Families leave thousands of cremated remains behind – The Sydney Morning Herald

Posted: April 2, 2017 at 7:45 am

The sign in the ash storage room of the Sydney crematorium said it all: "Family to collect at a later date."

Bereavedfamilies are leaving the ashes of their loved ones behind in boxes in funeral homes and crematoria at a greater rate than ever before, according to NSW funeral directors and industry sources.

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Set against the stunning backdrop of the industrial seaside town of Port Kembla, a feisty and resilient community group have determined to take back the responsibility that most of us leave to someone else - to care for their own dead. Trailer courtesy Scarlett Pictures at http://www.tenderdocumentary.com.au

About 67 per cent of the 56,000 peoplewho die in NSW are cremated, andonly a third of them are "memorialised" at a cemetery, according to Crematoriaand Cemeteries Agency NSW (CCA), the government body set up in 2014 to oversee the industry.

Its figures on the "disposition of ashes" (the volumeof ashes scattered at a cemetery or interred) shows only 32.5 per cent are interred, for example in a niche wall, or scattered in a cemetery.

As a result, thousands of boxes of cremated remains are believed to be sitting uncollected and forgotten in funeral directors' offices and crematoria.

Manyfamilies chooseto scattercremated remains across favourite beaches, shootthem into space, orsprinkle them (often surreptitiously, as most councils require permission) on sporting fields and ovals, vineyards and backyards or just leave themin an urnon amantelpiece.

At one large crematorium in Sydney, which handles 1200 peoplea year, a storage room contained about 800 boxes of remains.

Despite repeated efforts by staffto contact the families, some ashesdate back to 2003.

A collection of smaller boxes on a shelf contained the cremated remains of infants, babies who died only a few days or weeks after birth. The uncollected ashes of one baby dateback toJune, 2004.

An executive who showed us the facility said the crematorium staff attempted to contact families to ask if they'd like the ashes or if they should be scattered on consecrated grounds, which is done once a month.

Andrew Crook, who owns The Little Funeral Company and previously worked for a large funeral company, makes a huge effortto return ashes to families after a cremation, often driving around Sydney with the ashes in the boot of his car only to be thwarted by families' lack of interest.

The trend reflects a breakdown in families, and the increasing number of people who live and die alone or are alienated from friends and community, he said.

At the end of the day you are just left holding the wreckage of someone's life

"It is just really sad," Mr Crook said."I have had to do funerals where there is no money, no family, and they are ontheir third or fourth wife, the kids don't talk to each other, and at the end of the day you are just left holding the wreckage of someone's life."

The chief executive of the SouthernMetropolitanCemeteriesTrust, Graham Boyd, said sometimes families were too sad to collect the ashes."One fathertold me why he did not collect his young boy's ashes because ... his grief was too great to face the reality that his young son had died."

Mr Boyd argues the rate of memorialisationis more than 8 per cent higher than reflected in the CCA's figures, and varies widely from cemetery to cemetery.

Mr Boyd saidonlysmall percentage of families didn'tcollect ashes. "Whenever we scatter or bury such ashes which have not been collected, we place rose petals with them and we, for that moment in time, become the deceased families," he said

He has written to the CCA to say these numbers don't include the numberof ashes that were scattered on existing graves. For instance, about 250 ashes were placed in existing graves in a year when 3007 cremations had taken place at its crematoriaat Woronora and the eastern suburbs It was common for families who chose to cremate a relative to dispose of these ashes in the grave of another family member who had been buried at the cemetery.

The practice of scattering asheshas grown so much even among Catholics, who are strongly urged to opt for burial that the Vatican last year issued guidelines saying ashes shouldn't be kept at home or divided among family members. It was not permitted to scatter ashes in the air, land or sea because it would give the appearance of "pantheism, naturalism or nihilism",the guidelines by the Congregation for the Faith said.

Many families are also opting for inexpensive no-attendance funerals. Itis common for these ashes not to be collected.

While the number of deaths across Australia will double to 300,000 by 2051,IbisWorldforecast that funeral and cremation revenues would grow slowly, at about 2.5 per centa year."Consumers have been increasinglychoosing cremations or basic funeralpackages over the more expensive burialoptions," it said.

About two thirds of people in NSW choose cremation, although the rate varies across NSW. Photo: Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW

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Families leave thousands of cremated remains behind - The Sydney Morning Herald

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