Ashes to Ashes

we are skin, bone, sinew, sheath protecting
rushing blood, heart that beats, muscle,
what would happen if skin peels back
what would others see

our imperfections inscribed on concrete paths
our loves and hates broadcast, wants, dreams
to strangers whose footsteps tred
unknowingly across our backs

we travel sometimes alone, learning life through
others and ourselves, our journey evolving
inwardly not sharing when our cross is hard
to bare and would strangers care

we walk and talk, the humans that we are
with foibles and finery, genetics make
our personality, we love, we hate, laugh, cry
complex creatures, the miracle of simply being

our hearts need to beat, our blood to flow
if broken and skin peeled back, we may reveal
bruises of the life we’ve led, that swelled
caused pain, that never surfaced

so take us for what we are, who we are
this short time on this earth, the marvels
of the human kind, for when all is said and done
we are bone, skin, sinew and blood

copyright JMTacken 9.4.2014

The below may be a little confronting. Apologies.

Today a small group of Funeral Celebrants had a tour of one of our local cemeteries set on 440 acres of land and 80,000 trees with beautifully manicured and maintained gardens.
We visited the sites of the Greek, Hindu, Chinese, Jewish, Italian graves and many more. We saw the baby to 3 year old site, which was full of colour and even a small playground and the children’s site. The site of our Victorian Police force who were killed in the line of duty.

Then we visited the building were the cremations took place. Down a steep driveway to a brick building, we entered quietly, reverently.

There was a gentleman with one of the furnaces open raking out the remains of ‘someone’ we stood, the three of us, silent. We saw a large femur bone, amongst the red ashes of the ‘kiln’.

He then asked if we wanted to witness the next one who was coming in. He wheeled in a coffin, adorned with yellow daisies, and opened the furnace door, sliding it carefully in. As soon as it was in place a massive flame came up and he closed the door. We all stood, watching, enthralled and curious about the event that took place in front of us.

The temperature exceeded 900deg. Those that have hip replacements or metal in their bodies were sifted through and a bottom furnace then burnt the remaining ashes. This may seem a morbid thing to write about, but as a funeral celebrant, knowing now how the process is, brought a sense of relief, in a way.

The process is handled with great care and respect. The bodies of loved ones are then placed into containers, all marked. They check the paperwork 5 times before each cremation.

We were told the higher the lacquer on the coffin, the faster it burns. That having cardboard coffins is environmentally unfriendly as they are held together with too much glue. They want the ashes to be in the purest state possible, so advise funeral directors and celebrants to deter families from placing photos, letters or other memorabilia in for their journey.

As we walked out the building, I started to get quite emotional and cry. I wrote the above last night, prior to this visit, not knowing what we were going to witness.

It brought home we are just ‘items’ in a way. Made up of many things, then when our time comes we are but ash, disintegrated parts of us, of what was us…dust to dust..hard to describe really…


48 thoughts on “Ashes to Ashes

    • Thank you Michael, I found it strange that I thought about this poem last night and then had this experience today. Yes, confronting but in a way the whole process put me at ease, knowing how it takes place.

  1. So, so, interesting. I can’t imagine how emotional that experience was for you. You know my beliefs so I won’t babble…our shell is left but our soul lives on and on in eternity.

    • Hello lovely, sitting here studying or trying too 😦 No I don’t think many would – though they have the original viewing room, set up in front of the furnaces for those family members who wished to see. I don’t think this practice still continues and if it does, a curtain is closed, so they don’t watch and try and jump in with them.

      The other interesting point which I forgot to add to the post is that you can make diamonds from the ash/carbon. I cup of ‘human ash’ – depending on the size of the stone and costs start around $3,000. So you can have mum, dad or loved one with you on a ring or necklace forever.:-) Trying to think if that’s not creepy … xxx

      • Good grief! I didn’t know that. It would certainly make for a good horror story (the writer coming out in me). Imagine if someone stole it, calling the police – someone just stole my mother. Yikes

  2. I’ve been to more burials than cremations. Both though are stark in reminder of our frail bodies and mortality. I’m always so glad that they follow a funeral mass where comfort and hope of eternity allay the worst fears of a total end. I can understand your emotions at the end of the process. So difficult to view those final stages. I rarely visit graves even of family – very occasionally- I just don’t see the final resting place of the body as the final resting place. Those gone live on in heart and mind so real as to be forever with us. And we with them. A giant cosmic wonder.
    A really moving post, Jenny. I’m glad you are on of the celebrants of someone’s life. Your poem and empathy reveal you’re well chosen.x

    • I have only conducted 2 burials and 11 cremations. I did become emotional, but I would have been far worse if it was someone I actually knew, though I know I couldn’t actually watch that take place. I believe in life after so the final resting place per se’ is only where their shell remains. A place for those loved ones who are left to have quiet & reflection time with those they have lost. Thank you for reading and your lovely words AM x

  3. I am fascinated by this: “our hearts need to beat, our blood to flow
    if broken and skin peeled back, we may reveal
    bruises of the life we’ve led, that swelled
    caused pain, that never surfaced”

    The truth of this is powerful.

  4. Hard work you do but needed and you would be less human if you had not shed a tear. It is why you will make a great one! Hugs to you. My brother lost his wife young to the horrors of cancer and he stepped into the room to watch and say his final goodbyes and I thought I was the tough one.

  5. take us for who we are, what we are….because we do have a short time on this earth…and we waste so much of it in petty things….once the spirit is gone we are little more than items for sure…its our soul and our relationships that add depth to life….

  6. oh wow, that must have been incredibly intense. i would have cried my eyes out too. how amazing that you created this poem just before this visit. perfect.

  7. Sharing this, the way you have has conveyed your experience well Jenny..

    It does sound difficult, emotionally so. I cannot imagine going through that and not becoming a blubbering mess.

    Beautifully written, and very moving.


  8. uhhmm, this might be a little too much nuts and bolts for me, the description of the process you witnessed brought to mind Da Vinci’s notebooks, he had cadavers delivered to his studio so that he could dissect them to truly learn about our anatomy. but i did love the poem, and i have immense respect for what you do.

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