Organised, respectful ceremonies - Frank Salt
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Organised, respectful ceremonies - Frank Salt

I know that it is not a subject that we normally discuss, but what is certain is that we are all going to die. Our relatives organise a respectful ceremony of remembrance and then our physical bodies are taken to a cemetery to be buried in a grave.

Now I always had a strange feeling about being buried in a hole in the ground and left there to disintegrate. I was told that it is no longer you, so you should not mind. 

But I did and I do.

A few years ago I attended a funeral at the Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery in Paola. The coffin pit was open and because the grave had not been cleaned out beforehand, the men had to remove one of the coffins already inside the grave to make way for the new one. 

As it was being moved the lid slid to one side and exposed the head of the body within the coffin. It was a horrible experience and one which convinced me once and for all that cremation was to be allowed in Malta. That is how I would want my body disposed of.

The way we bury people here, apart from the lack of decent space, is very old fashioned and involves work practices by the labourers in the cemetery that haven’t changed, I am sure, in centuries.

The grave should always be cleaned out before a new burial. This means that the grave is opened and the bodies are taken out of the coffins. The coffins removed and the bones placed in plastic bags ready for the new coffin to be placed on top of them. 

Can you imagine doing that job on a regular basis as a living? Thank goodness we do have people who do this kind of work.

Ashes were buried in the church garden and a rose bush planted over the site. Now that is a dignified way to go

The whole experience is one that I would not want for me or my loved ones.

A few years ago, I attended the cremation of a family member in England. The service was very dignified. The coffin was blessed and then it disappeared behind a heavy curtain. That is all we saw.

The family were then given the ashes of the deceased in an attractive urn to dispose of how they wished. Regulations state that they have to be disposed of in hallowed grounds or with special permission, elsewhere and in a dignified way. 

These particular ashes were buried in the church garden and a rose bush planted over the site. Now that, in my opinion, is a dignified way to go. I cannot understand why we have not established crematoriums in Malta. Surely they are the best solution for this small island.

We should not, however, go along the lines of Singapore. 

During a visit to that country a few years ago, I was shown a beautiful old people’s home, next to which was a large state-of-the-art hospital. Next to that was a large open space and placed in the middle a little distance from each other were three cremation ovens. 

These were to be used by relatives taking their dead from the old people’s home or hospital. They wheeled them to the ovens on a trolley. Placed them in the ovens. After the bodies were cremated, the ashes were placed on another trolley with a hole in the end so that the ashes could be swept into a large colourful urn. 

This urn was then taken to an area, where there were hundreds of urns displayed on shelves. I forgot to mention that next to each cremation oven was a coca-cola machine so that the relatives could have a drink while they were waiting.

We certainly do not want to go in that direction, but a dignified in and out, like they do in England, is certainly an attractive and sensible alternative to what we have at present.

I think that the way we finally treat our physical body, is very important. It should be done in a dignified and loving way, a way that ensures that the deceased is treated delicately and the relatives are not put through the unpleasant moments of the coffin being placed into an often overcrowded grave.

Or worse still, seeing the coffin lowered vertically with a rope and hearing a thud when it hits the ground.

The subject of this article is in itself very morbid but it is a problem that affects many Maltese who would want the present system of interment to change. At the moment there is absolutely no alternative to the present system, which is not acceptable to many. This should be changed.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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