8 Step Buyers Guide about the Cremation Process
Guidance through the Cremation and how and what to do with the Ashes
Many other articles about the cremation process will go details about specific parts of the procedure such as about just how hot an oven must be, in what order specific parts of a body can be expected to burst, and how often the bricks in a cremation oven must be replaced. In this one, we take a different approach. We will discuss the cremation process from the point of view of a family who has ordered, or is considering ordering, a cremation for a loved one's remains. The technical aspects of cremation are largely beyond the scope of the following sections. This article should be consider more of a buyer's guide to cremation.
Step 1: The Decision to Cremate
The first thing to consider about the cremation process is whether cremation is for you. For many, cremation is an inexpensive, fast, convenient alternative to burial. But, for others, it can be a traumatic thing to consider. While, of course, you will not be present in the cremation oven to see the body going through the physical process of being transformed into a pile of ashes, the thought of that process can be disturbing for many – and the decision to cremate has plenty of religious significance as well. In some cultures and traditions, cremation is a must, but in others it is strictly forbidden. It is important for all families to strongly consider all aspects of cremation – especially the opinions and emotions of friends and family members of the deceased – before making the decision to cremate. Remember, cremation is irreversible and, in the case of burial, a body can always be exhumed (and even cremated) if needed.
Step 2: The Memorial Service
The next thing to consider about the cremation process is planning a memorial service. Funerals for people who are to be cremated can be done with the exact look and feel of those for people who are to be buried. In fact, mention of whether a person will be cremated does not have to be made during in a funeral service. The point may be considered largely irrelevant to all but the closet family members and friends. That said, a memorial service for someone who has been cremated can also take full advantage of cremation. The service can be schedule for many days, or even weeks, after a death if cremated remains are to be the focal point, and any number of services can be schedule. It is possible to distribute cremated remains to various geographic locations and to stage a single memorial service, simultaneously in various locations. In fact, in this day in which jet setting business people have friends and family across the globe who may not be able to travel to a distant city, this practice is done rather frequently and is becoming more and more common. The bottom line to this step is that, once cremation has been decided upon, it becomes a key part of the plans for any funeral service. Little planning of a funeral can take place, in fact, until the decision of whether to cremate or bury a loved one's remains intact has been made.
Step 3: Arranging the Cremation
After the decision to cremate has been made and a memorial service has been made, families must then arrange for cremation. This is usually a fairly simple part of the cremation process as, mostly, all that is involved is telling a funeral director of one's desire and signing any paper work that is necessary from a legal perspective. It is often the case that a next of kin is legally required to sign off on the cremation and that even a coroner must certify that the body will not likely be needed as part of a criminal investigation in the future. The main concern in this part of the cremation process is to negotiate reasonable terms with the funeral home and/or cemetery for the cost of the cremation. In most cases, cremation prices are listed quite clearly on the General Price List that all funeral homes are required by United States Law to present to customers (by request or otherwise) very early in their discussions. It is a good idea to compare prices from various establishments that do cremation in your area. And it is also quite acceptable and common to ask about the establishment that will be contracted to do the cremation – if it is not the funeral home itself. It is often the case that, by checking around, a family can find a crematory in a nearby city that will do the cremation for much less and that even paying for transport to a body to the other crematory will result in savings over what a funeral home would charge. It is perfectly acceptable to make these sort of arrangements though, of course, your funeral director might not encourage it. (He or she is legally required to refrain from discouraging it, however. It is important to remember that.)
Step 4: Preparing the Body
After the decision to cremate has been made, the memorial service planned, and the cremation arranged and scheduled, the next step in the process is to prepare the body for cremation. This can often be done by the funeral home you've hired (and, in fact, it is usually a routine part of the service), but there may be a few things that you will be asked to do. First, you will likely be asked if the deceased has any medical implants such as pace makers or artificial joints surgically installed. These must be removed as they can pose a significant danger to the crematory plant and the workers if they are heated during the cremation. You should not worry too much if you do not know the answer to that question. Crematories typically have plenty of means for discovering these hazards on their own. But, to be safest, you should try to give the staff who will be conducting the cremation as much accurate information as possible. Likewise, you will likely be asked to accept ownership of any jewelry that is on the deceased's body. These pieces will almost always be removed by the crematory workers as a precaution. And, finally, you will be asked about a cremation container. Funeral homes and other establishments that sell caskets also sell containers suitable for holding a body that is being cremated. These pieces will be burned along with the body, so they must be made of some combustible material. You will likely be shown several options to choose from, and some of these may seem quite expensive. Some families choose the expensive models because they want the deceased to have an elegant appearance at a funeral service to be staged before the cremation. This is quite common and perfectly acceptable as is the opposite approach: to buy the simplest cremation container – basically a cardboard box – which would probably not be part of a funeral ceremony.
