An increasing number of people are settling on cremation as their preferred send-off option and their best alternative to the traditional options, but before you follow the crowd, do you know how the cremation process is done? Do you think you’d still sign up for this process if you knew how cremation is actually done? Beyond the ‘traditional’ cremation that’s done in a kiln, are you aware of the other types of processes involved in cremation?
Well, you don’t need to worry because this guide shares all the important insights into what you need to know about cremation and whether it’s an option for you or not.
Today, at least half of Americans say they’d choose cremation, with reports from the National Funeral Directors’ Association projecting that by 2035, at least 78%of the population will opt for cremation.
The reasons for the surge in the number of Americans that prefer cremation are as follows:
- The significant reduction in religious affiliations among Americans – Catholics, for example, are against cremation, as are Muslims. But not more than 40% of Americans opting for religious funerals, cremation is a more appealing option, and it’s taken up by most people who don’t have to worry about restrictions from the church.
- There is an increase in environmental awareness campaigns – With cremation offering people an option of reduced usage of already limited resources like land, as well as the preservation of important natural resources such as hardwoods, not to mention the reduced use and the avoidance of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that are used in embalming, it makes sense that cremation is gaining popularity, quite fast.
- More options for personalization – The other reason for the popularity of cremation is the fact that cremation offers more personalization options. With cremation, family and loved ones get to choose between storing the remains of the decedent in their homes; they could scatter these remains, and in other cases, turn the remains of the deceased into jewelry. These are some of the available options.
- Flexibility in timing – While burial often calls for prompt attention, cremation allows families more time to gather and make the final arrangements with more ease, especially when the deceased didn’t leave them with much of a plan.
- Cremation is less expensive – Besides having more personalization options, cremation is also a preferred option for most people today because it’s less expensive than traditional burials, even when families still opt for the traditional service.
Keep reading to find out the reason for the surge and need for cremation over traditional burials and other methods of sending off deceased loved ones.
The Cremation Process: Step-by-Step
Now that you know why cremation might be an option for you let’s take a look at how cremation works and the steps involved.
- Identification of the deceased
While identification regulations will vary from state to state, the deceased must be identified before the cremation facility. These cremation facilities will, therefore, come up with their own unique sets of rules that are based on the recommendations offered in the industry.
Generally, identification is done and confirmed by the deceased’s family member, who has to confirm their identity before a metal tag is placed in this body to be cremated. Note that the metal tag remains on the deceased body throughout, and it will be stored with the remains for the final verification of the remains.
- Authorization of the procedure
The confirmed identity by the family member is not all that is needed before cremation is done. The crematorium is further required to obtain official permission allowing them to proceed with the cremation. This permission is often granted when the person making the final arrangements for the deceased has completed the required authorization paperwork – this authorization allows the crematory to cremate the remains of your loved one.
Again, it’s important to remember that different states will have different rules regarding the party that’s allowed to make these decisions and what the facility must do for the authorization to be final.
Besides giving authority, the person who gives the facility the go-ahead would also be required to provide the necessary information about the type of container to be used to store the remains. They will also share the details of the person/ party responsible for picking up the remains of the deceased after cremation.
- Preparation of the Body
With the approval given by the named beneficiary (in case of pre-planned funerals) or a loved one, the next step involves the preparation of the body for cremation. This is handled differently by different facilities, but it most often involves cleaning and dressing the decedent’s body.
During the typical cremation processes, the body isn’t embalmed unless the deceased’s loved ones request a public viewing of the body before cremation. Aside from this, jewelry and other items would be taken off from the body and the loved ones allowed to keep them. This will also include medical devices and prosthetics, unless otherwise specified by the deceased, in writing. All mechanical and battery-operated devices are also removed before cremation to avoid any reactions.
Once the crematory staffers are sure that the body is ready for cremation, they will place the body in a vessel that’s not just combustible but also strong enough to hold the body’s weight.
- Moving the body into the cremation chamber
The body, now in the cremation chamber, is then put into the cremation chamber. Cremation takes place in a specially designed furnace, called a retort or the cremation chamber. This chamber is often exposed to very high temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, which pulverize the body, leaving only ash. After cremation, the ash is allowed to cool for a predetermined amount of time or a cooling period. The remains are only handled after the cooling period.
