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Cremation process

What Actually Happens During a Cremation?

The actual cremation process usually lasts 1-2 hours. The coffin is placed within the retort (the chamber within the cremator) and is subjected to direct heat of between 870 to 980°C. Most of the soft organs and tissue simply evaporate as they are subjected to such extreme heat. The gases get discharged through the chimney.

how do cremations work?

the coffin is committed into a cremation chamber, which is then exposed to heat of around 870 to 980°C which breaks down both the coffin and the body to ash. The ash is then passed through a cremulator which grinds down the fragmented bone into a sand like texture before being placed inside an urn and handed to the family or funeral director the next day.

how long is a cremation service?

The actual cremation service usually lasts 30 minutes, which includes arrival, eulogies and music.

how long does cremation take?

the actual cremation (burning of the body) takes between 1-2 hours. Many crematoriums have more than 1 cremation chamber to ensure they can cremate bodies the same day as the service.

are bodies cremated straight after service

in most cases, yes. The remains are usually ready for collection the next day.

how long after cremation are ashes released / can I collect the ashes?

you can usually collect the ashes the next day, after the service. This is usually done by the funeral director, but a named family member can also collect if the funeral director instructs the crematorium beforehand.

What is left after the cremation process is basically dry bone fragments and the quantity of these usually vary from 2kg to 3kg depending on the deceased size. The dry bone fragments are then removed from the retort and put through a cremulator. This device uses a grinding or rotating mechanism to turn the dry bone fragments into cremains (a technical term which combines the words cremation and remains) which take the appearance of grains of sand. (In some countries, like Japan, the cremulator is not used, but the families obtain the remains as they are – dry bone fragments). The “ashes” are then placed in a container, most usually an urn, and it is then up to the family to decide what to do with them. The ashes can stay in the urn and be displayed or scattered in a variety of ways or fashions –read our Cremated Ashes Ideas
More information on the cremation process as well as a helpful video can be found at Urns For Ashes.

Cremation History

In the UK, the annual number of cremations exceeded burials for the first time in 1968. Since then cremation has increased considerably. Current figures suggest that around 70% of all funerals are cremations, with some urban areas exceeding that figure. This means the 250 crematoriums in the UK are exceptionally busy, which unfortunately can sometimes lead to a feeling of a “conveyor belt” funeral, with one group entering the crematorium as the previous group leave.

Cremation basically involves the incineration of the body at very high temperatures, with only a relatively small amount of “ash” left at the end, for the family to either keep, bury or scatter – (see Options for Ashes section).

Practiced in many ancient civilisations, it wasn’t until the advent and spread of Christianity and its belief in the resurrection of the dead, that cremation fell into disfavour during the 4th century, and by the time of the fifth century, had become almost completely obsolete. “Modern” cremation began again in the late 1800s with the invention of a practical cremation chamber. Championed by Queen Victoria’s surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson, and driven by public concern for hygiene and health and clerical desires to reform burial practices, crematories slowly began opening.

Today many Christian denominations, including the Roman Catholic church allow cremation. The Pope lifted the ban on cremations in 1963 and in 1966 made it permissible for Roman Catholic priests to conduct a cremation service at a crematorium. While cremation is forbidden by Orthodox Jews and Muslims, it is the usual method of disposal for Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists, and as crematoria ceremony halls are non-denominational, you can have the person conducting the funeral and ceremony of your choice.

It should be mentioned that there are concerns on the environmental front as to how much pollution this form of disposition produces. Recently passed legislation aims to cut emissions from crematoria in the UK by half by the end of 2012. This will hopefully be achieved by upgrading old crematories and advances in technology, and although cremation has been seen traditionally as cheaper than burial, the investment needed in the industry could push prices slightly higher.

NEWS UPDATE – Funeral Pyres (10th Feb 2010) – although this section is focused on “modern” cremation, it must be noted that open air cremation on a Funeral Pyre is seen by some cultures and religions as essential to a “good death” and the release of the spirit into the afterlife. Today, saw the first steps towards Funeral Pyres in the UK becoming a reality again. After a lengthy court battle, Mr Davender Ghai (a Hindu) won a decision at appeal, that stated that in principle, Funeral Pyres could be conducted within existing UK legislation (if conducted within an open air building). It’s still not set in stone, and the judgement goes on to state that the difficulties which may be thrown up by planning and public health legislation, should an application be submitted, had not been considered as part of the judgement. The possibility of it happening however, is now one step closer and as in Ancient Britain, Funeral Pyres could become a common occurrence in this country once again; for Hindu’s, and anybody else who fancies it for that matter.

