CREMATION FAQ's


If you are looking for cremation urns, whether for yourself or a loved one, including a loved pet, you probably have many questions.  The following topics are addressed in this page:

 

Cremation – The Alternative to Burial

Cremation as an option for the final disposition of a deceased person has been around for thousands of years.  There are important reasons why people today are considering cremation as an alternative and why cremation is gaining worldwide acceptance.  These include:
  • Simplicity & Dignity.
  • Control & Flexibility for the Family
  • Environmentally Sound
  • Affordability

 

Cremation – Step-by-Step Process

Many people mistakenly believe that the process of cremation is an end in itself---it is not.  Cremation is preparation for memorializing, just as is a traditional burial.  Broadly, it involves the following steps:

 

    1. Contact the Cremation Provider or Funeral Director:

When a death occurs and cremation has been chosen, the cremation provider is called by the family or a family representative.   The cremation provider must obtain written authorization for cremation before he can proceed.  The cremation provider also handles the death certificate filing and notification to Social Security (and the Veterans’ Administration if the deceased was a veteran).

Note that most states require a licensed funeral director to oversee any kind of death care.  Therefore, the family will likely deal with him or her for the  planning of all phases of the memorial services.

    2. Removal of the Deceased:

The deceased will then be removed as specified by any pre-filed instructions that may exist.  If no instructions are available, a funeral director generally is the one to assist the next of kin in making all necessary decisions. 

Removal may be immediate or as much as 18 hours after death.  The time-frame will vary and is normally decided by the family, depending on what viewing or other pre- or post-cremation ceremonies of remembrance have been planned.

    3. Preparation of the Body:

Next, any items (such as jewelry) not wished to be cremated along with the body must be removed.  If the deceased had a pacemaker or other type of medical device, it too will need to be removed to prevent an explosion from occurring during the cremation process.  

It is not necessary to embalm a body before cremation unless the family wishes to have a public viewing of the body during a memorial service.

    4. Removal to Crematory:

The deceased will then be taken to the crematory and placed in storage for the period required by law. 

The body is then placed in a cremation casket.  The casket is usually made of cardboard with a plywood bottom for sturdiness, as this type of container will burn fairly well during the cremation cycle.

The crematory operator will place an identification tag in the cremation container with the body to properly identify the cremated remains.

    5. Cremation Chamber:

The cremation container with the body is then placed in the cremation chamber.  The cremation chamber, sometimes referred to as the retort, is lined with fire resistant bricks on the walls and ceiling.  The floor is made from a special masonry compound formulated specifically to withstand extremely high temperatures. 

Once the body is in the cremation chamber, the chamber door, which is about a half a foot thick, is closed.  Closure may be by hand or, in some cases, a switch because many of the newer models have automated doors.

    6. Actual Cremation Process:

The crematory operator then starts the machine (which normally goes through a warm up cycle before the main burning begins).  After the machine is warmed up, the main burner ignites starting the process of incinerating the body.  Temperatures within the chamber often reach the 1800 – 2000 F degrees range.  The burners within a cremator are fueled by either natural gas or propane.

The actual process of cremation normally takes two to three hours so that the body can be completely reduced to just the bone fragments.  Ashes typically weigh several pounds and take up a space of approximately 150 to 200 cubic inches for an adult.

    7. Cool Down Period:

After the incinerating process is complete, a cool down period of 30 minutes to an hour is required before the bone fragments can be handled for further processing. 

The cremated remains or bone fragments are then removed from the cremation chamber and placed on a table work area.  The crematory operator then removes all metal debris such as screws, nails, surgical pins or titanium limbs/joints. This is done with a magnet and by hand.

    8. Cremains:

The remaining bone fragments are then placed in a special processor.  This processor pulverizes the bone fragments to a fine powder called “cremains”, or more commonly referred to as the ashes.

    9. Return to the Family:

The ashes or cremains are then placed in a plastic bag and returned to the family.  Alternatively, if a cremation urn (such as the ones shown in this site) has been provided, the ashes or cremains will be returned to the family in the selected cremation urn.

    10. Memorializing:

Once the cremation process is complete, the memorial or graveside services, or the scattering services (as allowed by law), then follow. 