- Finalization of the remains
After the cooling period, the remains will be inspected for metal remnants that may be left behind. The metal pieces could be from screws, pins joints that had been placed in the decedent’s body surgically while they were alive. Removal of the metals is done using very strong magnets, and these metal pieces are then sent out for recycling.
Once the inspection, the remains will then be ground down using a special processor the created the final ashes.
- Transfer of the ashes
This is the last step in traditional cremation, and unless it’s specified otherwise, the remains from cremation will be placed in an urn, or any other available cremation container then returned to the family.
How the Cremation Process Works
How cremation works depend on the type of cremation done. There are two main types of cremations done, the traditional, flame-based cremation, in which the body is put in the cremation chamber, and subsequently, the body is reduced to bone fragments using direct heat and flame.
In this cremation process, combustion is done in two steps – the primary combustion that will burn off the organs, tissue, body fat, and gases; then secondary combustion where the heat works on what remains, specifically, the inorganic particles in the container. The result is the discharge of the gasses – carbon dioxide and water vapor. This then leaves behind bone fragments which will be pulverized to ashes.
The second type of cremation is known as Alkaline Hydrolysis or Flameless Cremation, or ever water cremation. This type of cremation involves the placement of the body to be cremated in a pressurized chamber made of stainless steel. This chamber also contains an alkaline mixture that is made of 95% water and 5% potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. The temperature of the solution in the stainless steel chamber is then raised to a temperature of 350 degrees. This chemical and heat combination will speed up the degradation of the body, a process that would otherwise take about 25 years after the body is buried.
In alkaline hydrolysis, the alkali solution breaks up all the chemical bonds in the decedent’s body, and it converts the molecules into their simpler forms, leaving you with the basic elements – calcium phosphate from the bone fragments and a sterilized liquid. The sterilized liquid from alkaline hydrolysis is made up of tissue remnants, and it included peptides, salts, water, and amino acids.
Once done, the bone will be processed into ash. The resultant liquid is first sterilized then disposed of into the wastewater system.
Types of Cremation
There are various types of cremation, but the thing that stands out for the cremation types is the fact that cremation is often done without any embalming done. It’s also less expensive than traditional burials that tend to be very elaborate.
Below are the main variations of cremation.
- Direct Cremation
Direct cremation refers to the process in which the body is taken to the cremation facility soon after the deceased dies and without any funeral service. This approach is one of the fastest and the most affordable ways of disposing of the remains of a loved one. With direct cremation, there is no need for a funeral service or the purchase of a casket.
Before you sign up for this cremation option, you should know that viewing of the body is not allowed before cremation, and there is no wake before the cremation is done. However, your family would schedule a celebration of life memorial service later after the cremation, allowing your family and friends to pay their last respects.
- Liquid Cremation
Liquid cremation is an alternative to flame cremation, and it is also known as alkaline hydrolysis. This cremation approach involves the combination of alkali, water, heat, and pressure, a combination that will speed up the rate of decomposition of the body, leaving behind bone fragments and a sterile liquid. The flameless approach leaves about 30% remains that the flame-based cremation option, meaning there’s a need for a larger vessel, but once the bones are ground, there are between 3 and 9 pounds of deposits left. It takes 3-16 hours.
- Green Cremation
This is a version of liquid cremation in that alkaline hydrolysis is regarded as the green alternative to burial or flame-based cremation.
The reason why it’s called green cremation has to do with the fact that the result sterile liquid is recycled through the city’s sewer system, and the ground bones reduce the remains even further. There is no fossil fuel used, fumes, or smoke and toxic some from green cremation.
The other reason why alkaline hydrolysis is considered green cremation includes the fact that the process reduces the carbon footprint of a body by up to 75%. It also uses less energy than flame-based cremations – only 1/8 of energy is needed for alkaline hydrolysis, and because there is flame used, there are no concerns over mercury emissions or greenhouse gasses from the use of fossil fuels.
