A Golden Bay man has had his dying wish fulfilled – an outdoor cremation amongst nature and friends.
The unusual private cremation service was held for Lee Endrodi on farmland near Takaka last Saturday a few days after he lost his battle with cancer aged 52.
Wanaka man Joel Van Riel was among those who helped Endrodi’s friends build a concrete block kiln for the service.
He and other friends hope the personal ceremony will encourage others to follow suit, and even consider having a kiln for community cremations.
Van Riel had farewelled another friend in a private cremation using a hand-built kiln at a secluded Wanaka spot only a few days before Endrodi’s service.
At the Wanaka funeral he spoke to mutual friends of Endrodi, who he described as an old mountaineering and adventuring buddy. Keen to reconnect he visited Endrodi in hospital, and heard about his wish for a private cremation.
“Lee was in bad shape, but we had a fantastic reunion and we talked about the realities of dying – because most of us don’t confront that until we’re at death’s door.
“He did have Buddhist beliefs – he said he wanted to be burnt at the beach – I said ‘What? You’re not going to believe this, but…'”
“That set the wheels in motion and I got passed the baton.”
Van Riel’s involvement with the Wanaka service meant he knew the planning issues involved, and the Golden Bay community helped with the rest.
“It was phenomenal once the word was out there – in Takaka a lot of the materials weren’t available and I only had a short time to make it happen – so I got on the phone to some local blocklayers and one of them said come on round and we loaded up a truck – he gave us a mixer and said he’d be round later to drop off some gravel – all from a guy who didn’t know us from a bar of soap.”
A local farmer offered a spot for the service on his property in a bush clearing.
Van Riel returned to Central Otago for work but went back to help finish preparations for the funeral. In his absence, Endrodi’s friends took up the challenge of building the kiln.
“The bonus for us was we had that time before he died and the precedence, which was really important.
“We just spent that time talking about all the things we shared in life together – we were really lucky we had a week to catch and his dream was to die at home and not in a hospital bed.”
He got his wish, dying in his yurt, with his dog Tui by his side before being farewelled last Saturday in a ceremony that took 20 hours.
About 100 people gathered in a procession following Endrodi – wrapped in muslin cloth – as he was brought through the bush in his casket to the kiln in a clearing.
“If you imagine a normal funeral service – let’s say you’d go to a church – usually it’s just the family who’d go to the crematorium and have their final tune – it’s the same with this except it was all done at once,” Van Riel said.
“People stayed on through the night and they’d put a bit of wood on and be on their way – it was remembrance the whole time and as you’re there, our friend was literally turning into light and disappearing into space.
“For me, it’s such a spiritually-healing process – and every single person there felt the same.”
The next morning, the deconstructed kiln was removed from the site and the remaining ashes were collected for scattering.
Van Riel hoped to be farewelled in a similar fashion and has collated as much information as he can to pass onto those wanting to follow suit.
He said the potential of a community kiln for similar ceremonies should be considered by the wider population.
“Like a book with a good ending – how do you want it to end?”
Another of Endrodi’s friends, Lolly Dadley-Moore said she was pleased to have helped a carry out his wishes.
She said Lee drew his friends and community around him “and we all celebrated his life by caring for him together through his last five weeks.”
“It gave Lee great joy to know his body would be given to the fire that was lit, kindled and continued to burn with all his loved ones around, until he became ashes. It was a very powerful process.”
Tasman District Council community relations manager Chris Choat said no resource consent was required for Endrodi’s cremation. All such cases were managed by the Medical Officer of Health.
Nelson Marlborough Public Health Service Health Protection operations manager Sonya Briggs said the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) had to be assured of several requirements for private cremations.
They included an appropriate site that was out of sight from neighbouring properties, met local authority requirements bylaws and fire permits, and there was adequate expertise and preparation shown and consultation with affected parties.
It also required that arrangements were made for the subsequent disposal of the ashes and other material connected with the cremation and that the site was fully restored post-cremation.