How does Cremation Work: The Cremation Process
It's no secret: cremation rates continue to soar, and one of the reasons for its growing popularity has to do with its lower cost of cremation. For families and individuals concerned about the cost of end-of-life care, we're here to say direct cremation could be their best option. If you'd like to know more about this affordable cremation option, we urge you to read further. You'll discover the answer to the question "what is direct cremation?" & "the process of cremation", and learn exactly what services are included when you select direct cremation over other cremation service alternatives.
Here we try to provide some insight and answers on the question of how does cremation work. Most have a good idea of what goes on, but for those who are curious about the details of the cremation process, this section is for you. If you're looking for additional information about the history and process of cremation, we suggest you read Cremation Facts; and if you're curious about how the world's major religions view cremation, we urge you to review Religious Views on Cremation.
Cremation is the Less Expensive Alternative
NBC Anchor Tyler Mathisen, in "Cremation is the Hottest Trend in the Funeral Industry" (published online in January of 2013) simply says "Cremation is cheaper than burial". He goes on to tell his readers: "The average cost of a funeral today is about $6,500, including the typical $2,000-or-more cost of a casket. Add a burial vault, and the average jumps to around $7,700. A cremation, by contrast, typically costs a third of those amounts, or less." For families and individuals concerned about the cost of end-of-life care, we're here to say direct cremation could be their best option.
What's Included in Direct Cremation?
Here's the truth of direct cremation: it involves only the minimal services required. That is to say, when you choose this most basic cremation alternative, only the following services will be provided:
Pick-up & Transportation
The local pick-up and transportation of the deceased to the provider's facility (either a funeral home or crematory)
The completion and filing of all legally-required documents, including the death certificate and authorization for cremation
Care & Placement
The respectful care and placement of the body in what's called an alternative cremation container (which is a thick-walled and lidded cardboard box)
The actual cremation of the body and the processing of the cremated remains
Return of Remains
The return of the cremated remains (commonly and wrongly called "ashes") to the family in a basic cremation urn (which is simply a plastic or cardboard box)
What are the Additional Benefits of Direct Cremation?
While the low cost of direct cremation is certainly a benefit, and for many it's the primary benefit; there are others you should also consider. When you select direct cremation for a loved one (or as part of your pre-arrangement planning):
No embalming is required.
Since there is no public event, such as a viewing or funeral service, where the body will be seen by family members and guests; there is no need for extensive body preparations.
The purchase of a casket is unnecessary.
The body is cremated in a simple cardboard container, rather than a traditional casket. And the money you save can later be used to purchase a more appropriate cremation urn in which to safeguard your loved one's cremated remains.
There's greater flexibility in the planning of a memorial service or celebration-of-life.
No longer are you "tied to" the immediate scheduling of traditional funeral events, held prior to burial or cremation. In fact, simply by choosing cremation you've got this same flexibility; yet by choosing direct cremation, you've saved a significant amount of money (which can later be used to pay for the memorial service or celebration-of-life).
A Brief Overview of the Cremation Process
Cremation uses extreme heat (from 1400 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit) to reduce the human body from its familiar form to fragments of bone. In essence then, the cremation process advances a natural process, that of decomposition; accomplishing in just a few hours what would have taken months or even years to occur. Today, the cremation process involves the use of very specialized equipment called a retort, which is basically a furnace fueled by either propane or natural gas.
After death, a licensed funeral professional takes possession of the physical remains, and establishes a strict chain-of-custody to ensure the cremated body of the deceased is accurately identified following the cremation process. At this time, written authorization to cremate is completed by the responsible funeral director, and signed by the family member with legal authority. Additional paperwork identifies the personal effects of the deceased, the casket or cremation container selected, and how the cremated remains are to be handled. He or she will also complete the legal death certificate, obtain the signature of the attending physician or medical examiner, and file the document with county authorities.
