urn surrounded by candles and flowers

What Happens During the Cremation Process?

Approximately half of all remains dispositions in the United States are undertaken by cremation. In 15 years, this number is estimated to be 80 percent of all dispositions in the country. Thus, if you are like a significant segment of the population you may be contemplating cremation. In this regard, you may be thinking about cremation for yourself or you may have lost a loved one and contemplating cremation for that person. As a consequence, you may have some real questions about what happens during the cremation process. By better understanding cremation from start to finish, you place yourself in a position to make a truly informed, educated decision about whether cremation is the right choice in your situation.

Authorization of Cremation

In order for a cremation to occur in the state of California, specific written authorization must be provided by the next of kin or by the personal representative of a deceased person’s estate. The initial authorization form also delineates who has authority to pick up the cremated remains or cremains. In addition, a directive is included as to what type of container the cremains will be placed following the cremation itself. Oftentimes the container will be an urn selected by the family. In some instances, the cremains are placed into a temporary container provided by the crematorium or funeral home.

Proper Identification of the Body

Stories abound about cremains getting somehow mixed up. The reality is that at a reputable crematorium or funeral home, tremendous care is taken to ensure proper identification of a body to be cremated.

Each particular crematorium or funeral home will have its own pre-cremation identification process. A general practice is for a family member or other designated individual to make a physical identification of the remains in advance of the actual cremation. Directly after this identification occurs, a metal tag is attached to the remains, a tag which will remain on the body through the cremation process itself. The tag is included with the cremains at the conclusion of the cremation process itself.

Preparation of Body for Cremation

The manner in which a body is prepared for cremation depends on what happens before the cremation itself occurs. At a minimum, the remains are bathed and dressed for the formal identification discussed a moment ago.

If a funeral or viewing is to be held in advance of the cremation, embalming is likely to occur unless a decision is made for a green funeral. Depending on what type of funeral or viewing will occur, some type of presentation vessel (meaning casket or something similar) will be necessary. If a green funeral is to occur, an alternative to a casket can be utilized. There are caskets designed specifically for cremation, as will be discussed more fully in a moment.

If any jewelry is on the body, it is removed per the direction of next of kin. Any mechanical medical devices or medical devices containing batteries are removed. This is done to prevent an adverse reaction during the cremation process itself.

Selection of a Cremation Container

Individual crematoriums or funeral homes will have guidance regarding what types of containers can be utilized during the cremation process itself. As mentioned, there are caskets designed specifically for cremation. There are derivations that are designed that are suitable for use at a viewing.

A cardboard box can also be utilized for cremation. The only real requirement is that the vessel be combustible and strong enough to hold a human body.

The Cremation Chamber

The cremation chamber itself technically is called a retort. A retort is an industrial furnace sized to hold one human body. It is constructed from fire-resistant bricks. A retort can achieve temperatures of up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, the level of heat needed to appropriately reduce a human body. The remains are in place in an active retort for between 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Cremation chambers today are computerized and fully automated. They also must satisfy strict air quality and environmental standards in the state of California.

Bones to Cremains

A common misconception is that ashes are extracted from the cremation chamber of retort. This misconception is perpetuated by the media and entertainment industry. In fact, when the burning process is completed, small bits of bones and not ash remain. The bits of bone are placed in a special processor that mills the fragments into cremains or ashes.

Immediate Placement of Cremains

As mentioned previously, a decision is made before the cremation itself as to what type of container the cremains will be placed. In fact, the cremains are placed into a plastic bag, the bag then being inserted into whatever container has been selected.

Final Disposition of Cremains

The manner in which cremains are disposed largely depends on personal preferences and religious practices. There are some religions that maintain specific directives regarding the treatment of cremains following cremation. The Catholic Church is a prime example. The Catholic Church mandates that cremains should be treated with the same reverence as a body. In other words, the Catholic Church maintains that cremains should be interred in a manner akin to what is done with a body.

Absent some type of religious restriction, options for remains beyond internment include everything from the “scattering of ashes” to having cremains formed into some sort of memorial item, like jewelry. Some people elect to maintain cremains in their homes in an attractive urn.

Prior Directive

You are well served delineating the manner in which you desire you remains to be disposed following death. This includes making it clear whether you want cremation. In addition, you need to delineate specifically what you want done with your cremains if you elect cremation.

You can set forth your remains disposition and funeral plans in a last will and testament. You can also draft written directives that you can entrust with a trusted family member, friend, or even you attorney.