In 2016, the cremation rate in the United States topped 50%, up from 42% in 2011, and projected to reach 56% by 2020, per the Cremation Association of North America (CANA). As this practice grows, however, there are still questions about the cremation process. Here are some of the most common cremation questions we receive.
1. How do I begin the process of handling the cremation?
You can start by contacting a funeral home directly to handle all of the arrangements. Though the actual process is handled by a crematorium, the funeral home will handle transportation of the body in addition to all of the paperwork that needs to be filled out. It is becoming more common for funeral homes to have crematoriums on site, but if not, they will subcontract it out. Either way, the process is made to be as efficient as possible for the customer.
If you do not wish to go through a funeral home, can go work directly with a crematorium, whose services usually include storage of the body, a container for the body, the cremation itself, and a container for the ashes. Many families choose to provide a memorial cremation urn as opposed to using one provided by the crematorium. Be advised that if you work directly through a crematorium, there are some extra steps to go through that would usually be handled by a funeral home. These include filling out the death certificate, getting a permit to move the body, picking up the ashes after the cremation, and planning a funeral or memorial service if you would like one. For these reasons, many people prefer to ease and service of a funeral home.
2. How is a body prepared for cremation?
The answer to this question depends on the type of memorial viewing or service you are planning. If you are planning to have a memorial viewing of the body before the cremation, the body will generally be embalmed, and a casket needed for viewing. If you do not have a casket, the funeral home can provide a temporary casket for a fee. If the memorial service comes after the cremation, there is no need to embalm the body, and there is also no need to purchase a casket for the cremation.
It is common for the body to be placed in an enclosed combustible container for the cremation, which is required for health as well as safety reasons. The funeral home or crematorium may have options available at different price points, so it is best to check with them on what is available.
3. Are there different types of cremation?
Most cremations are done in the traditional way, where the human or pet remains are placed into high heat, with temperatures reaching up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. They are placed into a fire for up to 2.5 hours in a traditional cremation. A newer and relatively rare process is called hydro cremation, which produces the same result but with water rather than fire. Using water, pressure, heat, and pH 14, this process dissolves soft tissues so only the bone fragments are made into ash. This is not yet a widely available method, however.
4. What about things that don’t burn, such as prosthetics or pacemakers?
It is best to inform and discuss these types of devices or implants with the mortician and pathologist to make sure everyone is on the same page. In the case of pacemakers, they are removed before the cremation process, due to the danger of battery explosion. Pacemakers usually can be donated to charity. Prosthetic limbs are removed before the cremation process, while things such as metal hips or dentures are recycled after the cremation, with the metal parts separated from the ashes. These can also be used donated to charitable organizations.
5. When will the ashes be returned to me?
It is best to speak directly to the funeral home or crematorium about this, as each place has their own processes and timeline for when these will be returned. Commonly, the ashes are not returned to the family for about a week, where they are placed in a heavy clear plastic bag within a plastic or cardboard box. This timeline allows the family to find the right memorial urn to transfer the ashes into, if they do not have one already.
If you do have one already, you can give it directly to the crematorium and request that they transfer the ashes for you. While cremations are becoming more common across the United States, there are still many details to be discussed with the funeral home or crematorium. Be ready with any additional questions you might have, and ask them to walk you through the process. This will ensure that you know exactly what to expect during a difficult time.