Faye Doucette came to the decision to open an in-house crematory in the same way that many others have. She was tired of outsourcing her cremations to crematories that were far away and whose procedures did not meet her standards. In this interview, Faye talks about the common challenge of honoring a family’s wishes while maintaining best practices, and the unique challenges of operating a crematory in a populated downtown area.
Can you, in just a couple of sentences, tell me what it is that Belvedere Funeral Home is, and if you have any unique, specialized services or challenges based on your market?
We are the only funeral home with a crematorium in our market. There is another crematorium in Kinsington, which is about 30 miles away, but it’s in an industrial park. People seem to like that they come to the funeral home, they know that their bodies are going to stay here, and that we’re going to look after them all the way through.
What kind of families do you serve?
We service everyone. The other funeral homes that are our direct competition are labeled Protestant or Catholic. We are not. We’re for everybody.
Thinking back to when you first decided to offer cremation, what were some of the biggest challenges you were up against at the time?
One of the biggest challenges was to get the machine to work right for us. Other than that, I don’t think we had a lot of challenges.
We used to go to [a crematorium in] Moncton, [New Brunswick, Canada] because we just didn’t want to go to an industrial park, but it was a much farther drive, so in the end, we did go to the crematorium in the industrial park. I’m not saying that there was anything at all wrong with what was going on there, I just did not like losing control of our bodies. So, that was one of the main driving forces for getting the crematorium here.
Once you got your challenges of operation under control, what challenges came about? Do you have a different set of challenges today as opposed to when you started?
I don’t really see a whole lot of challenge to it, to tell you the truth. We are all operators. There are four of us here; three most the time, but there is another guy that is just about there. So, there’s no challenge. We don’t do any [cremations] if we’re having visitations or funerals, and I make that clear to the family when I arrange them. So, we work around that.
We only have two other funeral homes in Prince Edward Island. Those are two friends, so we do their [cremations]. Maybe if we had a lot of funeral homes coming in [for cremations] that would be a challenge. That was not the intent when we put it in—to do other people’s. We just wanted it for ourselves, but it’s not any great challenge to us right now.
Was there anything that you would say that you learned the hard way?
Because we are right here in the city and [the crematorium is] right in the funeral home, we have to be extremely careful. The other day we had a little bit of smoke, and I’m thinking, “Oh, my land [the neighbors] are going to be calling us.” We’ve learned to not leave a whole lot in. We take out anything that we think is going to be a problem, and that includes any kind of polyester. In this case, when I went to pick the lady up they had dressed her. And, that’s fine, but I knew before we [cremated her] that we were going to have a problem, because it was polyester stuff. I had to weigh it out because they were so proud that they had dressed her, and I didn’t want to go against that. So, that’s one thing.
We just don’t leave the machine. We don’t leave it until we know that it’s settled out, and that there’s going to be no issues. We certainly don’t take any chance as far as letting the temperature get too high. We put it in run/hold and maybe we use a little bit more fuel that way, I don’t know, but it’s safe. Really, we don’t have any issues right now.
Well, congratulations. Especially being right in a populated area those are definitely major considerations. The general public doesn’t know that it’s things like polyester that are going to make smoke as opposed to the body itself.
Following up with what you just said, a lot of people when they are looking at cremation, especially with the advancement of new machines, there can be a sense that you just have to place the body in, close the door and press a button. Then you just hang out on Facebook or whatever until it is done. Could you talk about the expectation versus the reality of what it actually takes to properly cremate a body?
Well, for us, we put them in and stay there until it comes out of Run/Hold and it’s gone up and it’s on its way down. The [operators] are basically there for an hour and a half and they don’t leave it. That’s time consuming but it’s good.
How important would you say it is to have completely trained and qualified crematory operators?
Oh, definitely, and that’s one thing I feel we are lacking here, and certainly for ourselves. The technician went over a few things for us and that was it. Certainly Shawn knows a lot more about it than I do. Shawn, if there is any problem, is always the one to correct it.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you would have known from the very start? Or anything you would have done differently from the start if you had today’s knowledge and hindsight?
If I were to start, I would have sooner had training. Then, I would know what to expect, what to do. Even on the machine. If I were to be the one in charge of it, then I would need to know a lot more about the operation of the machine and the parts, and so on. It probably wasn’t that bad when we were starting out, because we weren’t doing very many [cremations], but when you start being busier— and we’re busy at the funeral home— you need to have people trained.