Step 5: The Cremation
After the cremation has been decided upon, the memorial service has been planned, the cremation arranged and the body prepared comes the main part of the cremation process: the cremation itself. The morbid, chemical details of this part of the process will be saved for another article (or can be found in a myriad of other articles already written). In a nutshell, the cremation begins when workers hoist a container with the body upon a table of rollers and push it into a brick over, which other articles have described as looking like a pizza oven. Once the body is in the middle of the oven, the doors are closed and the fire is applied to the body. Two to three hours later, the doors are opened and the remains are retrieved from the oven. They are then collected into a generic container that is usually labeled “temporary cremation urn.” It is important that families of someone to be cremated realize that most crematories have very strict procedures they must follow during the cremation process in order to assure families, and government authorities, that the remains returned to the family are, in fact, those of their loved one. The policies vary from crematory to crematory, so families would be wise to inquire about the procedures and do all they can to hold the crematory staff accountable to them. There have been many cases in the news in which crematory owners have defrauded families for years by returning the wrong remains, never cremating bodies and substituting non-human substances in the urn, and other disturbing acts. The best way to protect against this sort of thing happening in the cremation process is to be vigilant, consumer advocates warn. No reputable crematory or funeral home will object to your asking questions about their process.
Step 6: Retrieving the Cremation Ashes
After the cremation has taken place, crematory personnel will typically make contact with the family to arrange for the ashes to be picked up. Technically, funeral homes and crematories have legal authority to dispose of the ashes (usually by burial in a mass grave site, not always in a local cemetery) after they have been left for 60 days. But few exercise that option so quickly. Realizing the sacred importance of human remains, most cremation establishments will hold on to remains for years before finally deciding to dispose of them. That said, it is not considered good practice from a family to leave the ashes at a funeral home or crematory for more than a few days after being notified that they are available. As we say above, the remains will typically be returned to a family in a generic container labeled “temporary cremation urn.” Cynics will argue that these temporary containers, which are actually suitable for long-term storage, are simply labeled as such so as to encourage customers to buy more expensive urns from the establishment's retail selection. Nevertheless, consumer experts urge families to not rush into buying a permanent cremation urn. Crematories will, of course, put the ashes into any urn provided by the family before the cremation is conducted, but providing one in advance is not necessarily recommended by consumer advocates. Many families keep the temporary urn as it is for years before they finally transfer the remains to another, permanent home.
Step 7: Choosing a Cremation Urn
As we say, choosing a cremation urn is not something that a family has to rush into. A permanent home for a loved one's remains can be purchased at any time, and most crematories or funeral homes will transfer the remains from the temporary container any time at no cost. (Though, of course, families can do this themselves. There is no special skill or training required in this transfer, but many people are simply uncomfortable doing it on their own.) Plenty of retail establishments abound with large selections of cremation urns. Most of these are on the internet, which can make for easy sharing of information about the urns amongst family members who are scattered across the globe. It is quite common for families to keep the remains in a temporary container for the first year after a cremation and to make the unveiling of a new, permanent urn a big part of a memorial ceremony planned for one year after a death. Whatever the case, we will repeat our advice, which comes from consumer advocates who specialize in helping people work with funeral homes and crematories, that no family should ever feel forced into making a quick decision about a cremation urn.
Step 8: Disposing of (or storing) the Cremation Ashes
The final stage of the cremation process is to decide what to do with the ashes permanently. There are many options available for this, and, as with deciding upon an urn, no one should ever feel rushed into a decision. Many families scatter the ashes across some special place and keep the empty (or only partially full) urn as a keepsake. Some bury the ashes in a traditional grave site. And still others store the ashes in a beautiful urn that is put on display in a home (or sometimes in a public location) for years. Additionally, there are many other interesting options that can be explored on many websites that sell cremation urns. Among these are contracting with an artist to use a portion of the ashes in a work of art such as a painting or a glass sculpture; turning the ashes into a piece of diamond jewelry, and dividing the ashes amongst many family and friends with the use of “cremation jewelry pieces” and small, keepsake urns. In the end, there are plenty of options for making sure the cremation process ends by giving your family exactly the memorial it needs to remember a beloved family member with dignity and grace for the ages.