Choosing what you want for your final disposition can be a difficult decision. Most people understand the basics of what happens in a traditional burial, but this may not be the case for cremation. Understanding the process can help you or your family make a decision that is right for you. (Note that Eirene offers both aquamation and flame cremation services. Click here to make arrangements.) Below we have compiled a step-by-step guide to help demystify the cremation process.
Cremation is a process used to reduce organic matter (skin, muscle, organs) into bone fragments. The bone fragments are processed further through mechanical pulverization to create a fine, coarse powder called cremated remains or ashes.
There are two types of cremation: Flame cremation and aquamation (sometimes called liquid cremation). Flame cremation involves exposing the body to extreme heat to create ashes, and aquamation uses the chemical process of alkaline hydrolysis. These two processes differ but follow many of the same steps and produce similar end-products.
Before the cremation process can take place, a few preliminary steps are completed. They include transportation, documentation, storage, and identification. Other funeral events such as a viewing or visitation may also be scheduled and are up to the discretion of the deceased person's family.
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Regardless of the services held beforehand, it is essential to arrange transport of the body from the place of death or funeral location to the crematorium.
Transportation is usually done by a third-party "transfer" service hired independently or by a funeral provider. However, a transfer service is not necessary.
In Ontario, where our company offers cremation, it is legal to transport a body in a private vehicle. Still, it is necessary that the proper paperwork has been completed and the vehicle can adequately transport a body or casket. Regardless of which option you choose, it is vital to arrange transportation as soon as possible after death.
Specific paperwork must be completed before any funeral services can begin. This includes death registration and obtaining a burial permit. Other paperwork types to be considered include a death certificate and a certified copy of death registration with the cause of death. These can be completed with the help of a licensed funeral provider or directly by the deceased's family member.
Death registration involves submitting two documents to the local municipal clerk's office: Medical Certificate of Death and Statement of Death.
If families use a service provider, funeral directors will oversee the process of obtaining the burial permit. However, if the family is not using a service provider, the staff at the municipal office where the death is registered can help complete the required paperwork and acquire the permit.
While paperwork is being completed and other funeral plans are being finalized, the body is typically sheltered in cold storage for preservation.
The body starts to show signs of decomposition and decay within 24 hours after death, so it is crucial to make these arrangements with a provider as soon as possible.
One of the final steps involved before the cremation process is body identification. This ensures that the correct body is being cremated and that family receives the correct ashes.
Identification protocols vary depending on the provider, but it is most commonly done through tags and identification discs (or both).
When a body arrives at a crematorium, it is tagged (e.g., bracelet on the ankle) to denote the individual's identity. It contains information such as the individual's name and date of birth. It may also include additional data such as height, weight, race, gender, and more. It is checked several times throughout the cremation process and rechecked before placing the body in a cremation chamber.
An identification disc is a small coin-shaped tag about the size of a quarter made from stainless steel.
Like the tag, identifying information is placed on the disc and matched to the deceased person's paperwork to ensure accurate identification.
The disc is placed in the cremation chamber with the body and does not get destroyed during the process. After cremation, it is included in the urn with the ashes.
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The flame cremation process consists of several stages that can take up to three hours, depending on the size and weight of the body and the type of casket or container used.
First, the body is prepared for cremation. This includes the removal of personal belongings such as jewelry (if requested) and medical devices.
Next, the body is placed in a cremation container or kept within the original casket. If opting for the second option, non-combustible materials are also removed from the casket (when possible).
The casket or container is placed in the cremation chamber or retort, which is a furnace designed to cremate human remains. The body is then exposed to temperatures ranging from 760 to 980 Celsius (1400 to 1796 F).
The body is consumed by the extreme heat in the chamber, except for bone and any non-combustible materials (e.g., medical devices). The cremated remains are removed from the chamber. After a cooling period, any remaining metal or orthopedic implants are separated from the cremated remains, usually with a magnet, and are recycled.
Any remaining bone fragments are mechanically processed into fine particles of dust and placed in a temporary container or cremation urn provided by the family.
The process of aquamation produces a chemical reaction that speeds up the body's decomposition. This typically takes about 16 hours to complete.
Like flame cremation, the aquamation process begins with the preparation of the body. Unlike flame cremation, a container or casket is not required. Casket materials, as well as most cloth materials, will not break down during the aquamation process. Instead, the body is placed in a stainless steel vessel, and it is filled with water and potassium hydroxide (alkali).
The quantity of alkali used depends on body characteristics such as weight and gender, but the ratio for the solution is approximately 95 per cent water and five per cent alkali.
The vessel's contents are exposed to high temperatures (200 to 320 F / 93 to 160 C), and it is also agitated to prevent boiling and help break down organic material. During the process, compounds in the body are reduced to basic organic components (i.e., fats get reduced to salts). As a result, they become dissolved into the water.
The process results in two byproducts: a green-brown liquid and skeletal remains. Next, the liquid is released from the vessel as wastewater, and the remains and equipment are rinsed with fresh water. Finally, the bone material gets processed into a powder, placed in an urn, and returned to the family.
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As mentioned above, after cremation, the ashes in both flame cremation and aquamation are placed in a temporary container known or in a cremation urn and returned to the family. Therefore, the final part of the cremation process is the return of the ashes to the family. After this is done, the family can do whatever they want with the remains. Common choices include:
Below are articles discussing other things that can be done with cremated remains:
Another part of the cremation for many is purchasing an urn. There are many options to choose from as you'll see in our online urn inventory. Common considerations include:
Below are articles discussing more tips and things to consider when choosing an urn:
Ask our team of experts at Eirene if you have a question about the cremation process (email us at email@example.com or contact us by phone) or if would like to make arrangements click here.