Cremation is becoming an increasingly common alternative to burial and statistics reveal that 70% of Britons will be cremated rather than buried once they are no longer with us. This has fuelled a rise in the popularity of ash-scattering ceremonies across the country, although few people clearly specify what they want to happen with their remains… and sometimes the ashes are never collected.
Recently, a number of funeral homes gathered to discuss the large number of cremated remains that have been left unclaimed in the East Sussex area. Two funeral directors from Bexhill and Hastings have a combined 124 sets of ashes that are yet to be collected by family members, some dating back to 1971. The firms say they have done their best to trace any relatives, but their efforts proved futile. The funeral homes are now making a joint appeal to the families, asking them to come and collect the ashes of their deceased relatives.
The reasons behind the large number of remains left unclaimed could be various, explained Andy Murfitt, Funeral Director at Douglas Mercer and Son in Bexhill. Some relatives could have moved to another part of the country or overseas, others may feel they wouldn't cope with the pain of seeing the ashes of the person they loved so much. Sometimes, the relatives themselves may die without indicating what they would like done with the remains. Mercer said that the funeral home will keep holding the ashes until a family member asks for them back.
Ashes can also be collected by whoever made the funeral arrangements. This person does not necessarily have to be a relative of the deceased.
The National Association of Funeral Directors, which has over 3,600 members, says that funeral homes usually hold cremated remains for a number of years if they can't find relatives and considers that they must be kept for at least five years by its members. During this time they should try to contact anyone who is related to the deceased. If this doesn't help, funeral homes may publish information in local media that they are looking to contact relatives and find the person who arranged the funeral to warn that the cremated remains would either be scattered, interned in a burial ground or cemetery or taken to a crematorium if not claimed.