By Hanah Tabios
Traditional death rites have been part of the norm where families pay their final respects to the dead. But since family members of the new coronavirus disease victims are deprived of their last look to their loved ones, a pottery artist made a call to create urns for those who have departed.
This as impersonal cremations has become the “new normal” since the pandemic erupted. The interim guidelines from the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 infection prevention and control states that people who have died from COVID-19 or even suspected to have contracted the disease should be immediately buried or cremated.
In the case of the Philippines, ashes of the dead were rather placed in a clear pouch after the procedure due to the lack of urns.
The scenario, in fact, became common at Quezon City’s government-owned Baesa Crematorium, where families of the dead could not even mourn for their loved ones and instead, just wait for their bodies to get cooked until the final turnover happens.
“Since the need is already present, we are trying to source readily available urns, purchase, and distribute to crematoriums or hospitals or local government units that can receive urn donations for indigent families,” said Rosa Mirasol, an independent pottery artist and cultural worker.
She said that even their group, composed of contemporary Philippine potters from the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts Ceramics Studio, even initiated to donate cash to purchase the first batch of urns since early April.
“I’m starting with my personal production though and I’m going to make a publication material inviting different artists who can make vessels to donate as urns. I was thinking to tap wood and metal workers, marble carvers, and other potters from different parts of the Philippines,” she said, citing that urn productions would come from Metro Manila, Los Baños town in Laguna, and Batangas province.
“This could be a good distribution solution for the geographical logistics problem due to the lockdown,” she added.
Ceramic urn production
Mirasol started her journey as a potter after she serendipitously signed up in a Japanese Principles of Design, a Pottery Wheel-throwing Class, in 2015.
Since then, she began producing her own artworks, especially during her last year in college.
The very common process of ceramic urn production, according to Mirasol, is basically forming the clay into a vessel with water.
“It needs several days to dry, another day to bisque fire, another day to glaze, and more days to high fire and let cool down. It takes at least two weeks to make a few pieces so a production will take more time depending on the number of output,” she said.
Price of urns
For art collectors, urns are a good investment. But in times of crisis, where a decent burial for the dead seems a deprived necessity, it could be at least the most formal way of paying respects to the dead.
But donors are, indeed, needed since the prices of urns is also another matter to attend to.
“It depends on the size, material, and and design. A marble urn costs at least P900. We found cheap ones online which costs Php260 for small ones but can only carry 170 milliliters a size for a baby,” she said.
The new coronavirus disease has been targeting the elderly primarily, hence, the standard urn size for an adult requires a capacity of at least two to three liters to contain one grown body.
“An estimated cost for that size would be at least P2,695 for a humble ceramic urn,” she said.
But with the ongoing global health disaster, families could not even afford to buy food for the living.
“I think the problem comes when this kind of help does not reach the people who need assistance. Nobody is ever prepared in a situation like this but we have to give our best effort. Many Filipinos cannot even buy food to feed their families so if ashes of their loved ones were put in plastic bags without a proper container, I plead to LGUs and DSWD to coordinate with crematoriums and give what is due to our fellow countrymen. I know all of us agree that to be human is to provide dignity even in death. I hope we can all work together to give proper respects to our fellow being,” she said.