Steps in the Cremation Process
As mentioned above, cremation is a specific stepwise process that is carried out diligently by specific facilities.
In traditional cremation, the body is pulverized under open flames, evaporation, and intense heat in the cremation chamber.
In a nutshell, cremation, whether done under a flame or in a flameless setting, follows the following 5 steps.
- First, the body of the decedent is identified, and all the proper authorization is obtained.
- The body is then prepared for cremation then placed in the appropriate container.
- The body is placed in the cremation chamber/ retort
- Cremation is done, after which all remnant metal pieces are removed
- The bones are ground to ‘ash’; then, these remains are placed in an urn or a temporary cremation container that is given to the family.
How Long Is the Cremation Process?
Essentially, cremation takes a short amount of time, with the flame-based cremation explained above taking between 2 and 3 hours, unlike the flameless cremation that takes up to 16 hours, depending on the size, weight, and body mass of the decedent.
That said, you should be aware of the crematorium’s policy for how long they need before they could have the remains ready. While they have a short turnaround time, it may take a considerable amount of time to get the remains. Most of them will give you between 7 and 10 days, although some don’t take too much time. So, be sure to check the crematorium’s policies.
What Is a Cremation Chamber or Crematorium?
The cremation chamber or the retort can be defined as an industrial furnace that holds one body at a time. The chamber is lined with fire-resistant bricks and can withstand extremely high temperatures up to 2,000 degrees.
The modern cremation chambers are, however, computerized and automated and often fueled by propane, natural gas, or diesel. These facilities are also required to follow and meet all the standards for environmental management and air quality.
Note that the cremation chamber shouldn’t be confused with the crematorium, which is the facility that houses the cremation chamber. There are multiple chambers in the crematorium, and the crematorium might be part of a church, a funeral home, and in other cases, a stand-alone cremation facility. They are regulated by the state, though.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do they burn the coffin during cremation?
A coffin isn’t used during cremation. What’s used is a special casket or a simple cardboard box that is not only combustible and sturdy to hold the body but also made of nontoxic materials.
Do you wear clothes when you’re cremated?
No, but if the family insists, the clothes worn by the deceased must be completely combustible. In direct cremation, where there is no viewing of the body, the body is cremated with a sheet or the clothes that the deceased had on when they arrived in the crematorium.
Do bodies move during cremation?
Movement is possible, but only if the body is burned at a low temperature and if cremation happens quickly (within hours) after death. But thanks to the efficiency of the modern cremation units, movement is unlikely.
How much ash is thereafter cremation?
The cremation remains vary depending on the body’s size and select cremation processes by the crematory. But generally, the remains weigh 3-9 pounds.
What are human ashes made of?
The ashes are made of bone fragments and any other residue that is left in the container or associated with incineration/ hydrolysis.
What happens to the remains after cremation?
The remains can be scattered in a natural area that was meaningful to the deceased person, could be added to special lockets or jewelry, conversion into gems, and in other cases, the remains could be placed in sculptures or tree plots.
What type of container is used for the remains?
The remains are put in sealed containers or airtight bags – basically, the remains can be put in any kind of receptacle.
What type of container is used for the cremation?
Cremation takes place in special caskets, but the containers used can be simple cardboard boxes – the container used should be nontoxic, combustible, and strong to hold the deceased body.
Do they cremate multiple bodies at once?
No. Bodies are cremated individually, and in the US, it is illegal to cremate multiple bodies at the same time and in one chamber.
What are religious views on cremation?
While Christianity was against cremation for a long time, most people are now opening up to the idea of crenation. However, The Eastern Orthodox Church, for example, outright forbids cremation, but the American Episcopal Church, for instance, has a columbarium incorporated in most of its parishes for the public display of the cremation earns.
Buddhists support cremation, but the Orthodox Judaism religion is opposed to cremation, even as Reform Judaism is slowly allowing the practice. Muslims also forbid cremation, quite expressly, while cremation is encouraged by Hinduism.
So, if you weren’t sure about what cremation entails, we hope that this guide clears the air and you’re able to make a more informed decision regarding your end-of-life wishes.