How is the actual cremation performed? What can I do with the ashes?
Today’s cremations are very dignified and respectful, and are performed under very strict regulations that protect the deceased, their families and the environment.
They all operate under state and local laws that govern such things as waiting periods between death and cremation (24 to 48 hours), who can authorize the service, who can receive the ashes, and how the process must be documented and recorded.
How it’s done
Cremation is actually very precise and controlled process that involves subjecting the body to extremely high temperatures in specialized units that carefully manage all emissions.
After about two hours or so, what remains is mostly bone fragments and minerals -- called cremated remains or ‘ashes’ -- which weigh about 5 to 7 pounds. The cremated remains are then collected and placed in a container to return to the family. Strict practices assure that the family receives only the remains of the deceased.
Ordinarily, jewelry and implanted devices such as pacemakers are removed before cremation. Artificial joints and other orthopedic elements are usually discarded afterwards.
The cremated remains are usually delivered to the family in a simple, temporary container about the size of one-gallon milk carton.
Depending on the preferences of the family, or the deceased, the cremated remains (or ashes) can be handled any number of ways.
The ashes can be scattered in a place that was special to the deceased, such as a beach, a meadow, a forest, a park, the ocean, a lake or stream, or even dropped from the air, or scattered from a boat. There are firms who can arrange for scattering services at many different locations.
Note however, there may be local laws governing the scattering of ashes. And recognize that the remains amount to slightly more than a 5 lb. bag of flour or sugar, and may actually be quite conspicuous in certain locations. It is always better to ask.
The ashes can be placed in an urn. Specialized cremation urns come in a variety of styles, materials, and shapes that can be suitable for keeping at home, installing in a columbarium, or burying in a cemetery or memorial garden.
The ashes can be buried, or placed in a mausoleum. Cremated remains (in an urn or in the crematory container) can be buried in specially designated area of a cemetery -- at much lower cost than a full cemetery plot.
Generally, an arrangement conference is scheduled where the responsible survivor and other family members meet with the funeral director to plan services, sign permission for the cremation, complete a contractural agreement and specify who is to receive the cremation ashes later. Most states and provinces have a law requiring a waiting period of twenty four or forty eight hours between the time of death and performance of the cremation. Many jurisdictions require the local medical examiner to review the death and provide authorization. Some jurisdictions specify payment by the family for this authorization. Your funeral home staff can advise on what to expect in your area.
Cremations are performed by a crematory operator who runs the equipment and handles documentation of the process. That person makes the final check to see that all jewelry and pacemakers are removed. Batteries in pacemakers and other medical dose dispensing devices are explosive when subjected to high temperatures.
The process takes about two hours. The resulting cremated remains are cooled and placed in a machine which reduces the particles to a consistency similar to a mixture of flour and sand.
The cremated remains are packaged in a temporary container or placed in a purchased urn. They are then sent back to the funeral director or to the funeral home staff for return to the person designated to receive the cremains. If services are to be held with the urn present, those ceremonies occur at the times scheduled and the designated person receives the ashes afterwards..
Due to the fact that cremation is totally irreversible and the consequences of liability are huge where mistakes are made, there is constant checking, double-checking and documentation of the process. It is helpful to determine if you are dealing with a firm which owns its own crematory or contracts with another firm. Contracting is okay, but you need to understand and get an explanation of who is involved and what is happening. Planning ahead makes the process much simpler for survivors, and pre-payment removes financial uncertainly.