Cremation FAQs

Is cremation more expensive than burial?

Generally the cost of burial is higher than the fee charged for cremation. Cremation usually necessitates the production of medical certificates for which fees are payable to doctors concerned. These certificates are not required when the death has been referred to and investigated by a Coroner (Procurator Fiscal in Scotland) or when burial is required, although in this case, in addition to the charges for interment, a number of other fees for grave purchase, memorials and grave maintenance may be incurred.
A more recent and cheaper alternative to traditional cremation is a direct cremation.

What service arrangements are available at the crematorium?

A full religious service may be conducted at the crematorium within the time allowed by each funeral. Alternatively, a service may take place elsewhere, followed by a brief committal ceremony at the crematorium. Families can arrange for their particular Minister, or a Celebrant to conduct the service or when required Funeral Directors may secure these services on behalf of the family

Is it necessary for the cremation to be associated with a religious ceremony?

The deceased’s family can make any service arrangements which they consider to be appropriate. Secular services can be conducted at the crematorium or, if required, no ceremony need take place at all. A Memorial services can be conducted separately from the cremation ceremony if the family wishes.

How is a cremation arranged?

A number of arrangements need to be made following a death. The responsibility normally falls on the Executor or the nearest surviving relative who may wish to approach a professional Funeral Director who will undertake some of the various tasks on their behalf. The Funeral Director will need to discuss with the family their requirements concerning the service arrangements and will assist in completing the necessary statutory and non-statutory forms. The Funeral Director will make the practical arrangements for the collection of the body and will obtain the necessary medical certificates. It will be necessary to register the death and information will be provided by the Funeral Director to assist in completing that duty.

Do relatives need to decide at this stage about the disposal of cremated remains?

The Funeral Director will discuss with relatives the alternative arrangements which may be adopted for the disposal of cremated remains. It is likely that a form of authority will be required to be signed advising the crematorium of the wishes of the family. If they are undecided it will be possible for the cremated remains to be retained, either at the crematorium or at the Funeral Director’s premises, pending a decision.

What are the options for disposal of cremated remains?

All crematoria provide a Garden of Remembrance where cremated remains can be dispersed. Some crematoria provide niches where containers may be placed for limited periods. Cremated remains can be removed from the crematorium in a suitable container for disposal elsewhere. This may include interment in a grave in a cemetery or churchyard, dispersal at another crematorium or dispersal privately in a particular area selected by the family. Suitable permission should be obtained from the appropriate Authority in these cases. There are many, many more choices available.

What is a Garden of Remembrance and what facilities may be provided there?

The Gardens of Remembrance consist of special areas, often adjacent to the crematorium, set aside for the disposal of cremated remains. They are used continually for this purpose and as a result it may not be possible or appropriate to mark or identify the exact location of individual cremated remains. The Gardens are normally arranged to provide a focal point for visitors and may include a variety of memorial facilities.

What memorial facilities are available at crematoria?

All crematoria have some form of memorial facility. The most usual form of permanent memorial is the Book of Remembrance. The book is usually displayed in a special memorial chapel and entries are available for viewing either automatically on the anniversary of the date of death or on request. Some crematoria provide wall or kerb mounted plaques in stone or metal although these are normally purchased for a limited period only. Roses, trees and shrubs may be dedicated at some crematoria for periods that may be extended by agreement. Donations are often accepted for the provision of items to be used at the crematorium or for the embellishment of the buildings or grounds. The Funeral Director should be aware of the memorial options available but direct inquiries to the Crematorium Registrar will ensure that full details are provided together with a scale of charges.

What is the procedure followed at the crematorium on the day of the funeral?

The mourners will normally gather at the crematorium in the waiting room or close to the entrance of the chapel a few minutes before the appointed time of the funeral service. It is not usual for the ceremony to commence before the publicised time. When the principal mourners are ready to proceed, the coffin will be conveyed into the chapel by the Funeral Director unless family bearers are used by request. The coffin will be placed on the catafalque and mourners will be directed to their seats after which the service will proceed. At the moment during the service when the committal of the body takes place the coffin may be obscured from view by curtains or withdrawn from the chapel. At the end of the service, the mourners leave the chapel and may then inspect the floral tributes.

What happens to the coffin after the committal?

The coffin is withdrawn into the committal room where the nameplate is carefully checked by crematorium staff to ensure the correct identity. An identity card will then accompany the coffin and the resultant remains until their final disposal or removal from the crematorium.

Can relatives witness the committal of the coffin to the cremator?

