Cremation is a process by which the body is reduced to its basic elements, bone fragments. The cremation process usually includes mechanically pulverizing the bone fragments, with the final result being a quantity of cremated remains.
Cremation is not a final disposition process. It is another step in the memorialization process. After cremation takes place, families must make a choice for the final disposition of cremated remains. Final disposition options include placing the cremated remains in a decorative urn to be displayed in the home or in a niche or columbarium, burying the cremated remains in the family's preferred cemetery, or scattering the cremated remains. For more information about final disposition options with cremation, click here.
Common Questions about Cremation
How is cremation accomplished? How long does it take?
The following information has been derived from resources available to the public by the Cremation Association of North America. It is intended to be general in nature. Please be aware that legal requirements may vary from state to state.
Before a cremation takes place, all ceremonies and events that include viewing the body should be completed. All authorization forms and permits must also be signed by the appropriate next-of-kin.
It is important that the family member make it known to the funeral director or crematory operator if there are any medical devices in the body of the decedent such as a pacemaker, prosthesis, or any other mechanical or radioactive devices. These types of devices must be removed prior to cremation. If they are not removed, the person authorizing the cremation will be responsible for any damages caused to the crematory by such medical devices.
The family should also remove all personal possessions or valuables from the decedent, such as jewelry or dental gold, if so desired. These items should be removed prior to the transfer of the body from the funeral home to the crematory. If this step is not taken, any jewelry or other items will be disposed of by the crematory in a non-recoverable manner.
Most crematories require that the body be encased in a combustible, rigid container. Any wood casket will satisfy this requirement. Some wood caskets are designed specifically for cremation. You can also choose to use alternative containers of cardboard, particle board, etc. Ask your funeral director what options are available.
Some crematories offer the option of witnessing the cremation, or watching the body being placed into the crematory. Not every crematory offers this option. They must be notified in advance if the family desires to witness the cremation, and family members may be asked to sign a release to protect the crematory from any liability.
An urn will be necessary to hold the cremated remains. The crematory should be provided with an urn. If one is not provided, or if it is not large enough, the crematory will place the remains in a container made of plastic, light metal, cardboard, unfinished wood, or another suitable material to hold the remains until an urn is acquired or the cremated remains are scattered.
The Cremation Process
The cremation process begins with placing the casket or cremation container in the cremation chamber. It is subjected to intense heat and flame, reaching temperatures between 1400 and 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat will consume everything except bone fragments (calcium compounds) and any non-combustible materials such as jewelry, dental gold, prostheses, latches or hinges or other casket hardware, etc. that were not removed prior to the cremation. During the cremation process, it is sometimes necessary to open the cremation chamber and reposition the deceased in order to facilitate a complete and thorough cremation. Cremation is usually accomplished in 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on the size and weight of the deceased. After a cooling period, the remains are swept from the cremation chamber. Every effort is made to remove all human remains; however, a small residue may remain. This will result in some commingling with other cremated remains.
Once the cremated remains are removed from the cremation chamber, all non-combustible materials are separated from the bone fragments using a magnet. These materials will be disposed of in a non-recoverable manner. The bone fragments will then be further processed to reduce the size of the various fragments to uniform particles. Depending on the size of the decedent, cremated remains will weigh between 4 and 8 pounds and are usually white in color with a sand-like texture. The cremated remains will be placed in an urn or temporary container, and returned to the family or the funeral home or cemetery that was designated on the cremation authorization form so that arrangements for final disposition can be completed. back to top
Does my religion allow cremation?
Most religions today accept the practice of cremation, with the exception of Orthodox Judaism and Islam. In some traditions, such as Hinduism, it is the preferred method of disposition. If you aren't sure whether cremation is acceptable in your own religious tradition, the funeral home staff would be happy to help you find the answer to this question. back to top
Are traditional services and cremation services different?
No, they don't have to be. If your preference is cremation, you may be surprised to learn that choosing cremation does not mean that you cannot also hold traditional services such as a viewing and a funeral. Whether you choose cremation or burial, the same services are available to you, including formal services that include music, prayers and other rites. A viewing with an open casket may precede the cremation. In fact, it is important to still hold some kind of special service to assist the bereaved in the grieving process.
It is important to remember that the cremation process is not an end in itself. As cremation grows in popularity, so does the memorial service--a special service that takes place after cremation has occurred. The body is not present during a memorial service, but the cremated remains in a decorative urn could be included. A memorial service allows family and friends to come together to remember the deceased, just as a visitation does. back to top
Can I have a funeral if I choose cremation?
Absolutely. Choosing cremation does not limit the types of services you may choose. If you choose to have a visitation/viewing or a funeral, the cremation process will take place after these ceremonies have concluded. You can choose to have an open casket at the funeral. Nearly every wooden casket can be cremated, and we offer several attractive wooden caskets that are designed specifically for cremation. Ask your funeral director to see a selection of cremation caskets from which to choose. back to top
Can I plan for cremation in advance?
