you’ve got a big crowd there won’t be a point when the track finishes and people shuffle in to complete silence.
Once everyone is in and seated, the coffin bearers leave I go up to the coffin, bow and then fade the music and start the service.
You can see how a ceremony runs if you check out the ‘running order’
The only thing worth mentioning is that when you get to ‘committal’ (that’s the sad, formal saying goodbye bit) you usually have the option of curtains closing, or something similar which for many people is a full stop, the end.
If you think this will be too upsetting, then say so and the coffin will remain in sight until you’ve left the room.
At the end, I’m first out (while the final track plays) and then the Funeral Director will appear again and usher everyone else out. Take control of this last bit if you wish. For example, if you want just closest family to be the last to leave, giving you time to say a final farewell, gathered round the coffin, then say so and it will be done.
A crematorium is just a room where you get together with the people who are important, to say your goodbye.