The reception of the coffin in the committal room and its introduction into a cremator can be witnessed by arrangement with the Crematorium Registrar. It is preferable to advise the Funeral Director of these requirements as early as possible when making the funeral arrangements.

Is the cremation of a body governed by a code of ethics and working practices?

Cremation Authorities who are members of the Federation of British Cremation Authorities are required to operate strictly in accordance with a Code of Cremation Practice. This Code, which provides the only ethical standard of cremation practice in Great Britain, is often displayed in the public areas of the building.

How soon after the service will the cremation take place?

The cremation will usually be commenced shortly after the service. The Code of Cremation Practice specifies that the cremation should always be completed as soon as practically possible. If not on the same day, it will usually be within 24hrs of the service. A body not cremated on the same day as received by the crematorium may only be retained overnight on the written consent of the applicant for cremation or in exceptional circumstances deemed necessary by the Cremation Authority.

Is the coffin cremated with the body?

The Code requires that the coffin be placed in the cremator in exactly the same condition as that in which it was received at the crematorium. Crematorium regulations require that the coffin and all its fittings and furnishings be made from materials suitable for cremation. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 has placed a new responsibility on Cremation Authorities to ensure that the process is completed under controlled conditions which will minimize the impact on the environment. In these circumstances, it will be necessary for any items included in the coffin for the presentation of viewing purposes to be removed by the Funeral Director before the coffin is conveyed to the crematorium. It will not be possible for any floral tributes to be included with the coffin for cremation.

Should items of jewellery be left on a body for a cremation?

It is preferable that all items of jewellery be removed from the body before the coffin is conveyed to the crematorium. The Funeral Director should ascertain your wishes in respect of this matter when the funeral arrangements are being discussed. It will not be possible to recover items of jewellery after the coffin has been received at the crematorium.

Can more than one body be cremated in a cremator at the same time?

The code insists that each cremation is carried out separately. Exceptions may be made for instance in the case of mother and baby or twin children providing that the next of kin has made a specific request in this regard.

What happens to the cremated remains after the cremation?

At the conclusion of a cremation, the cremated remains are removed in their entirety and conveyed to a treatment area in a special container. Ferrous metals used in the construction of the coffin or metal used in medical implants are extracted and retained for separate disposal. Non-ferrous metals which may include some unrecognisable element of precious material will not be salvaged for any purpose and will be disposed of in accordance with the requirements of the Code of Cremation Practice and invariably this will be by burial in the crematorium grounds.

What procedures are followed to ensure that cremated remains are kept separate?

A cremator can physically accept only one coffin at a time and all remains are removed before the unit can be used again. The identity card referred to previously accompanies the coffin and cremated remains throughout the process until final disposal. The code of ethics and practical necessity are complementary and combine to ensure that the separation of cremated remains is achieved.

How are cremated remains treated at the crematorium?

Cremated remains are removed from the cremator only when no further reduction is possible. The remains are withdrawn into a cooling area and finally into a special container for transfer to a purpose-made unit which, after removal of ferrous metals, will reduce the residue to a fine consistency suitable for storage and eventual disposal. The remains are enclosed in a suitable and carefully identified container to await dispersal or collection.

What quantity of remains will there be following a cremation?

The cremation of an adult will normally result in the presentation of cremated remains weighing between 2 and 4 Kg. In the case of the body of an infant it may not be possible to guarantee that any remains will be collectible. This is due to the cartilaginous nature of the bone structure.

What happens to the cremated remains strewn in the ground?

The cremated remains, which have assumed a granular form, are normally distributed over a wide area of ground. Chemical reactions resulting from exposure to the elements quickly break down the remains so that within a few days little trace of them can be observed. Some crematoria follow the practice of dressing the area where the cremated remains have been dispersed, with a suitable mixture of loam and sand.

Can cremated remains be interred and their position marked with a memorial?

The Gardens of Remembrance attached to a crematorium do not provide for the erection of permanent memorials. Cremated remains interred in Gardens of Remembrance are not normally contained in a casket or container of any kind. If it is required to inter cremated remains in a grave with traditional facilities for memorialisation, suitable inquiries should be made to the Registrar responsible for the selected cemetery.

Can cremated remains be retained by the family pending final disposal?

The Applicant for cremation may collect and retain the cremated remains if required. Cremated remains can be retained at the crematorium for a limited period although a charge may be made for this facility.

Can more information be obtained concerning cremation and if required can a crematorium be visited by members of the public?

The matters referred to previously may be discussed in more detail with the Registrar of the local crematorium. The Registrar will be pleased to answer further questions and make arrangements for any member of the public to be accompanied on a visit to the crematorium.

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