Yes. For more information about planning a funeral in advance, please visit our Pre-Arrangement section. back to top
Is embalming required?
No. However, most states insist on embalming under certain circumstances such as when the death is caused by a contagious disease or if final disposition isn't made within a certain time frame. Embalming preserves the body, often allowing more time for arrangements. It is required if there will be a visitation. If the deceased is to be directly buried or cremated, embalming is not necessary. back to top
Is a casket required?
Most crematories require that the body be encased in a combustible, rigid container. Any wood casket will satisfy this requirement. Some wood caskets are designed specifically for cremation. You can also choose to use alternative containers of cardboard, particle board, etc. Generally speaking, a cremation container must be strong enough to assure the safety of the crematory operator as well as provide proper covering and meet reasonable standards of respect and dignity of the deceased. Ask your funeral director what options are available. back to top
Can we visit the crematory?
back to top
How can we personalize a cremation?
Even if your preference is cremation, you can choose to hold many different types of services--a visitation, funeral service, witness cremation, graveside service, or a memorial service. Any of these can be personalized in a number of ways. Each ceremony should be as unique as the life being celebrated. Ideas for a special service are always welcome in our funeral home.
Many families add a personal touch to funeral services by incorporating memorabilia that represent a loved one's hobbies or passions. For the avid sports fan, a few of his or her collector's items could be displayed. For the artist, a display of recent works or even the artist's tools can provide a personal touch. Some families take it a step further, such as providing homemade chocolate chip cookies for funeral attendees who knew the deceased as a skilled cook. These unique touches can help family and friends remember the deceased's personality and relive the traditions that meant so much. Photo albums and memorial tribute DVDs are also great ways to remember the past.
Personalized merchandise is also popular. Some caskets include interchangeable corners, and you may choose corners that represent the life of your loved one. Caskets can also be personalized with an embroidered panel. Cremation urns and keepsakes can be engraved. The funeral home also offers a wide variety of other merchandise such as keepsake jewelry and stationery products that can reflect the life of your loved one.
Today, it is becoming more popular to hold unique services outside of the funeral home. This is especially true for families choosing cremation. After the cremation takes place, memorial services can take place nearly anywhere--in your home, in a local park, or even at a sporting event. Many families who opt to scatter their loved one's cremated remains will hold a special scattering ceremony. We can help you organize these types of services. A funeral director is also an event planner. Whatever your preferences or ideas may be, we can work to help you create a memorable and meaningful tribute. back to top
How can we be sure that we receive the correct cremated remains back?
Many families are concerned that they will not receive the correct cremated remains back from the crematory. This stress arises from the simple fact that cremation is an irreversible process, and cremation destroys all DNA evidence in the remains. To ease your concerns, our crematory places the utmost importance on our identification process. This ensures that you will receive the cremated remains of your loved one. Some crematories offer the ability to witness the body being placed in the cremation chamber. This can help ease anxieties about whose remains are returned to the family. If you are concerned, ask your funeral director for more information. back to top
What can we do with cremated remains?
When you choose cremation, you actually have more choices for a final resting place than with typical earth burial.
Just as a casket can be buried in a cemetery, so too can an urn. You may opt to have an urn buried in a family plot or in the town cemetery. Often, more than one urn can be placed within one gravesite for couples that would like to be laid to rest together. Any type of bronze or granite marker can be used to identify the place where the cremated remains are buried. Urns can also be placed in columbaria, or collections of niches. Each urn has its own place and can be marked with a memorial plaque. Many cemeteries have urn columbaria, but churches will often have niches for urn placement as well.
Scattering Cremated Remains
Many individuals like the idea of returning cremated remains to the earth through scattering. Many cemeteries today offer special gardens or designated areas for the scattering of cremated remains, complete with a memorial marker or entry in a memorial book for remembrance. For the adventurous, there are several services that will scatter cremated remains over water, from an airplane, or even make them part of a coral reef. For more about these unique services, browse the links below.
Cremated remains do not have to be placed in just one urn. They can be divided among several small keepsake urns or cremation jewelry. This allows family members a great deal of comfort when they are separated by long distances. Portions of cremated remains can be scattered, made into jewelry or art, buried, or all of the above. It is all a matter of preference. back to top
Can we take cremated remains on a plane?
Yes, you can carry cremated remains with you on an airline. Some airlines do not accept cremated remains as checked luggage. You must contact the airline directly to verify this. If you plan to transport an urn as a carry-on item, the urn must be able to pass through the x-ray scanner. You'll also need to carry proper documentation with you (certified death certificate, certificate of cremation, etc.). If the urn cannot be scanned, it will not be permitted on the flight. Under no circumstances will a TSA employee open an urn to inspect its contents, even if the family insists. Click here for the TSA's official guidelines regarding the transport of cremated remains. back to top