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Cremation an option for increasing numbers of Cubans today

"Its hard. However, the mourning process is heart-wrenching but it is less traumatic if the loved ones are cremated when they die."

A few months ago, María Lucía González lost her husband, a colleague of this newspaper, who, respecting family tradition, decided in life what he wanted done with his body.

"Now his ashes are in the family crypt in Cienfuegos. I would have left them at home near my computer where he stayed most of the time but I was not sure that, after my death, they would care for them as I do."

For this colleague, "leaving your family members in a hole to be attacked by so many natural agents that we know are necessary for decomposition is horrifying and repulsive. As difficult or more is the process of exhumation", she explained.

This opinion agrees with the belief of many people who prefer cremation when death separates them from family or friends.

"Thanks to the staff who work in the crematorium, the hours of waiting were not heartrending. The service was immaculate and the persons who offered it demonstrated sensitivity and professionalism.

"In this manner the funeral ceremony is more intimate, something so necessary to confront painful moments."

What before was a sporadic event now is a growing demand in Cuban society, commented Víctor Valdés Morales, director of the Necrology Services of Havana.

According to this official, since last May, Provincial Necrology Services of the city began to offer cremation services. During this period 113 bodies have undergone this process. Valdés Morales explains that this system is a boon to the environment by reducing the number of burials in the 21 cemeteries of the capital that some present problems of availability of niches and crypts.

"Current practice demonstrates that requests in funeral culture are expected to increase. By that time we will have cold storage chambers which we do not have at present and that limits to six the number of services a day," the official explained.

From tradition to will Although it may seem incredible, a survey done by this paper among inhabitants of the capital revealed that cremation is the preferred option above the old tradition of burial.

"This system has been practiced for thousands of years. Between 2000 and 3000 years ago, inhabitants of the Iberian peninsula cremated their dead in a funeral pyre of wood", explained lawyer Félix Cooppinger who pointed out this custom derives from the Orient, crossed Central Europe and became a strong event among the Etruscans.

"I dont care one way or another. In many parts of the world choose cremation because it is cheaper than a funeral. For this reason countries such as the United States or Spain, approximately 25 percent of the dead are cremated," added this specialist who has studied the subject.

Isabel Garriga, a university student, said that if she lived in the Brazilian Amazon she would be cremated and her ashes mixed with the fermented liquids drunk by members of her tribe during the first festivity after her demise.

"In this manner, according to the beliefs of the region I become part of their own bodies considering it a better option than being eaten by worms. I go for cremation like those from the Amazon although I am not partial to the idea that they I should be drunk," she said.

"In the India cremation is quite common. But there the ashes of the dead are not gathered but thrown into the nearest sacred river, the Ganges for example," assured Yudel Santiesteban, Law student.

"I like that option but would not like my ashes thrown into the Quibu or the Almendares that are the nearest rivers and that are very contaminated. Asking to be taken to another province farther away would be a torment even after death", he jokingly said.

"I just lost my mother to cremation. It is a very painful process and would have preferred to bury her but my opinion did not count. My mother requested it", explained the 54-year-old retiree, Mercedes Guichard.

"What makes no sense to me is spending a night in the funeral parlor. People who were never around appear and even cry," she said angrily.

For 58-year-old Nelson Mariña, a taxi driver by profession, the only thing that worries him is not being to donate his organs if he chooses cremation. He was certain that he would like to end up in a little box in the house of his children.

There his remains would be in good hands and would avoid many rituals such as exhumation, cleaning out the tomb and walks to the graveyard. Cremation in Havana Jesús Baldó Trimiño, director of the Basic Center of Funeral Parlors and Cemeteries in Havana explained that the service was free and only offered in the capital.

He explained that paperwork is only done through the funeral parlors in the province by request of close family relatives or if disposed by the deceased in life and after preparing a written document signed in front and by two witnesses. Once the service is requested, he added, the funeral parlor is in charge of moving the body and all legal papers.

The administration of the crematorium is in charge of offering either an urn or amphora for the ashes and gives them to either relatives or friends. The new modern crematorium was inaugurated last May in the capital and, to date, has cremated 113 deceased persons. The crematoriums had waiting halls and gardens for family members and friends.

The Crematorium was built in the New Guanabacoa Cemetery and was finished in January of 2006. Since then it began setting up the new incinerator, manufactured in Spain with advanced technology. The process was responsibility of technicians and assistants, specialists of the Center of Automation and Engineering of the Ministry of Informatics and Communications and engineers of the Electricity Company of the capital as well as the National Association of Innovators and Rationalization.

Eyder González Caobí, one of the operators of the equipment mentioned initiatives of Cuban technicians preparing an electronic command panel and the design of a tray to deposit the body that allows a better manipulation of bones and speed up the incineration that is calculated to last, approximately, two and a half hours.

He explained that there are techniques and measures to offer this process and to prevent mixing up ashes of different persons and commit violations against the security and quality of the process.

"We have an ethics code that regulates a series of measures of this activity. There is a book to express the opinion of the mourners to offer a service with guarantees," he pointed out. Honor the deceased The care of the dead has been a concern of man since the genesis of humanity.

This obsessive expression has left works of unique beauty such as the Taj-Mahal in India. It is an immense monument dedicated by the Muslim emperor, Shah Jahan, to only one person: his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal and required the efforts of 20 000 workers. In the case of Cuba, before arrival of the Spaniards, separating the living from the dead was achieved desiccating the cadavers leaving them like mummies. In the Taino it was more common to bury their dead in distant places although they also practiced cremation.

The Spaniards built churches where they buried their dead and then buried Indians who had converted to Catholicism. The Higher Parish, first temple built in Havana by the Spanish was, also, the first church that gave burial to the deceased.

Bishop Juan José Díaz de Espada y Fernández de Landa had the support of the Ecclesiastic Council and built the first cemetery about a mile west of the city and close to the coast, alongside the San Lázaro Hospital The Cementerio de Espada as it was known was the only one for 27 years in Havana. Later the others appeared including the Colón Necropolis.

Source: By Marianela Martín, Lourdes Pérez, Ariel B. Coya, Juventud Rebelde

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