Choosing a Direct Cremation like trend setter David Bowie


The past 18 months have be challenging for every person in the funeral profession and mourners alike. The pandemic has pushed families to source alternative options for saying goodbye to their loved ones, moving away from traditional ones. 

Here’s where Celebrants come in. Celebrants are storytellers by trade and at The Celebrant Directory we have a wealth of advice and inspiration written by Celebrants creating ceremonies across the world. 

Directory member Helen Noble, Best National Celebrant for Funerals CDGA shares her insights into Direct Cremations and Memorials, first made popular by David Bowie. Since he passed, the demand for Direct Cremations have rocketed by 400% – a true trend setter in both life and death.

What is a Direct Cremation?

Direct cremations are when the deceased is escorted by private black ambulance (not a Hurst)  to the crematorium for their private cremation. There are no mourners, family or minister present. There may be a Funeral Director, and this may also be requested. 

Direct cremations tend to be first thing in the morning, ahead of the booked service slots – This is at the industry’s preference.

The deceased’s remains are then available for collection from the Crematorium or the Funeral Director who organised the process a few days later. The vessel in which they are collected in is a standard one. It tends to be quite subtle and plain. 

When to have a Direct Cremation and when not too? 

There are a few reasons why people might opt for a Direct Cremation. There are of course at least two sides to every option, but here are the bare essentials. Each family, each person and each decision may be led by either cost, family, or choice. 

What is the cost of a Direct Cremation?

It might be monetary. Direct Cremations are the cheapest option. You will pay for the basic legal costs of disposing of body and the relevant paper work associated. They may not get embalmed as there will be no viewing, this can potentially put cost up. 

What choices will I have?

It is still dignified but the ‘choice’ of any extra’s is what you forfeit. By having this option, you hand over all decisions.  If it is a prepaid package, then you get the basic options. That will be the basic coffin, the time slot the Funeral Director and the crematorium decide, no viewing or visits, and no one at all attending the actual cremation other than staff.

That’s not to say you can’t upgrade, but you then start getting into blurry lines so it’s definitely worth a conversation with your local Funeral Directors. You might think it’s just about cost, but then you start to think about other choices that you are not willing to give up. So perhaps cost isn’t your strongest value? 

What about loved ones?

Or friends of course. Loved ones… or politics! They might need to be served and looked after too. A Direct Cremation may take a lot of your choice away as a mourner. But it might be that the logistics are causing the issue. If ‘seeing’ the deceased is something the family need to do, then perhaps a direct cremation isn’t for you? 

On the other hand, it might you the family want to absolutely separate the two. The might see their loved one’s body as a shell and believe it to be ‘just the packaging’ of their loved one, so a Direct Cremation is fine because they will have a memorial later. It might of course be that the family politics are such that you don’t actually want everyone in the room together so by choosing a Direct Cremation, people can choose to do their own thing to mark the passing and loss of a loved one. 

What are the logistics?

This might be where memorials or celebrations of life come in. If the deceased dies a long journey away from where you or they wanted their service or ceremony to be, or even their plot or place where you presumed the ashes wanted to be scattered – there are logistics to consider. If the thought of your loved one being driven down the motorway or put on a plane is something that turns your stomach then there are of course a couple of options.  

Firstly, the logistics of getting the ‘body back home’ is something the Funeral Director can resolve for you if you wanted to still have a Direct Cremation but at one you knew was closer to you, then that can be done instead. But if cost, logistics and politics are worrying you and you want them to be cremated at the place where they died, then you can liaise with whomever is looking after your loved one. That might be the hospital. They are now custodians of the body, and a Direct Cremation can be arranged privately.

You can do a Direct Cremation where they died (the lowest cost option) or bring them home and do one at your local crematorium. Of course, the second option would be a lot more expensive due to transportation logistics. 

Once your loved one’s remains are home with you, you might want to then do a memorial or celebration of life, or an interment or scattering.  

Can I have a memorial or Celebration of Life after a Direct Cremation?

These don’t typically involve the Funeral Directors, but they can.

Memorial services are slightly different to ‘celebration of life ceremonies’ but really, only in tone. A memorial tends to have religious content and been lead by a priest or religious leader  (hence ‘service’) whereby they will look back in memory at the life past, and give thanks for it. 

A celebration of life tends to be led by a Celebrant (hence ceremony) and may, if not humanist, have some spirituality in it if the client so chooses. It will looks forward at the legacy left, the clues to still having their presence surrounding and the way they make you feel when you think of them. There will of course be ‘remembering’ and ‘gratefulness’ too. So its mainly who you choose to lead the ceremony. 

Memorials tend to be with out the deceased present. However… You can incorporate and ‘Interment or scattering of Ashes’ at the service or ceremony. Or, and this is where the Funeral Directors come in, You do a Direct Cremation after the funeral.

This is where you might be able to accommodate everyone opinions on Cost, family and choice. 

Can I have a Funeral ceremony followed by Direct Cremation?

I hold a full-on funeral ceremony, with the coffin of your choice, at the time of your choice where your loved one may or may not have been embalmed (also your choice) but the big difference is that it’s at a venue of your choice – rather than at the crematorium chapel. 

After the Funeral, we have the ‘Recessional’ music and the Funeral Directors come in to collect your loved one and then carry them out to the hurst. The family then wave them farewell. 

Your loved one is then with the Funeral Directors where the Direct Cremation formalities then kick in. Your loved one has now been handed over and your decisions are now over. You have said your farewell, people have come together and you have had support all the way. 

The funeral profession has come so far and there are so many options now that it can be overwhelming, so quite often you are not given these options unless you ask. If you ask, they will / should be offered to you. 

The key is know what is out there. I’ve only touched the surface. There is always more to talk about and I’m always happy to open the conversation. 

How do I find a Direct Cremation Company?

If you’re looking for a gentle, personal and low cost option, Stag Direct Cremations is a good place to start. Holly Lyon-Hawk is a holistic funeral director and death doula. We can promise you and your loved one will be in safe hands with her.

Photography credits: David Preston, Oliver Hotakainen, Helen Noble

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