This address was delivered at the 1976 CANA Convention in Pittsburgh and was printed in the Cremationist, Summer, 1976. Cliff's grandfather, Clifford Zell, Sr., was an integral member of the Cremation Association and was responsible for much of the cremation movement in the midwestern US. Cliff's father Clifford, Jr, was also active in the Association, and his mother, Genevieve "Ginger" Zell, was the Association's first female president.
Why I Want Cremation
Clifford Zell, III
Valhalla Chapel of Memories, St. Louis, Missouri
I prefer cremation because it offers me a choice, not available in other types of burial. I see the chance and the duty to control the condition of my burial. But most important, this becomes a matter of my choosing, not leaving it up to nature. Oh yes, nature has a plan for us. I know that at the instant of death, a “natural biological process” begins: dehydration; and that if I do nothing to prevent it, this process will control perhaps the next several hundred years of burial. But isn’t it fascinating how we control nature today?
1) We seek shelter and clothe ourselves for protection from her violent extremes.
2) We harness her elements to our own benefit.
3) With modern technology we even control our environment.
I heard someone say that it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature… but if I see a chance to speed up her work and to bring about a desired end, then I see reason to do so, and I will do so.
Let’s talk plainly about life. Life is, for many, a journey made in the fellowship of two separate entities, the body and the soul. Yet in death the body is fallen. It requires at this time very special attention, attention that was easy to offer in life but now the task becomes ever so much more demanding. We must, I feel, take positive and affirmative action to safeguard it from neglect or abuse. But what of the soul? Does it continue on? Of course, for the journey continues as life’s own significance is expressed in memories and memorialization. Cremation is the very kindest action a survivor can do for their loved one.
For me the journey is not over at death if I know that this process will continue in the grave. My true destination in life is to be brought to the point where my body will no longer be affected by the element of nature. Cremation becomes my duty; my only means to fulfill the journey near the time of death.
Certainly cremation offers wisdom to me and, incidentally, to about 800 of my young friends. You see, it is my duty to conduct seminars as part of the curriculum of several area colleges… courses in death and dying, also funeral service education. So it is my job to introduce to them and examine with them cremation. And what do we find? We find the inherent wisdom of cremation speaks very plainly to us and as I speak plainly with them – facts without the romance – bottom line and from the hip. We see several kinds of wisdom. Wisdom in utility: knowing that only a given amount of space is required for the inurnment of our cremated remains, we must use this much and no more. Nothing wasted here. Wisdom in cost: because in many cases the cost of total cremation arrangement is less expensive than ground burial, therefore making the difference available to benefit the survivors. And finally, we see something that is the opposite of wisdom: foolishness. We see that it is foolish to think the body can be preserved. The most elaborate burial vault, the most extensive embalming does not preserve. And what if it could? What condition is the body in at death? Many times death takes place after an extended illness which has taken its toll in appearance, violent death has disfigured. We often cannot control the cleanliness of the area where death happens. Hospitals or nursing homes not as clean as our homes. The body is a bacterial junkyard. Then, if preservation were available, would this be the way we would want to perpetuate it? No sir, it doesn’t make sense to us. What does make sense to me is a pattern in life: a sequence of logical decisions that leads to purposeful cremation. This has to do with our ideas of change. You know that in young life, we welcome and anticipate active change, change that brings a new and better situation to our lives.
Also, we look forward to a kind of physical change which is a wonderful and beautiful thing. But later in life, our perspectives change. The seventh inning stretch reminds us we’ve grown weary of active change. We feel fulfillment of life is to settle down. Maybe retire. We safeguard ourselves from drastic change in income with pension and annuities. Our health is stabilized with special care and medicine. We even go to the length of prearrangement to make the inevitable and necessary transition into death a smooth and orderly affair. We seek a kind of peace with the universe – devoid of interference from undue influence – knowing we’ve deserved undisturbed rest truly. I cannot imagine peace in the grave, knowing a process goes on and on, beyond my control.
So I say “Deliver me to the point where my body will no longer be the victim of time,” and with me now my most primary element of composition, my cremated remains, perhaps that which is truly me, at rest in a memorial of bronze, that will, as I am no longer able to, carry on my identity.