Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about Cremation

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Questions about Cremation

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What do “ashes” or cremated remains look like?

Cremated remains that have been processed have the appearance and consistency of coarse sand, and are a whitish color.

I’ve heard you don’t get real ashes back from cremation — what do you get?

The cremated remains that you receive are not really ashes in the common sense of the word and do not look like ashes. They have been processed into granular particles with a consistency similar to sand.

Is it true that the bones are crushed after cremation?

The cremated remains resemble brittle bones but are actually mineral fragments. They are processed or ground to a uniform granular consistency (“ashes”) in a device known as a “cremulator”. The processed remains are then placed in a temporary or permanent urn and returned to the family.

What happens after the cremation is complete?

After the body is completely cremated, all that remains are brittle, mineral fragments that resemble dry bones. The cremated remains are allowed to cool down, and are then removed from the cremation chamber. The fragments are processed to a uniform granular consistency (called “cremated remains” or “ashes”) and returned to the family in either a temporary urn or a permanent urn.

Is embalming necessary for cremation?

No. However, if there is a delay between time of death and time of cremation, the body will need to be preserved in some way until cremation can take place. In some situations, embalming may be necessary if the family wishes to have a viewing prior to cremation, or if the body is being transported a long distance.

Is any other preparation required prior to cremation?

The body does not have to be embalmed for cremation unless the circumstances require it. Prior to cremation, any implants that use batteries (such as pacemakers) must be removed from the body. If left in the body, batteries may explode during cremation and cause damage to the cremation chamber or injury to the crematory operator. The body is usually placed in a container made of combustible materials (fiberboard, pressed wood, etc.) before it goes into the cremation chamber. (In some states a container is not required).

Is the body exposed to an open flame during the cremation process?

Yes. The cremation process involves subjecting the body to high heat and constant flames that are produced by a furnace that is powered by natural gas, propane, or diesel fuel. The temperature inside the cremation chamber is maintained at a constant temperature between 1400 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. The intense heat of the flames vaporizes all organic matter and leaves only mineral fragments that resemble dry bone.

Are cremations done individually?

Human cremations must always be performed individually. The law requires that only one human body can be placed in the cremation chamber at one time. However, pet cremations may be done either individually or communally (where more than one pet is cremated at the same time).

What is a niche?

A niche is a space in a columbarium, mausoleum, or niche wall to hold an urn.

What is a columbarium?

A columbarium is a building or structure with niches (small spaces) for placing cremated remains stored in urns or other approved containers. It may be located outdoors, or it may be part of a mausoleum.

How long does it take to cremate a body?

On average, it takes anywhere from one to three hours to completely cremate the human body, depending on such factors as the weight or size of the body, the percentage of body fat to lean muscle mass, the efficiency and performance of the cremation equipment, the temperature inside the cremation chamber, and the type of container or casket holding the body.

How hot does the cremation chamber get?

Temperatures inside the cremation chamber are maintained between 1400 – 1800 degrees Fahrenheit during the cremation process.

What happens during the cremation process?

The body is first placed in a combustible casket or container prior to going into the cremation chamber. (Some states do not require the body to be placed in a container; in this case the body may be wrapped in a shroud instead). The cremation chamber is preheated to a set temperature between 1400 and 1800 degrees. This temperature will be maintained throughout the cremation process.

After the cremation chamber has been fully heated, the container with the body inside is quickly transferred into the heated chamber through a mechanized door. Inside the cremation chamber, the body is constantly exposed to extremely high temperatures from open flames generated by a furnace. It usually takes somewhere between 2 to 3 hours to cremate a body completely.

During the cremation process, the container holding the body burns first. Then the heat from the flames dries the body, burns the skin and hair, contracts and chars the muscles, and vaporizes the soft tissues.

The heat then calcifies the bones into crumbly mineral fragments that resemble dry bone. The cremation process also produces gases as the body is reduced to its basic elements. The entire corpse is eventually reduced to skeletal remains and bone fragments, which are collected in a tray or pan and allowed to cool down. Once cooled, the bone fragments are processed or ground to a consistent granular form commonly called “cremated remains” or “ashes,” and are then returned to the family in either a temporary container or an urn.

Some non-organic fragments, such as dental work, dental gold, surgical screws, prostheses, implants, etc. will also remain. Metal fragments such as hinges, screws, etc. from the container may also be mixed in with the cremated remains. These metal fragments are removed from the cremated remains using a magnet, and are disposed of in accordance with local laws.

What is cremation?

Cremation can be generally described as a method used to reduce the dead body of a human or animal down to its basic elements. The most common method of cremation involves incineration at high temperatures. This process uses a combination of high-temperature burning, vaporization, and oxidation, which reduces the body to its basic compounds. During this thermal-based process, any organic matter (including tissue and bone) is converted to gases and mineral fragments that resemble dry bone.

Alkaline hydrolysis is another alternative cremation process. This process uses water, potassium hydroxide, relatively low heat (177° Celsius, 350° Fahrenheit), and pressure to reduce the body to bone fragments and an inert liquid.

I am a survivor of a deceased US Veteran. Where can I learn about death benefits for survivors?

Certain family members are also covered under veteran’s funeral benefits. This includes the existing spouse of a veteran and dependent minor children, or unmarried adult children. Parents may also be included under certain circumstances. Specific requirements must be met for spouses and dependents to qualify for veteran’s burial benefits. Visit http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/burial_benefits/eligible.asp for detailed information.

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