Choosing end of life arrangements comes with a lot of thought. You want to ensure that your loved one’s wishes are fulfilled while balancing other considerations, including cost, timing, culture and religious practices.
For any big decision in life, you can’t be expected to make a decision when you have half of the information. This is often the case with cremation. When it comes to other forms of burial, you may have a general idea of how the process works, yet many people struggle to visualize the cremation process. Even when an individual has chosen cremation, they may not understand what truly happens from start to finish.
This is why we’ve built this step-by-step guide for understanding how cremation works and what happens to your body during the process.
Behind the veil: a look at cremation
When it comes to cremations, despite the practice existing for some 2,000+ years, many people never really get a glimpse at what happens behind the scenes. When anything is hidden behind a veil, there can be some discomfort or anxiety around it, which is equally true for cremations. Understanding the step-by-step process can help ease the anxiety that you, or your loved ones, may feel around the idea of cremation.
The crematories that exist today use specially-designed industrial furnaces. Generally, from start-to-finish, the entire cremation process takes about 3-4 hours. Throughout these 3-4 hours, the crematory ensures that: the deceased is correctly identified, the cremation operator is safe, and that care, dignity and respect are used.
In some cases, the facility administering the cremation may allow the deceased’s loved ones to stay and witness the cremation. This could be vital for those who are performing religious or cultural rites throughout the process. Each crematory is different, so make sure to inquire beforehand if you wish to witness the actual cremation.
The deceased’s body is placed in a combustible, metal-free container or casket and pushed into the specially designed furnace to begin the process. This furnace is called a cremation chamber or a retort.
Ultimately, a cremation reduces the human body to its basic elements as it’s exposed to open flames, extreme heat and above all, evaporation.
Following the Cremation
Following the cremation, the ashes, or the cremated remains, are leftover from the process. While they are called ashes, they are, in fact, actually primarily bone fragments and include any remains of the container or casket, as well as any other by-products of the incineration.
Cremation typically produces 3 to 9 pounds of cremated ashes or remains. This amount changes depending on the size of the deceased’s body, the container choice, and the exact process that the cremation uses.
Breaking down the process
The cremation process comprises five steps. These include:
- Firstly, the deceased is identified by the crematory, and proper authorization from the necessary authorities and family is obtained.
- The body is prepared according to wishes, culture and religion. From there, it is placed into a cremation-friendly container.
- The container or casket that is housing the body is then transferred over to the cremation chamber (or retort).
- Following the cremation, any leftover metal (fillings, devices, etc.) is removed, and the remains are reduced to the "ashes" or cremated remains which turns it to a fine sand like consistency.
- The cremated remains, or “ashes,” are moved to a temporary container (typically provided by the crematory) or an urn provided by the family.
By visualizing what happens in a cremation, we have hopefully demystified a typically confusing process. Understanding your choices for the end of life goes beyond simply choosing one option over another.