As indicated above, the funeral director is generally the one to assist the family in scheduling any viewing or ceremonies of remembrance that are to occur before the process of cremation, or any post-cremation memorial services or scattering ceremonies.

 

Cremation – Memorial Options

As previously stated, memorializing has been practiced by caring people through the centuries. We, as survivors, care about and want to remember those who precede us in death.

Because memorials help us to remember, selecting and establishing a permanent memorial for a family member or loved one satisfies an immediate need.  It also fulfills the need to preserve our heritage---memorials are stepping-stones to the past, and to the future---They link the generations.

The options for the final disposition of cremated remains and the subsequent memorials used to honor them are many and varied and are limited only by your imagination and, primarily, your pocketbook!!  A few examples follow.

    1.  Columbarium Niche:

A Columbarium Niche is an indoor or outdoor wall containing niches. A columbarium niche is defined as a recessed compartment designed to hold urns. Columbariums may be an entire building, a room, a wall along a corridor or a series of special alcoves or halls in a mausoleum, chapel, or other buildings located in a cemetery or on other dedicated property.

Niches come in many sizes with a selection of fronts such as glass, marble, bronze, granite or mosaic. Glass fronts may be clear, tinted, frosted or etched. Some columbarium niches are designed for specific size urns while others may contain a double size space for two urns or even larger niches for multiple urns. Some clear glass fronted niches allow meaningful memorabilia to be placed inside along with the urn.

If placing the cremation urn in a columbarium or a niche, it is important to consider the interior dimensions of the niche before you purchase the urn so that the urn that is selected will fit properly in the niche.

    2.  The Urn Garden:

Many cemeteries or memorial parks have areas designated specifically for the interment of cremated remains. This area is called an Urn Garden and is set aside for those who desire ground or above-ground interment.

Some gardens offer individual urn burial plots that will accommodate a marker. Others offer unmarked areas for interment of the urn, with adjacent walls or sculptures for memorial plaques.

You should check your nearby cemeteries or memorial parks on the type of permanent memorialization that is available in your area for garden interment of cremated remains.

    3.  Family Plot:

If you already own a burial plot or have a space in a family lot, you may choose to  inter the cremation urn  there.   Cemeteries often permit the interment of the cremated remains of more than one person in a single adult space.

 Alternatively, if you wish to be interred in a family plot, but do not want ground interment, there are monuments available to house the cremated remains.

These monuments can be used for those who have chosen cremation or in combination with family members who have chosen casketed burial.

Grave site committal of the urn is available, but note that some cemeteries require that the urn be placed in an urn vault for interment.

There are a wide variety of markers and monuments available but you should check your cemetery's rules before purchasing your memorial.  

The monument or marker you select will be a lasting genealogical record for the generations of your family and a lasting symbol of the special life you want to remember and commemorate.

    4.  The Scattering Garden:

In view of demand, more and more cemeteries have begun opening areas to scatter cremated remains. These areas are called Scattering Gardens and they also provide choices for personal memorializing within this dedicated property.

Often individuals whose remains have been scattered in the garden are identified on a special memorial plaque, wall or unique work of art on which the names are inscribed.

Cemeteries may also have benches on which a plaque may be attached or a living memorial, such as a tree, where a plaque may be placed in front of it.

Some cemeteries offer memorializing an individual with an entry in a Book of Memories or Remembrance located in a chapel or mausoleum on the cemetery grounds. These entries, beautifully executed in calligraphy and often illuminated in the manner of ancient manuscripts, provide a personal lasting tribute.

The scattering of cremated remains also may be done at a designated geographical spot on land or in water in accordance with federal, state/provincial or local laws.

If scattering is done, it is recommended that arrangements also be made for a permanent memorial that will provide a place of pilgrimage for those who want to remember and celebrate the life of a loved one.  A keepsake urn may also be given family members.

    5.  Scattering Ashes by Air:

Scattering the ashes of a loved one by air is now an affordable option for many.  Aerial scattering offers a means of closure to families who are ready to take the final step in the grieving process.  The release of ashes into the sky by an airplane is symbolic of man's desire to be free.

