What is Cremation? How Does it Work?
Part of making funeral arrangements on behalf of a loved one involves choosing between burial of the body, or cremation. Certainly this is a big decision, based on any number of factors: religious or spiritual beliefs, finances, or ecological awareness are just some of the reasons we've heard for choosing cremation. Before you can make the choice, you need to know exactly what it is you're considering. You can learn the basics below, however, if the content here raises additional questions for you, please give us a call at (951) 658-3161. One of our cremation specialists will address any of your inquiries or concerns.
The Cremation Association of North America describes cremation as, "The mechanical and/or thermal or other dissolution process that reduces human remains to bone fragments". On our page, The Cremation Process, we offer a deeper look at the most common cremation process which uses extreme heat.
As we said earlier, people choose cremation over burial of casketed remains for any combination of reasons. Sometimes it's the simple fear of burial itself, which may stem directly from the Victorian phobia of being buried alive.
A Short History of Cremation
According to Wikipedia, cremation dates back at least 20,000 years ago in Australia, while in Europe, there is evidence of cremation dating to around 2,000 B.C. Cremation was common in Ancient Greece and Rome, and it remains a standard practice in India. The practice of cremation faded in Europe by the fifth century and during the Middle Ages, it was primarily used in the punishment of heretics or in response to the fear of contagious diseases. Today, cremation is preferred by more and more people around the world.
The Flame Cremation Process
Traditional cremation is the process of reducing a body at very high temperatures until it is nothing but brittle, calcified bones. These are then processed into what we commonly call ashes. Returned to the family in a temporary urn (or a more personal urn selected by the family), these ashes can be kept, buried, or scattered. Some families even choose to place a loved one's cremated remains in a hand-crafted piece of cremation art.
Author Michelle Kim, in How Cremation Works, details the cremation process: "In modern crematories, the body is stored in a cool, temperature-controlled room until it's approved for cremation. The body is prepared by removing pacemakers, prostheses and silicone implants. The body is then put into a container or casket made out of flammable materials such as plywood, pine or cardboard."
The container is placed in the retort or cremating chamber. It takes anywhere from two to three hours to reduce an average adult to ash. When the cremated remains are cooled, they are processed to a uniformly-sized pebble-like substance and placed in an urn. The funeral director then returns the cremated remains to the family.
Cremation typically costs one-third of the cost of a traditional burial. While it's true that cost is a big factor for many families, it's important to remember that cremation is only one part of providing meaningful end-of-life care for a loved one. Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is important and can be achieved with a memorial service. Bringing family and friends together provides everyone with the opportunity to share memories and receive support.
Cremation Costs are Only One Reason
Cremation also allows a family the flexibility they may need in planning and preparing for a memorial service, celebration-of-life, or a scattering ceremony. While the cremation process can occur almost immediately (once all the proper paperwork is complete), the decisions required in planning a meaningful memorial for a loved one can be made in a relaxed, rational way.
You can also be sure that concern for the environment ranks high among many who choose cremation. Casketed and embalmed remains take up cemetery space and can pollute the ground water but many still question the amount of atmospheric pollution created by the cremation process.
The Requirements of a Cremation Service Arrangement
Once the cremation-over-burial decision has been made, all that's required is authorization. This is provided by the person who is the legally identified or appointed next-of-kin. Once all authorization documents are signed, and service charges are paid; the body can be transported from the place of death to the crematory and the cremation process can take place. However, there are some additional things you may wish to consider, such as:
Is there a special set of clothes (such as a military uniform or favorite dress) your loved one would appreciate the thought of wearing? This will be a focus of the cremation arrangement conversation, and you will be advised by your funeral director as to your best options regarding jewelry or other valuable personal items.
Are there any keepsake items you'd like to include in their cremation casket? Perhaps there's a special memento, such as a treasured photograph or letter? We sometimes suggest family members write cards, notes or letters to their deceased loved one, and place them in the casket prior to the cremation.
Would you or other family members like to be present for–or participate to some degree in–your loved one's cremation? Because we know how healing it can be to take part in an act of "letting go", we welcome the opportunity to bring interested family or friends into the crematory. Please discuss your desire to participate with your funeral director.
What will you keep the cremated remains or ashes in after the cremation or the service? Many families are simply unaware that they can purchase a cremation urn to be placed in a special place such as the family home. We offer a large selection of urns that will help memorialize your loved one. Ask one of our caring funeral director's to see the wide variety of urns.
Are You Ready to Talk about Cremation?
We want you to know that no matter your reasons for choosing cremation, we're here to help you explore your options. When you're ready, call us at to set an appointment or simply drop by our office. You can also send us an email via our online contact us form.
Mathisen, Tyler, "Cremation is the Hottest Trend in the Funeral Industry".
What is Cremation, Cremation Association of North America