Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fireman’s Urn is a Work of Love: The Final Honor

fireman funeral death ritual
Edward D. Hamilton, Jr. was a special guy. When he died, his family and friends held a wonderful and meaningful service for him. After he was cremated, his wife Nancie wanted to place his remains in a wonderful and meaningful urn. She couldn’t find the right one, so she made it herself.
Ed was a volunteer fireman for 32 years in Nutley, New Jersey. Although he would have liked to work full time as a firefighter, the demands of supporting his family lead him to work in other fields during his time with the department. While working in Nutley, it was easy for him to respond to fires as they broke out, but later, even when working out of town, he still found ways to help out when the department really needed him. He would leave his radio at home with Nancie. When a demanding fire broke out in Nutley, she would call him, and Ed would drive the 45 minutes back to home to help. Ed was a civic minded man who gave a great deal of help and support to his community, his department, his family, and friends. Although he was usually a white collar worker, he would often ‘turn his collar around’ to listen and help with the concerns of his co-workers.
death ceremony cremation
Ed's sons, Dave and Chris with Chief Tom Peters

One of the many places Ed worked over the years was at Irvine Cozzarelli Memorial Home in Belleville for high school buddy, Jimmy Cozzarelli. When he died in September of 2003, Nancie arranged for services with Mr. Cozzarelli. She was grateful for the caring and personalized services her family received from their old friend, the stories they shared, and the incredible outpouring of support shown to them from their community during the day and a half of visitation when the line of guests ran out the door.

death ritual fireman funeral
The fire truck carrying Ed pulls out from the Irvine Cozzarelli Memorial Home in Belleville
fireman funeral ritual
Dave and Chris on the back of the engine carrying their father
The Nutley firefighters provided a color guard two fire trucks for the procession. Ed and Nancie’s sons, firefighters themselves, rode on the truck for their father’s last ride. The meaning and symbolism of this procession continues to be a powerful and emotional memory for Nancie, who can still picture her sons in their uniforms riding on the fire truck with their father.
fireman funeral ceremony death
The Fire Department Salutes Ed. His turnout and helmet stand before them

Nancie was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from friends and even people she never expected to see at the service, but she was in a fog and busy looking after others instead of accepting support for herself. She suggests that grieving families allow others to help them and refrain from telling callers that they are ‘all right’ when they really just need someone to talk with.
Following services, Ed was cremated, and though she was offered many choices for Ed’s urn, Nancie felt that none would reflect his personality well enough. Eventually, she brought Ed home in a temporary container and experienced a fear of opening up Ed’s temporary urn. She knew her fear was irrational, but it was there nonetheless. I think that many people in her situation experience the same thing. They do not know what they will find, and that unknown can be intimidating. Before long, Nancie overcame her fear and was relieved to find that no disembodied ‘Addams family hand’ popped out. Now she needed to find a place for Ed and it had to be the right place. She wanted the urn to fit the person Ed was, something that would pay tribute to him and ‘do him justice’.
fireman funeral death ritual
Driving past Nutley Headquarters

Many firefighters are collectors of objects that remind them of their passion, and Nancie found inspiration in an antique copper fire extinguisher that had been converted into a lamp. Being a firefighter had been such an important part of his life that it seemed fitting. After disassembling the lamp and experiencing a few hurdles in the task of inurnment, Ed’s cremated remains were placed inside the two foot tall extinguisher. Having finally found the right place for Ed’s cremated remains, Nancie experienced a sense of peace. She also found a new purpose; to help the families of other firefighters by providing them with similar urns.
It was no easy task for a novice to find a fabricator for her design, a scaled-down version of the antique extinguisher, but Nancy persevered, and after many trials, was able to produce the ‘Final Honor’ urn. Ed’s cremated remains have since been transferred to the new model, which, at 13 ½” high and 5 ¾” in diameter is a more appropriate size for cremated remains than the original antique. This urn also has considerable heft, weighing 9.6 lbs. empty. Nancie has found comfort in the presence of Ed’s urn, next to the hearth in her living room. She knows that wherever she moves, she can take Ed with her.
fireman funeral cremation ritual
Carefully lifting the casket off the engine
In talking with Nancie, I found that I had a great deal of respect for her. Her husband’s cremated remains are very precious to her, and she would not settle with putting them just anywhere, it had to be right. She held out until she could find the right place, and then went about the long and difficult process of making it available for others. I wonder how many people told her she was crazy or it wouldn’t sell, or it couldn’t be made for a reasonable price anywhere. Nonetheless, she believed in herself and what she was doing, and, after almost 6 years, has succeeded in creating a wonderful urn. What I like most about this piece is that it isn’t some designer’s idea of what might sell, it’s an expression of a woman’s love for her husband, and it shows.

fireman funeral death ceremony

The Final Honor Urn

When I meet with families who choose cremation, I try to impress upon them what a great variety of different urns there are to choose from. A funeral home cannot possibly keep an example of each on hand, but we have catalogues full of different designs; from scattering urns to memory chests to urns that celebrate many different passions and interests. I try to keep some interesting pieces like the ‘Final Honor’ on hand to stretch the imaginations of family members. Their loved one may not have been a firefighter, but if they see something like this, they understand that there will be something out there for them too. Some want a bell jar, and some want a one of a kind sculpture. What’s important is that the urn is a meaningful container for the person whose remains rest there. Rest in Peace, Ed.
For more information on the Final Honor Urn, visit Nancie’s web site http://www.thefinalhonor.com/index.html
Service Photo credit - Joyce Frese

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization. dailyundertaker@gmail.com