When the ashes are scattered over a special place, the observing family can have the visual image permanently ingrained in their memory.  This is especially true if the event is photographed or video taped.

Because of the uniqueness of aerial ash scattering, families may request certain things to be incorporated into the scattering as a way of personalizing the service.  Most pilots are able to accommodate requests that are within reason.

Keep in mind that only a few family members can attend the scattering in the cockpit.  Therefore, some will observe from the ground (providing the scattering location permits this).  In other words, a memorial service simultaneously takes place on the ground.

Some families choose to include special handwritten notes, rose pedals or other mementos to accompany the scattering of the ashes.

In addition, many families who choose this type of service will elect to keep a small portion of the cremated ashes and incorporate into a small memorial such as a keepsake urn or cremation jewelry urn.

Something extremely important to remember is that scattering ashes by airplane is not a simple matter.  A Few important caveats:

 

  • Be certain to retain the services of a reputable company that specializes in aerial ash scattering.  The planes used in aerial ash scattering are equipped with specialized release systems, generally custom designed by the pilots themselves and tailored to their individual aircrafts to help facilitate the release of the cremated ashes.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to simply open a window and release the ashes without them blowing back into the cabin.  
  • Verify that the pilot has all the necessary licenses and permits.  Not just any pilot can perform this specialized service.  It takes a pilot with a commercial license to legally carry out the service and charge for it.  For example, California pilots must carry a special license allowing them to scatter the ashes from the air, or by sea.
  • Be meticulous.  The family and the pilot must agree on all specifics.  Go over each detail to ensure the right set of ashes is scattered in the right location. This is a very important step since the final result is irreversible.

 

What Size Urn Should I Get?:

Cremation urns come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and with many options.  In deciding on the right size urn to purchase, the primary consideration is the type of memorial the cremation urn will be used for.   

With cremation, options are numerous, including:

  • The cremains can be interred in a cemetery plot (earth burial),
  • Retained by a family member in an urn, or by several family members in a keepsake urn, or
  • Scattered on private property, or at a place that was significant to the deceased.
 On an average, a pound of body weight creates one cubic inch of cremains (meaning the ashes of a cremated corpse).   For example:  if someone weighs 150 pounds, an urn will need to hold approximately 150 cubic inches.

All urns shown on this site indicate capacity and measurements.   However, a general guide is as follows:

 Individual Urn:  150 cubic inches or greater

Companion Urn:  350 cubic inches or greater

Keepsake Urns:  5 cubic inches

Infant/Child Urns:  5 cubic inches or greater

Pet Urns:  5 cubic inches or greater

Cremation Jewelry:  1 cubic inch

Can I take a Cremation Urn on an Airplane?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has developed a few simple guidelines to ensure that flying with a cremation urn and cremains does not involve unexpected surprises.

There currently are two options for carrying a crematory container on your flights:

  • Carry-on: 
  • You are allowed to carry-on a crematory container, as long as the urn is able to pass through x-ray screening with other carry-on materials.  If the container is made of a material that prevents the screener from clearly being able to see what is inside, then the container will not be allowed through the security checkpoint. Most urns are easily scanned and make for an ideal carry-on.
  • Checked Baggage:
  • You may transport the urn as checked baggage as long as it can be successfully screened.  TSA will screen the urn for explosive materials/devices using a variety of techniques.  If cleared, it will be permitted as checked baggage.  Again, most urns are easily scanned.

Out of respect for the deceased, a TSA screener will never open the cremation container, even if explicit permission is given to do so.

Also, be aware that some airlines do not allow cremation urns or cremated remains to be transported in checked baggage. 

It is important to contact your airline prior to traveling to ascertain what their policy is with regard to traveling with cremation urns and cremains, as well as other restrictions that may apply.

 

Pre-planning and Pre-funding
 

 “Death” is not a topic we like to discuss.  However, families need to have this conversation before an immediate need arises.   With every death there are arrangements to be made by someone. 

This section is not intended to deal comprehensively with the subject of “pre-planning”.   However, the task can seem overwhelming and we are attempting to offer suggestions on how to start and help make it a little easier for you and your survivors.

