What Is Cremation and How Does It Work?

Death is a topic that most people don’t like to discuss, but it’s also one of the few certainties in life. Whether you’re thinking about your own end-of-life decisions or having to make decisions for a loved one who just died, you might be wondering about cremation and whether it’s a viable option for you. According to the Cremation Association of North America, in 2019 the cremation rate in the U.S. was over 54%. It’s projected to reach almost 73% by 2030. Even though more people are choosing cremation, there are still a lot of myths and misunderstandings about cremation.

What Is Cremation?

Cremation is an alternative to a traditional burial after death in which the deceased’s body is exposed to high heat. It takes about two hours, then the remains are cooled for another few hours. Crematoriums have strict guidelines on the process, which should give you peace of mind.

What Type of Funeral Service Can We Have With a Cremation?

Cremation is just the final disposition of the body. You have many options when it comes to funeral services. A simple cremation is when the body is taken directly from the place of death to the crematorium. There is no viewing of the body. It’s common for the family to hold a memorial service when they receive the ashes, but it’s completely your decision.

If you do want to have a more traditional funeral service with the deceased’s body present, you can request this from the funeral home before cremation. You can choose the funeral traditions that matter to you and your family, regardless of whether you choose burial or cremation.

You may also want to hold a service as part of the cremation. Mourners gather before the cremation process and have a service before the body is placed in the cremation chamber. Following this service, the family may hold a wake or reception for the mourners to share their memories and grieve together.

Is Cremation Cheaper Than Burial?

Cremation can certainly be less expensive than a burial service, but it largely depends on what type of service you plan. Simple cremation is usually the least expensive option, because many of the traditional funeral traditions are avoided. You can’t host a memorial service at the funeral home or crematorium, or in another location. If your budget is a concern, please talk to the funeral home to discuss the best option for you.

How Do Different Religions Feel About Cremation?

Most Christian religions accept cremation as a viable option for final dispositions. It is usually considered a personal choice and left up to each individual. Orthodox Jews are opposed to cremation, but some Reform Jews are more accepting. Muslims are also opposed to cremation. Buddhists are open to cremation, as are Hindus. If you are concerned about your religion’s views about cremation, please talk to your spiritual leader.

Is Cremation Eco-Friendly?

There are concerns about the impact of cremation on the environment. There have been many advances in technology that lower emissions and make cremation a greener option. Burial is not without its impact on the environment; it, too, has ecological concerns. Many crematories and funeral homes have internal initiatives to reduce their impact on the environment, so please discuss these concerns with the professional staff.

What Are Some of the Benefits of Cremation?

The number of cremations in the U.S. is growing. While the lower cost is one factor, cremations offer more personalization in honoring the deceased. You can store or scatter the remains depending on your family’s traditions and how you want to represent your loved one. Cremation also gives your family more flexibility in timing. With a burial, you generally have to hold the funeral within a week of death. Cremation lets you have time to plan a memorial service and lets the family gather on their own timeframe. With families scattered around the country, even internationally, cremation can allow you to make final arrangements on your schedule.

How Does Cremation Work?

The cremation process can seem overwhelming at first. You may have many concerns about the process, but you can feel more confident when you know what happens to your loved one from the time of death until you receive the cremains.

Authorization of Cremation

Before the crematory can perform the cremation, the person who is authorized to make final arrangements for the deceased must authorize the cremation. Each state has rules about who can make final decisions, but in most cases, it’s the next of kin, a spouse, an adult child or a parent. During this step, you’ll likely decide the type of container desired for the cremains and who will pick them up.

public viewing or visitation before the cremation, you can provide clothes and jewelry that you want the deceased to wear. These items can be returned before the cremation or you can have the body cremated in those clothes. If you choose a simple cremation, the body can be cremated in a shroud, sheet or even the hospital gown they were wearing. Eyeglasses, hearing aids and other medical devices are removed to avoid a reaction during cremation. The body is placed in a vessel, such as a cardboard box, to be moved into the cremation chamber.

The Cremation Takes Place

The body is moved into a cremation chamber, a specially designed furnace that reaches up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. This leaves behind ashes and larger bones. In the U.S., each body must be cremated individually. You should not worry about not receiving your loved one’s remains. The cremated remains are pulverized and placed in a chosen container and then returned to the family.

What Do You Do With the Ashes?

Many families keep their loved one’s ashes in an urn or special container, which is then located at a special place their home. Scattering the ashes in nature is another common way of dealing with the ashes. It’s also common for families to bury the ashes or place them in a mausoleum. Those options are fine, but the funeral industry has created some unique and innovative ways to use cremains to honor your loved one.

  • Make your loved one’s cremains into diamonds.
  • Incorporate your loved one’s cremains into fireworks and have them sent into space.
  • Mix cremains with tattoo ink and have it tattooed on your own body.
  • Incorporate a small portion of the cremains within a piece of artwork.
  • Divide up the cremains among the family. There are many small pieces of jewelry and other keepsake items that are designed specifically to hold cremains.

Is Cremation Right for You?

The answer to that question is unique to each one of us. Take some time to gather more information about cremation and burial to make the right choice for your family. Talking about final wishes now with your family can help avoid family disputes when the time does come. We recommend pre-planning a funeral to give your family peace of mind (see our pre-planning checklist). You can choose to prepay the funeral or confirm your wishes with a legal representative.

Contact us today for help with pre-planning, or real time needs regarding cremation or burial services. Our compassionate experts are standing by to help

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