Preparing the Body for Cremation
The body is then prepared for cremation. The cremations which took place at Dr. Lemoyne's Pennsylvania crematory, where "preparation would include wrapping the body in a linen sheet and a type of plaster...then covered in herbs, spices, pine branches and flowers in an attempt to mask the scent during burning", (according to Ms. Sickles, a New York Herald reporter wrote upon observing the preparation of one particular individual cremated in 1876). Today, the individual's personal effects and surgical appliances (such as a pacemaker) are removed, and the body is then placed in a cremation casket selected by the family, or alternative cremation container. A metal identification tag is added, to ensure proper identification throughout the cremation process. It will be cremated with the body to allow for proper identification of the cremated remains when removed from the retort.
At the Crematory
Once a deceased individual arrives at the crematory, his or her identity is once again verified by all professionals involved. If the required waiting period (anywhere from 24 to 72 hours) has yet to expire; the individual will be placed in a refrigeration unit for safekeeping. When this period has been satisfactorily completed, the individual will be placed with all due care into the retort for the actual cremation process.
It usually takes about two, to two-and-a-half hours for a body to be completely reduced to just the bone fragments by the cremation process (the time involved is largely dependent on the age of the retort being used, but the size and weight of the physical remains is also a factor).
Once the cremation is complete, there needs to be a cool-down period, so the bone fragments are sufficiently cooled before handling. When cooled, the cremated remains are respectfully removed by being carefully “swept” from the retort. Afterwards, all metal debris (such as a surgical pin or titanium joint) is removed manually from the cremated remains.
What remains is then put into a special processor designed to pulverize the bone fragments to a finer consistency. This material, commonly known as "ashes", is then placed inside a plastic bag within a temporary plastic or cardboard cremation container. Finally, arrangements are made for their transfer and safekeeping consistent with original paperwork signed by the next of kin.
Let's Briefly Talk about the Funeral Rule
Did you know, when you're shopping for funeral service providers–including those offering direct cremation–you're protected by something called the Funeral Rule? Enacted by the Federal Trade Commission in 1984 (and amended some ten years later), the Funeral Rule was intended to ensure American consumers receive enough factual information about the goods and services available to them from a funeral home or direct cremation provider. Here are the important points about the Funeral Rule you'll want to be aware of:
You have the right to select only the services and products you want.
You do not have to pay for embalming unless you've authorized it.
When choosing direct cremation, you do not have to buy a casket.
Prior to the arrangement conversation, a cremation or funeral provider is required to give you a set of documents, including the General Price List, the Casket Price List, and the price list for outer Burial Vaults.
You are allowed to get pricing information over the phone. This makes shopping for cremation services easier on everyone in the family.
You must receive a detailed written statement of the exact goods and services you are buying immediately upon completing cremation or funeral arrangements.
The Funeral Rule makes it possible for you to compare prices between funeral service providers, but you should be aware the "rule does not apply to third-party sellers, such as casket and monument dealers, or to cemeteries that lack an on-site funeral home." (For more information on the Funeral Rule, consult the Federal Trade Commission.)
Turn to the Cremation Experts
We consider ourselves cremation professionals meaning we continue to pursue excellence in all things. Certainly, we're very familiar with the cremation process; yet we add to our expertise by attending on-going continuing education courses regarding state-of-the-art crematory equipment and operations. Have you ever asked yourself the questions; can you scatter ashes anywhere; we've answered every question you may have. If you have questions about any aspect of cremation–its history, the cremation process itself, or what's involved in making cremation arrangements–we're here to assist you. Simply call us at (301) 739-5498, or send us an email using the form on our Contact Us page. We will be pleased to hear from you.
Kim, Michelle, "How Cremation Works", How Stuff Works, Kim, Michelle. "How Cremation Works", 2009, accessed 2014
Davis, Douglas and Lewis Mates, editors, Encyclopedia of Cremation, Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2005
Raymond, Chris, "What is Direct Cremation?", About.com, accessed 2014