The holy fire

Cremation: A practice in need of ritual

"When I’m gone just cremate me,” Hughey MacSwiggan told his third and final wife as she stood at his bedside while the hospice nurse fiddled with the morphine drip that hadn’t kept his pain at bay. The operative word in his directive was just. He wasn’t especially fond of fire. He hadn’t picked out a favorite urn. He saw burning not so much as an alternative to burial as an alternative to bother. He hadn’t the strength to force the moment to its crisis. He didn’t know if he was coming or going. He just wanted it all to be over—the cancer, the second guessing, the wondering whether he’d done irreparable harm, what with the years of drinking, the divorces, all of that carrying-on.


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