As a civil celebrant working with bereaved families to plan their ceremony for their loved one, one of the questions we have to consider if their loved one is to be cremated is whether they wish to close the curtains during the ceremony.
Whilst no element of a funeral ceremony led by a civil celebrant is a requirement, it is common practice to include a formal farewell at some point (sometimes called The Committal). In most crematoria chapels where the body is going to be cremated (as opposed to a burial) , the coffin is placed upon the catafalque at the front. Usually there are curtains that can be pulled around this area to hide the coffin from view at the relevant point if the family wishes, (although some chapels have other arrangements such as the coffin lowering or moving out of view).
Traditionally the curtains would close during or at the end of the committal, and for some families this remains the preferred option. The curtains emphasise the idea of letting the person go and symbolise closure. The moment may be accompanied by music softly played. Alternatively I have on occasions led ceremonies which included some other soundtrack at this point more fitting for the individual. Examples are the sound of a steam train leaving the station, an airplane flying into the distance or birdsong for nature lovers.
For some, however, closing the curtains as part of the farewell can feel too painful. Some families, whilst wanting the symbolic ‘closure’ offered by the curtains closing, seek something gentler. A good compromise is closing the curtains at the very end of the ceremony as the final music starts. This way they still serve their purpose whilst feeling somehow ‘gentler’, as much a sign that the ceremony is ending as about saying goodbye to the person.
Some crematoria chapels also offer the choice of a ‘voile’ curtain (semi-transparent) which can provide a good compromise if families are unable to decide what is best or wish for symbolic closure but cannot bear the thought of the coffin disappearing entirely from view.
Whilst closing the curtains remains an important part of the funeral for some families, others feel strongly they do not wish to do so. For some this is because they find the moment too traumatic. For others, leaving the curtains open as mourners leave the chapel enables people to go up to the coffin to say a personal farewell if they wish to, perhaps laying a flower or other token.
Ultimately there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’: it is about families choosing what feels right and most comforting for them.