[Though not specifically theology related, I thought this would be the best board for this topic, primarily because of the content and the audience for this forum.]
Many of you know that I serve as the "funeral chaplain" for our local funeral home. I'm often called in to work with families that are from out of town, or don't have a local church connection or available clergy. I typically serve 1 to 2 families a week in this context.
A recent conversation has caused me to consider that many people are choosing cremation for economic reasons, without considering the impact on the grief process. In many Direct Cremations, the last time they see their loved one is in the hospital, or possibly a brief viewing of an unembalmed body at the funeral home.
If one has chosen cremation for economic reasons, they will probably not pay for embalming, which (in most cases) eliminates the possibility of public viewing. Consequently, visiting hours and memorial services are held without the body present... although an urn might often be present.
The Catholic Church has strongly urged its members to have the funeral services with the body present, with cremation (if chosen) to follow. Protestants seem less likely to go in that direction, and my clientele almost never does that.
Consequently, I'm concerned that we've short-circuited an important part of the grieving process. Friends and neighbors are deprived the opportunity to see the deceased again. Family from away might not make it prior to the cremation. And while I don't have theological or doctrinal objections to cremation, I am concerned that the growing frequency of Direct Cremations leads to a lack of closure.
I'm curious what is happening in other parts of the country. Do families gather at the funeral home for a private viewing before the cremation takes place? Does the clergy go with them and offer some prayers or a liturgy of some sort? Are there families that go to the crematory to wait while the cremation takes place? Does their clergy go with them? What might a pre-cremation liturgy look like?
I have more thoughts on the topic, but would like to hear about your experiences and thoughts first. Thanks (in advance) for participating in a conversation that we tend to shy away from.
(Direct Cremation refers to the practice of the body going directly from funeral home to crematory without a public viewing. Since the family is not paying for embalming (or possibly not paying for refrigeration services either), the cremation will happen as soon as legally and practically possible, with all services/visiting hours to follow cremation)