Think about it this way:  If it is difficult for you to think about your death or the death of those you love—imagine how much more difficult it will be once the death has occurred—when people are grieving.

    1.  Basic Steps:

First, start with what’s at hand.  Create a file that contains all the information your survivors will need.  Make copies of the basic records of life like military service records, social security numbers, life insurance policies, list of assets, deeds, wills and/or trusts, mother’s maiden name, birth certificates, divorce or wedding documents, etc. 

Also included in the file should be instructions on where to locate the originals of all important documents (generally a safe deposit box or fire resistant home safe).

Second, and probably the most important, discuss your plans with your family.  What good are any arrangements if no one knows they exist?  Give your family a copy of your arrangements and important papers in a duplicate “Upon my Death” file.

Third and final step, you must decide which level of memorial planning is right for you and your family.

Preplanning is one of the most thoughtful things you can do for your loved ones. It will release them of the often overwhelming responsibility of making decisions (frequently financially related) at a very difficult time.

Preplanning also assures that you will have control of the decisions relating to your death, services and memorials held, what your obituary says about your life, etc. These plans need to be as complete as possible, updated often, and placed on file with your church, each family member, lawyer, doctor, etc. 

    2.  Shopping for Funerals:

A funeral is one of the most expensive events in one's life: the average cost of a traditional funeral is close to $6,000. If you add flowers, obituary notices, acknowledgment cards, burial liners or vaults and special transportation, your costs go up.

When emotions are high, it can be hard to remember that the cost of a funeral is not a measure of your feelings for the deceased. It's not unusual for a family to spend $10,000 for a funeral today.

Most of us are inexperienced in making funeral arrangements.  Making decisions can be difficult because we are unfamiliar with funeral goods or services.  Also, we are grieving and experiencing strong emotions when a loved one has died.

Be aware that the Federal Trade Commission, through the Funeral Rule, requires all funeral providers to give consumers accurate, up-to-date itemized pricing information.

The Funeral Rule requires a provider to give you free copies of price lists when you visit a funeral home. The lists show what options are available and how much each option costs.

It can be costly to select a provider without comparing prices.   It is wise to call or visit at least two funeral homes and compare prices before you make a selection.

A general price list will itemize the cost of every service and product the provider offers. The price list generally may include:

  • Fee for the funeral director's professional services: conference, consultation, paperwork and overhead.

  • Cremation costs.

  • Transportation, care, and preparation of the body.

  • Fee for facilities and staff to conduct a viewing, wake, visitation, or funeral or memorial ceremony.

  • Flowers, music, and preparing obituary notices and cards. 

A general price list will also usually include the costs for alternative arrangements.

  • One alternative is an immediate burial, when the body is buried without embalming, usually in a simple container. There is no viewing or ceremony with the body present. A package price for immediate burial would include the funeral director's fee, transportation and care of the body. It may not include the charge for a container, casket or simple pine box.

  • Another alternative is direct cremation, which costs from $300 to $600. If you choose direct cremation without a wake or viewing of the body, you would pay for the funeral director's services, a non-metal container for the body, the cost of transporting the body to the crematorium and an urn for the ashes.

  • In addition, a casket can be the single most costly item in a traditional funeral. Caskets made from expensive woods such as mahogany or teak can cost $10,000 or more.

    3.  Prepayment:

Some people choose to fund their prearrangements in advance.   The benefit here is that the contract price is frozen.  Also, it most likely will save you money. 

However, be cautious about signing a pre-need contract or making other financial arrangements with a provider.  Some people have lost money when companies were involved in fraud, bankruptcy or mismanagement of the funds or simply were not reputable providers.

Before you make a commitment, find out where your money will be kept and what the terms are. Ask what will happen if you move and wish for the funeral to be elsewhere. Also ask whether you can transfer the contract to a new city or get a refund.

Alternatively, you may want to simply set aside the money for your funeral.  Many options are available.  You can use a separate account, like a certificate of deposit. You can create a shared bank account with someone close to you, who will use the money for your funeral. People who need to become eligible for Medicaid can set aside a certain amount of money for a funeral. This is governed by the law in your state.

 

For any questions or comments, please go to the  Contact Us Page.

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