The Telegraph published a story yesterday describing council regulations in West Yorkshire, UK, forbidding the combustion of regular street clothing during the cremation process. Apparently, the deceased are now required to be clothed in council approved shrouds. According to the story, reported by Matthew Moore, even colored cotton clothing and soft toys in children's caskets are said to be prohibited in the interests of cleaner emissions.
These regulations are more than heavy handed; they are incredibly out of touch and dehumanising. Certainly cleaner emissions are a laudable goal, and people everywhere can benefit from knowing how to improve them, but a person's clothing and the items that travel with them to the retort are very meaningful and should not be tampered with.
The clothing of the living is an integral part of a person's identity, and removing that layer is dehumanising. For this reason, military recruits are given identical uniforms and haircuts. Their identities must be broken down before they are rebuilt in a new way. This stripping of identity is also a common practice in prisons.
The clothing of the dead is often carefully chosen, sometimes even years in advance. Whether the dead are dressed in overalls, a track suit, a special suit or dress, or even a special T-shirt, that clothing is an expression of who that person was. When the survivors are missing that person, the clothing is an important reminder of the personality they are trying to remember.
A few years ago, the directors at our funeral home worked with the family of a teenage girl who died tragically. Her clothing was very important to her and who she was, and at the request of the family, this young lady wore casual youthful clothing during the evening visitation, and then was changed into more formal clothing for the funeral service the following day. I can't imagine the reaction of family and friends if this girl had been required to wear a utilitarian shroud.
In my experience, every family who loses a child places a special toy, often a stuffed animal made with artificial fibers, into the casket with their baby. Their emotions are complicated and volatile, and one very positive way for them to express their love is by placing these meaningful objects in the casket. The grief experienced by these parents is palpable and overwhelming. If the council prohibits these items, they should be required to tell the parents themselves, face to face, that this baby can't have a comforting toy for the sake of a few fumes.
There are many ways to reduce green house gases and toxins that should be explored before stripping the dead of their indentities and individuality. There are many steps that would have a greater impact on our environment than eliminating stuffed animals and other meaningful gifts from the caskets of children. It is my hope that this council slips out of their own shroud and repeals their ridiculous regulations.
Update, 17 June, 2009
The Daily Mail reported on this situation today. Here is an excerpt from the article. For the full text, visit www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1193306/
Grieving relatives have been left distraught after a council banned them from dressing loved ones in their favourite outfits in a crackdown on pollution. It means an end to people being cremated wearing their football shirts, or parents placing soft toys in children's coffins. Kirklees Council in
One man, who did not want to be named, was shocked to find his relative could not wear the 100 per cent cotton outfit she had chosen before she died. He said: 'We knew it had to be natural fibres so she chose a top and slip that was 100 per cent cotton. 'But when the funeral director came we were told she would have to wear a special shroud. He pulled out a swatch of different colours to choose from. 'We didn't know what it looked like and when we went to see her in the chapel of rest, we couldn't believe it. 'It was all fluffy and frilly. The deceased would not have wanted to have been seen dead in it - unfortunately she was.' The council set out the guidelines on cremation in a letter to funeral directors.
The document refers to rules in a charter by the
I welcome my UK readers to post any updates on this matter in the comments section.